Rare Shakespeare First Folios Tour U.S. ESU Kansas City Branch is One of Six Partners with Kansas City Public Library to Bring a First Folio Exhibit to Kansas City

This is a story about determination, perseverance, and unity of purpose. The cast of characters in this non-fiction story all had the same passion and obsession as a man named Henry Clay Folger, a business titan in the 19th Century, who amassed the largest collection of First Folios in the world. We’ll learn more about Henry Clay Folger later in the story.

This story begins in the early 17th Century when William Shakespeare died in 1616 at the age of 52. During his lifetime he wrote approximately 39 plays, 154 sonnets and three narrative poems. Most of his plays were written to be performed on stage and, as a result, only a few were  published during his lifetime. 

Seven years after Shakespeare’s death, in 1623, two of his fellow actors, John Heminges and Henry Condell, felt there was a need to collect all of Shakespeare’s plays and publish them in a book called the First Folio. By doing so, they hoped to preserve them for future generations. 

If the First Folio containing Shakespeare’s 39 plays had never been compiled and published, we would have never known 18 of his works including Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night, and The Tempest, It is hard to imagine, but they would have been lost forever were it not for Heminges and Condell’s First Folio.

It is estimated that about 750 copies of the First Folio were originally printed. Today, there are only 235 known copies in existence. First Folios are rare and regarded as one of the most collectible books in the world. In October 2020, Christie’s Auction House in New York City, sold a First Folio for a record $9.98 million. The previous record was in 2001 when a copy sold for $6.1 million.

Most of the 235 copies are in private collections around the world. There is one exception. That brings us to Henry Clay Folger (1857-1930). Folger worked for the Standard Oil Group and rising through the ranks, he eventually became CEO of Standard Oil of New York. During his college years at Amherst College, he developed in interest in Shakespeare. 

Folger turned this driving force into an obsession for collecting First Folios. In the end, he acquired 82 copies of the First Folio, by far the largest collection in the world and more than a third of the 235 known copies in the world today.

In 2014, two years before the  400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, the American Library Association in collaboration with the Folger Shakespeare Library, and the Cincinnati Museum Center, announced a major tour of First Folios throughout the U.S. beginning January, 2016—400 years after Shakespeare’s death. 

Eighteen First Folios from the Folger Shakespeare Library were selected to go on tour throughout the U.S. One city in each of the 50 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico was to be selected to display the First Folio and accompanying exhibits. The First Folio Exhibit would be on display four weeks in each city. 

The race was on for selecting the one city in Missouri to display the prestigious First Folio Exhibit for four weeks. Would it be Kansas City, St. Louis, or St. Joseph? The passion and determination grew strong  for Kansas City to be the winning city in Missouri to host the First Folio.

Partnering with the Kansas City Public Library were the following six organizations: Heart of America Shakespeare Festival, the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Department of Theatre and Department of English Language and Literature, the Kansas City Branch of the English-Speaking Union, Missouri Humanities Council, and KCUR-FM.

The ESU Kansas City Branch was up for the challenge. Jeff Schnabel, Chairman of the ESU Kansas City Branch Task Force worked with the Library’s other five partners to secure Kansas City as the host city for Missouri. This task force had the passion and determination to help bring the First Folio Exhibit to Kansas City.

By early Fall of 2014, the Kansas City Public Library submitted the application. The announcement of the 52 winning cities would be made in February 2015. 

On February 26, 2015, the host cities were announced by the Folger Shakespeare Library. Kansas City, Missouri, would be one of 52 stops for a nationwide tour of the historical Shakespeare First Folio document.

he Kansas City Public Library and the six partners were overjoyed with excitement. The  Kansas City Public Library would have the privilege of exhibiting this traveling exhibition tour titled, First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare.” This exhibit offered the public, English and history scholars, literary historians and, of course, students from grade school to post graduate studies a rare opportunity to observe and study this historical document.  

The dates for the First Folio Exhibit in Kansas City were June 6-28, 2016. The ESU Kansas City Branch scheduled three major events to promote the First Folio Exhibit.

ESU-Folger Teaching Shakespeare Workshop

The ESU, in partnership with the  Folger Shakespeare Library, developed a custom-designed one-day Workshop for teachers to learn a new, exciting approach to teaching Shakespeare. The Workshop offered lively, hands-on practice with techniques that work with all kinds of students in all kinds of classrooms. The Workshop was held on June 15, 2016 at the Kansas City Public Library. Thirty teachers around the Kansas City metro area attended the Workshop. It was praised by teachers who had the opportunity to work with a Master Teacher from the Folger National Teaching Corps.

The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger’s Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare’s First FolioThe ESU hosted a special lecture program in connection with the First Folio Exhibition. Acclaimed author, Andrea Mays, had just published a book titled, “The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger’s Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare’s First Folio.” It tells the miraculous and romantic story of the making of Shakespeare’s First Folio, and of the American industrialist, Henry Folger, whose thrilling pursuit of the book became a lifelong obsession. The free lecture was held on Tuesday, May 24, 2016, at the Kansas City Public Library.

Andrea Mays “Meet & Greet the Author” Buffet Reception Fundraiser Immediately following the lecture program, the ESU Kansas City Branch hosted a special fundraising event for guests to meet Andrea Mays.

Attending the Andrea Mays “Meet & Greet the Author” Buffet Reception Fundraiser on May 24, 2016. (L to R) Crosby Kemper, Executive Director Kansas City Public Library; Dan Bukovac, ESU Kansas City Board Member; Ginnie Bukovac, ESU Member; Andrea Mays; Jeff Schnabel, ESU Kansas City Board Member; Dr. Felicia Londré, Curators’    Professor of Theatre, UMKC;  Deborah McArdle, president of ESU Kansas City Branch; Larry Hamel, ESU Kansas City Board Member.

Teachers acting out a scene from a Shakespeare play in the Workshop

Deborah McArdle participating in a teaching exercise with another teacher

Dan Bukovac, ESU KC Shakespeare Competition Coordinator, giving a presentation to the teachers on how the Competition is administered for high school students.

(L to R) Jeff Schnabel, past president ESU KC Branch; Jessica Cakrasenjaya, Master Teacher from the Folger National Teacher Corps, Deborah McArdle, president of ESU Kansas City Branch. 

Invitation to Andrea Mays “Meet & Greet the Author” Buffet Reception Fundraiser