All's well that ends well as lost Shakespeare is found

A worldwide search for a “priceless” Shakespearean treasure stolen from a university library in Britain 10 years ago has led to the arrest of a man in Britain, police said on Friday.

Police in Durham, north-east England, said a 51-year-old man was arrested during a raid on a house in nearby Sunderland, following a tip-off from staff at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, where he presented the Shakespeare writings for valuation.

The man, who described himself to police as an international businessman, claimed to have acquired the 1623 first folio collection of works by Shakespeare in Cuba and said he took them to the world-famous Washington library to see whether they were genuine.

He agreed to leave the material with librarians whose research revealed that it had been stolen, and who are soon expected to return it to Durham.

Experts said it was one of the first collections of Shakespeare’s plays printed, of which only between 200 and 300 copies are believed to have survived around the world.

Staff at the Folger Library alerted the FBI, which then passed on the information to the British embassy in Washington, leading to the raid and arrest in Britain on Thursday.

The BBC said experts estimated the collection to be worth at least £15-million.

The 1623 first folio of a collection of works by William Shakespeare was one of a number of literary works taken from Durham University in December 1998.

It was acquired by John Cosin, a former bishop of Durham, and was part of the library he established in Durham in 1669.

Several other rare literary treasures were stolen in the raid, including two hand-written manuscripts from the late 14th or early 15th century—one bearing an English translation of the New Testament and the other containing a fragment of a poem by Canterbury Tales author Geoffrey Chaucer.

Books stolen included an edition of Beowulf and two editions by the 10th-century scholar Aelfric, one printed in 1566 and the other in 1709.

They were among more than 50 works on public display in two rooms of the library charting the progress of English literature from the Middle Ages to the 20th century.

A police spokesperson in Durham said on Friday that a number of older books had been retrieved during the search at the house in Sunderland, but it was too early to say whether they included books taken in the 1998 theft.

Meanwhile, champagne corks were popping at Durham University where academics celebrated the happy ending expressing their “excitement and delight” that the Shakespeare had been recovered.

“This is not only wonderful news for Durham University but for all Shakespeare’s scholars and fans around the world,” said Bill Bryson, chancellor of the University and himself an author on Shakespeare. “I’ll certainly be joining the crowds who will be eagerly welcoming it home.”—Sapa-dpa


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