Tag Archives: William Shakespeare

Steve Grant’s First Folio Tour

This year, in honor of the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare (on April 23, 1616), the Folger Shakespeare Library has organized an extraordinary tour of First Folios from the Folger collection to all fifty states.  Steve Grant, author of our widely-admired Collecting Shakespeare: The Story of Henry and Emily Folger, has undertaken an similarly ambitious speaking schedule that will take him to several of the hosting libraries, museums, and institutions participating in the tour.  We’ve invited Steve to provide regular updates as he follows the First Folios around the country, speaking about their important literary and cultural history the extraordinary legacy of Henry and Emily Folger.

Guest post by Stephen H. Grant

Steve March 1

On display in the New Mexico Museum of Art during February, 2016, Shakespeare’s First Folio open to the “To Be or Not To Be” speech in Hamlet.

Partnering with St. Johns College in Santa Fe, the New Mexico Museum of Art won the competition to host the First Folio Exhibition from February 5 to February 28, 2016. While the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC––only two blocks from the U.S. Capitol––required that host institutions organize at least FOUR events during the exhibit, the Museum arranged FORTY events.

One event was the Shakespeare Treasure Hunt. Youngsters picked up a free treasure map and followed clues based on quotations from the Bard that led them downtown to declaim the lines to local merchants. Visitors from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art put on a workshop on the breath, sound, and articulation on Shakespeare’s sonnets, including practice in reading Shakespeare out loud. The Museum organized a day of love and art where participants created cards, heart ornaments, and Valentine’s Day collages inspired by Shakespeare.

Steve March 2

Director of the Palace Press at New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe, Tom Leech, demonstrates a wooden hand press like those used in early 17th century England.

Of all the First Folio Exhibit venues, New Mexico is the only state where a government was operating when Shakespeare was alive and writing The Tempest. Across the street from the New Mexico Museum of Art is the New Mexico History Museum, created in 1610 as Palace of the Governors, when Spain established its seat of government in Santa Fe to cover what is now the American southwest. It is the oldest continuously occupied building in the United States. Award-winning Palace Press printers Tom Leech and James Bourland mounted a multi-part exhibit where they printed facsimiles of a First Folio page using a replica Gutenberg wooden hand press. Visitors were invited to make their own prints to take home.

Steve March 4

Steve Grant outside New Mexico Museum of Art before his talk to 200 enthusiastic Shakespeare addicts.

In Conversation with John F. Andrews, President of the Shakespeare Guild, I spoke in St. Francis Auditorium on Collecting Shakespeare and the First Folio to 200 Shakespeare enthusiasts come from the area to catch a glimpse of the First Folio on display in an adjacent room and opened to the “To Be or Not To Be” soliloquy from Hamlet. The Shakespeare Society bid adieu to the First Folio on February 28 by performing familiar farewell scenes from Shakespeare.

Stephen H. Grant is the author of Collecting Shakespeare: The Story of Henry and Emily Folgerpublished by Johns Hopkins. He is a senior fellow at the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training and the author of Peter Strickland: New London Shipmaster, Boston Merchant, First Consul to Senegal. We expect Steve’s next report on the First Folio tour after he speaks in San Diego on June 22 the San Diego Public Library.


April 15, Noon
The Association of the Oldest Inhabitants of D.C.
Capitol Skyline Hotel, 10 I St., SW, Washington, D.C. 20024

Steve March 3

Tom Leech designed and printed this “WANTED Willy the Kid” poster displayed in many Santa Fe store windows during the residence of the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Shakespeare First Folio.

April 18, 10:30 am – noon
Live & Learn Bethesda Talk
4805 Edgemoor Ln, Bethesda, MD 20814

June 21, 11:00 am
Calvary Presbyterian Church Seniors Program Talk
2515 Fillmore St. San Francisco, CA 94115

June 22, 6:30 pm
San Diego Public Library Talk
330 Park Blvd., San Diego CA 92101

June 23, 6:00 pm
San Francisco Public Library Talk
Main Library, Koret Auditorium, 100 Larkin St, San Francisco CA 94102

September 29, 6:30 pm
Cathedral West Condominiums Talk
4100 Cathedral Ave. NW, Washington DC, 20016



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Filed under Book talks, Libraries, Literature, Shakespeare

Happy birthday, Jane Austen!

