LONDON – It’s a case of all’s well that ends well.
Police have recovered a 400-year-old volume of Shakespeare stolen in England a decade ago and worth millions of dollars after a man walked into a library in Washington, D.C., and asked to have it authenticated.
Police in Durham, northeast England, said Friday they had arrested a 51-year-old man over the theft of the First Folio edition of 1623, which scholars consider one of the most important printed books in the English language.
It was among seven centuries-old books and manuscripts stolen in December 1998 from a display case at the Durham University library.
The university said at the time it would be virtually impossible to sell the books to legitimate buyers, and for almost a decade police found no trace of them.
The mystery began to unravel on June 16 when a man brought the First Folio to Washington’s Folger Shakespeare Library and asked to have it verified as genuine. The man claimed to be an international businessman who had bought the volume in Cuba.
Garland Scott, head of external relations at the library, said library staff members soon had their suspicions raised. The book was largely intact, but the end boards and some early pages – which bore marks that would have identified them as the Durham copy – had been removed.
Staff members at the library asked to keep the book while they did research, and their investigation soon confirmed it was stolen. They told the FBI, which launched an international appeal to find the man.
Police said a suspect was arrested at an address in the English town of Washington, near Durham, on Thursday. He was being questioned Friday while detectives searched his home.
The First Folio was published seven years after William Shakespeare’s death and was the first collected edition of his plays. Some 750 copies were printed, and about a third have survived, though most are incomplete. Only about 40 complete copies of the book are known to exist, most in museums or public collections.