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Long-lost Shakespeare First Folio is centrepiece of Durham University Treasures exhibition - opens January  
Long-lost Shakespeare First Folio is centrepiece of Durham University Treasures exhibition - opens January
A rare Shakespeare First Folio stolen from Durham University 12 years ago will go on public display next month for the first time since its theft. The 17th Century Folio will form the centrepiece of a new exhibition - The Treasures of Durham University - which will open to the public at the University's Palace Green Library, in Durham, on Saturday, January 15, 2011. The exhibition, which will include a number of other University treasures and manuscripts, is the inaugural exhibition in the new Wolfson Gallery, which has undergone a £2.3m refurbishment, funded in part by a £500,000 donation from the Wolfson Foundation.

The star exhibit will be the First Folio, which was stolen while on display in Palace Green Library in December 1998.

It was returned to the University in the summer of 2010 following the conviction of Raymond Scott, of Wingate, County Durham, for handling stolen goods and removing stolen property from the UK.

The book, which has an estimated value of 1.5m, is the first collected edition of Shakespeare's plays and is thought to be one of only 230 in existence.

Published in 1623, it was acquired by John Cosin, former Bishop of Durham, and was part of the library he established in Durham in 1669.

After its theft, the Folio's binding and first and last pages were removed. The Folio will be on display until March 2011 when it will be conserved by Durham University, which employs some of the UK's expert conservators of rare books.

Alongside the Folio will be displays outlining its standing in English literature and the story of its theft and subsequent return to the University.

Bill Bryson, Chancellor of Durham University and author of an acclaimed book on Shakespeare, has agreed to be the exhibition's guest curator. He said: "It is a tremendous thrill to have the Shakespeare First Folio back in Durham.

"This book is clearly one of the most important in the English language and I look forward to seeing this national treasure on public display once again, alongside the many other fabulous treasures of Durham University."

Other University treasures on display will cover topics such as culture and creativity, science and exploration, governance and rule, faith and religion, and local history. The treasures have been drawn from collections across the University, including the Oriental Museum, the Old Fulling Mill Museum of Archaeology, Durham Castle and Palace Green Library.

They include:
First editions of Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens, and Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen;
A first edition Dictionary of the English Language by Samuel Johnson;
Chinese Imperial textiles;
The robe and sword of Ali Dinar, the last Sultan of Darfur, part of the University's Sudanese collection;
A leaf of a Bede manuscript written in the 9th century;
The earliest history of Durham Cathedral written 900 years ago;
13th to 15th Century Durham Mint coins produced by the Prince Bishops of Durham.

Professor Chris Higgins, Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, said: "The Shakespeare First Folio is an iconic book and one of many culturally and educationally important treasures held by the University.

"Refurbishing and expanding our exhibition space allows us to open up our treasures, so they can be safely displayed for the benefit of our students, staff, visiting scholars and the wider public.

"It is wonderful to be able to share our treasures, including the First Folio, so that everyone can enjoy the rich experience offered by Durham University."

Professor Higgins added: "Since the Folio's theft, our security arrangements at Palace Green have been significantly tightened.

"The refurbishment of the whole Palace Green Library will ensure all our treasures are much more accessible while being fully protected both physically and environmentally."

The new exhibition space complements on-going work to renovate the University's Alms Houses, on Owengate, as a visitor centre for the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Durham Cathedral and Castle. The Centre is due to be completed in May 2011.

The Treasures of Durham University exhibition is being held in the Wolfson Gallery, Palace Green Library, Durham, from Saturday, January 15, 2011. The Shakespeare First Folio will be on display until Sunday, March 6, 2011.

For information about the exhibition, or opening times and prices, contact 0191 334 2972; email pg.library@durham.ac.uk or visit www.dur.ac.uk/library/asc/exhibitions/treasures/.


Experts from Durham University will use a combination of traditional techniques and up to date conservation methods to conserve the Shakespeare First Folio after it has been on public display.

The First Folio was returned to the University in a poor condition earlier this year, following its theft in December 1998.

The binding and first and last pages had been removed and the first few and the last pages consequently came loose from the sewing and became damaged along the edges.

Staff from the University's Conservation Unit, based at Palace Green Library, will begin working to conserve the First Folio after it is removed from display in The Treasures of Durham University exhibition in March 2011.
To retain the shape of the book's original smooth gilded edges, the conservators plan to repair the sewing by laying new cords over those that remain.

The damaged pages will be repaired with Japanese paper and wheat starch paste and re-sewn on to the new cords.

New boards - the hard covers of books - will be made and laced on to the cords and the First Folio will then be rebound in dark blue goatskin. The previous binding, added in the 19th Century, had been made from dark brown goatskin.

Finally, the title will be lettered directly on to the spine with gold leaf and a drop back box, suitable for storing and protecting valuable books, will be made to protect the binding.

Liz Branigan, Senior Conservator at Durham University, said: "Working in Special Collections gives you the opportunity to work on many rare and interesting items like the Shakespeare First Folio.

"The damage caused to the book was upsetting, but we have put a lot of thought into our plans for its conservation so it can be preserved for the enjoyment of future generations."

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