Jane Austen was born on December 16, 1775, in Steventon, Hampshire, England. Today, on her 239th birthday, Austen’s life and work continue to attract enormous world-wide interest. In 2016, the Folger Shakespeare Library will host an exhibition called Will & Jane: Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity, exploring how these writers became literary superheroes. The exhibition will be co-curated by JHU Press authors Janine Barchas (Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity) and Kristina Straub (Domestic Affairs: Intimacy, Eroticism, and Violence between Servants and Masters in Eighteenth-Century Britain).  Congratulations, Janine and Kristina: we’ll see you at the Folger!  For now: Happy birthday, Jane!

“Will & Jane” artwork by Amanda Vela 



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Filed under Biography, D.C., Libraries, Literature, Shakespeare, Washington, Women's History

Henry Clay Folger’s Greatest Honor

Guest post by Stephen H. Grant

A century ago, in 1914, Henry Folger received an honorary Doctorate of Letters from Amherst College. The citation read: “Henry Clay Folger, a graduate of this college in 1879, called to the bar in due course, called by ability, by character, by efficiency, integrity and the confidence of men in his judgment to the widest fields and the highest posts in leading and guiding the industrial development of the land; a collector of the largest assemblage yet known of the editions and the literature of the greatest dramatist, gathered with learning, watchful care and studious pains; owner of 49 copies of the first folio edition of the plays of Shakespeare, a priceless and unexampled field for comparative research. I ask you alike for his services in the affairs of a great empire of industry whose produce is on every sea and its light on all lands and for his knowledge in the most important field known in English literature to confer upon him the degree of Doctor of Letters.”

Grant Fig 30

Emily Jordan Folger wearing her purple Amherst hood in the reading room of the Folger Shakespeare Library in 1932. She gazes at the Frank O. Salisbury portrait of her husband, Henry Clay Folger, in the same hood.

Another awardee at the ceremony was ex-President William Howard Taft, who received an honorary Doctor of Laws Degree. Who was observing the two eminent gentlemen enter the motor vehicle headed for a banquet following the exercises? Folger was five feet four and weighed 115 lbs. Taft was six feet tall and weighed 335 lbs. Inside, Dr. Taft leaned over and said mischievously to Dr. Folger, “Forty-nine Folios? We have the fiftieth at Yale.” Founder of the University’s Elizabethan Club, Yale alumnus Alexander S. Cochran donated to the Club a Shakespeare First Folio in 1911.

In picking Folger for an honorary degree, Amherst got it right. Folger had climbed to the top of two vastly different fields: the petroleum industry and Shakespeare collection. To have accomplished either one would have been a prodigious undertaking. By 1914, Folger was president of Standard Oil Company of New York, which later became Mobil Corporation. His Shakespeare collection then included forty-nine First Folios, all different in some way. Before he died in 1930, Folger had acquired eighty-two copies of the Bard’s 1623 collected dramatic works published posthumously in London.

Folger wrote Amherst trustee, Talcott Williams, “I wish to thank you from the bottom of my heart for this the greatest honor of my life.” He wrote his pastor, S. Parkes Cadman, “It was most unexpected, but the greatest possible honor. Amherst gives few degrees. You will be amused at the basis for conferring it; it was not all Shakespeare.” From Pocantico Hills, New York, came this tongue-in-cheek accolade: “I congratulate you upon receiving the degree, and that your connection with a great and useful business organization did not detract from your high standing,” signed John D. Rockefeller.

Henry Clay Folger died in 1930 without having seen a stone of the Folger Shakespeare Library built or his entire collection assembled in the nation’s capital across the street from the Library of Congress. His wife, Emily, took over the decision making responsibilities and was present to turn over the keys of the Library to the chairman of the Amherst trustees on Shakespeare’s 368th birthday, April 23, 1932.

Later that year, Amherst College bestowed on Emily a degree with this citation: “Emily Clara Jordan, graduate of Vassar College, through many years the enthusiastic, tireless, and discriminating companion of Henry Clay Folger in the collection of a unique library of the works of Shakespeare; generous benefactress of Amherst College and of the lovers of letters throughout the whole world; the degree which 18 years ago Amherst College appropriately bestowed upon your husband it now, with the same hood as symbol, confers upon you, as I create you a Doctor of Letters.” It was a triumphant yet bittersweet moment for Emily Jordan Folger.

grant.collectingStephen H. Grant is the author of Collecting Shakespeare: The Story of Henry and Emily Folgerpublished by Johns Hopkins. He is a senior fellow at the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training and the author of Peter Strickland: New London Shipmaster, Boston Merchant, First Consul to Senegal.

