University of London Considering a Deaccession of Shakespeare Folios

The University of London is testing the deaccession waters, tentatively planning to auction four early Shakespeare folios. They were gifted to the University’s Senate House Library in 1956. The proposal to sell them has drawn the usual arguments about commodification of rare objects, and the possible reticence of future donors to donate their rare possessions:

Anthony Smith, the former president of Magdalen College, Oxford, warned that such a sale could act as a major disincentive to potential donors to museums and libraries: “How can a library that has received such a gift within living memory bring itself to dispose of it? And how can it expect anyone else in future to give it anything at all of value?”

The rector of Lincoln College, Oxford, Henry Woudhuysen said: “I feel strongly that the first folios are the cornerstone of any great library. And you can’t just sell them when you feel like it and when you fall on hard financial times.” The proposal, said Christine Ferdinand, the librarian of Magdalen College, Oxford, was “egregiously wrong: the value of having these works together is hard to describe for scholars”.


  1. University of London’s plan to sell rare Shakespeare plays condemned, the Guardian (2013),

2 thoughts on “University of London Considering a Deaccession of Shakespeare Folios”

  1. Not to mention disadvantaging the library by announcing four at once. I should think that announcing one of the four to be sold would drive up the price considerably.

  2. Perhaps an acceptable alternative in deaccession cases would be to limit sales to other institutions such as public and university libraries and museums where such cultural items would remain available to the public. Sure, the prices realized would likely be substantially less, but an auction open to only such institutions might be surprising if the purchasing institution were given up to six months to seek contributions to pay for its acquisition.

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