Meet Steve Grant on October 23 at the Oliver Wolcott Library in Litchfield, CT; on November 8 at the National Press in Washington, DC; and on December 1 at the Central Library in Arlington, VA.  For more information, visit Steve’s website.


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Filed under American History, Biography, D.C., Literature, Press Events, Shakespeare

Shall we take the ferry to Nantucket to visit the Folger Shakespeare Library?

Guest post by Stephen H. Grant 

North and west facades of the Folger Shakespeare Library the year before it opened (Folger Shakespeare Library).

North and west facades of the Folger Shakespeare Library the year before it opened (Folger Shakespeare Library).

It was not a foregone conclusion that the Folger Shakespeare Library be built two blocks from the U.S. Capitol. Hidden away among Folger papers as I scoured in the library’s underground vault during the research phase of Collecting Shakespeare: The Story of Henry and Emily Folger, I found a small undated note with ten possible sites for the Folger in alphabetical order written in co-founder Henry Folger’s meticulous clerk’s hand.

Nantucket was included because the Massachusetts island off Cape Cod had been home to the Folger tribe since surveyor and court clerk Peter Foulger arrived from Norwich, England, in the 1660s. In Moby Dick, Herman Melville wrote of “Folgers and harpooners,” as Henry’s grandfather, master blacksmith Samuel, fashioned cutting-in spades for the whaling trade. Henry’s Uncle James, after leaving Nantucket to seek his fortune in California during the Gold Rush, founded Folgers Coffee. Ever the businessman, oilman Henry calculated that a plot of land on Nantucket would cost $25,000.

Brooklynite Henry Folger eyed the lavish home at 1015 Fifth Avenue, which was owned by Jay Gould’s granddaughter, as well as the one next door belonging to socialite Edith Clark. These Manhattan properties each required an outlay of $550,000, Folger figured. Exerting the most pressure was Stratford-upon-Avon; if successful, this faraway lobby would have meant repatriating to British soil the Shakespeare treasures acquired largely at auctions in England. Folger also declared, “I have been importuned by several Colleges and Universities to locate my library of Shakespeareana with them, but I have never felt disposed to consider the suggestions.”

Diagram in Henry Folger’s hand of four possible library sites on Capitol Hill (Folger Shakespeare Library).

Diagram in Henry Folger’s hand of four possible library sites on Capitol Hill (Folger Shakespeare Library).

“I finally concluded I would give it to Washington; for I am a patriot,” Folger affirmed. Before WWI, Washington was a sleepy southern town. Contributing to the literary and cultural enhancement of the political capital appealed to the Folgers. Perhaps without fully realizing the extent of their gift, the Folgers, in their quiet way, were responsible for an uptick in America’s reputation and prestige: the moment of arrival for the young country on the world scene as Europe’s equal, and, in some respects, superior.

Secrecy was a practice Folger applied to his real estate acquisitions as well as to his book buying. In 1918 he wrote to a land speculator known for his clandestine purchases asking him to “inquire very cautiously” about four locations on Capitol Hill. One, noted on city maps as “future gov’t building,” would become twenty years later the Supreme Court; that was a non-starter. A second became the Lutheran Church of the Reformation across 2nd Street NE from the Court on East Capitol Street. A third eventually became the Madison building of the Library of Congress. The Folgers decided on one of the most opulent blocks on the Hill: an assemblage of fourteen redbrick Italianate rowhouses known as Grant’s Row (no relation to the author). It cost Folger $317,000 and took him more than eight years to buy the properties on the 200 block of East Capitol Street SE. Henry Folger’s name appeared on no document related to the transaction: as a result, virtually no one knew he had become the owner.

In mid-January 1928, the Folgers read with horror a Washington Post article that a bill pending in Congress had identified Grant’s Row and the lot to the south for a Library of Congress annex. With trepidation, Henry wrote Herbert Putnam, the Librarian of Congress, “Should I give up the thought of making Washington the choice for a location [of my Shakespeare library]?” Without hesitation, an elated Dr. Putnam agreed to have the bill modified so that the annex would spare the Folgers’ property but occupy the remaining portion of the two lots. A wise Congress recognized the numerous benefits of having a private specialized library across the street from a public general library.

Grant’s Row, the fourteen redbrick rowhouses built by Albert Grant and which were demolished (Library of Congress)

Grant’s Row, the fourteen redbrick rowhouses built by Albert Grant and which were demolished (Library of Congress).

The Folgers would endow the library, build a decorative façade on its north side, and “dedicate this remarkable collection to the culture of the American public.” Both House and Senate passed the modified legislation unanimously. President Coolidge signed the bill (Public Law 70-453) into law on May 21, 1928.

It is especially appropriate in 2014—the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birthday—to celebrate the world-class Folger Shakespeare Library and its founders, who eighty-two years ago defined the purpose of the research library: to “give generations to come a better working knowledge and understanding of the literary works of the seventeenth century.”

grant.collectingStephen H. Grant is the author of Collecting Shakespeare: The Story of Henry and Emily Folgerpublished by Johns Hopkins. He is a senior fellow at the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training and the author of Peter Strickland: New London Shipmaster, Boston Merchant, First Consul to Senegal.

Meet Steve at Washington’s Politics and Prose Bookstore during his book talk and signing on July 26 at 6:00 p.m.





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Filed under American History, Biography, Book talks, D.C., Libraries, Literature, Regional-Chesapeake Bay, Shakespeare, Washington

The Bard’s Birthday

Guest post by Stephen H. Grant

Shakespeare Bust Holy TrinityThe Bard Will was born on the same day he died—and no one knows for sure on what day he was born. No birth certificate has been found for William Shakespeare. The closest thing is a baptism certificate dated April 26, 1564, in the parish register at Stratford-upon-Avon. Shakespeare’s bust in the Holy Trinity Church states that he died on April 23, 1616, at the age of 53. Traditionally, then, April 23 is celebrated around the world as his birthday.

On April 23, 1932, the English-speaking world celebrated Shakespeare’s 368th birthday in splendid fashion. The Prince of Wales flew from Windsor Castle to Stratford in a red monoplane. On the banks of the Avon River, he and the American ambassador Andrew W. Mellon spoke at the opening of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre. American donors had raised nearly half the funds to construct the building, rebuilt after a fire; John D. Rockefeller Jr. was the largest American contributor, a fine irony considering that his father’s longtime factotum and executive employee, Henry Folger, had vigorously competed with Britons—Henry E. Huntington and others—to build a nonpareil Shakespeare collection.

Mellon’s Shakespeare speech marked his first public foray beyond London. “We in America,” he intoned, “share with you a feeling of pride that England has given such a man to the world. He was of the heritage which we carried with us in founding a new civilization on the other side of the ocean, and his thoughts and the incomparable language in which he clothed them have become with us a part of our very being, as they are with you and all the English-speaking world.”

On the other side of the Atlantic from Stratford, a newly confident American culture was about to receive an emblematic gift expressing its arrival as Europe’s equal in cultivation and respect for high culture. In Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania accepted a fine library assembled by the Henry Folgers’ close friend, Shakespeare scholar Horace Howard Furness. In Washington, Emily Jordan Folger—who had studied for her master’s degree under Furness—sat on the stage of the Elizabethan-inspired theater in the newly completed Folger Shakespeare Library on its dedication day. She wore a shoulder corsage of orchids and lilies of the valley over her Vassar academic robe. Choked with emotion, she spoke: “Shakespeare says for Mr. Folger and me, ‘I would you would accept of grace and love’ this key. It is the key to our hearts.” Her husband had died in 1930 without seeing one stone of the library or all his books assembled together.

Turning our attention from 1564, 1616, and 1932 to 2014, Shakespeare’s 450th Birth Day in England will manifest a different array of celebrations, including:

• Royal Shakespeare Co., Stratford-upon-Avon will perform Henry IV, Part 1.

• Shakespeare’s Globe, London is playing Hamlet.

• At the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon, the resident troupe of actors brings Shakespeare’s complete works to life in just two hours.

• The twenty-foot mechanical figure of Lady Godiva will be sleeping over on Henley Street in Stratford-upon-Avon, sharing stories and exploring the role of women in Shakespeare’s works.

• London’s Victoria and Albert Museum will display the real human skull given to French actress Sarah Bernhardt by novelist Victor Hugo for her performance as Hamlet in 1899.

grant.collectingStephen H. Grant is the author of Collecting Shakespeare: The Story of Henry and Emily Folger. He is a senior fellow at the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training and the author of Peter Strickland: New London Shipmaster, Boston Merchant, First Consul to Senegal.




Filed under Biography, D.C., Literature, Shakespeare, Washington