A VALUABLE Shakespeare first edition stolen from a university library was displayed in public for the first time in a decade in Newcastle yesterday.
The 387-year-old relic, which is at the centre of international intrigue involving a flamboyant book dealer, a cocktail waitress and a Cuban special forces commando, was carried into Newcastle Crown Court in a padlocked black plastic strongbox.
Jurors watched as the badly damaged first folio, part of a haul of antiquarian books stolen from Durham University in 1998, was presented to the court on a pillow next to the witness box.
The book, described by experts as the most important printed work of English literature in the world, was missing until book dealer Raymond Scott handed it to staff at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC asking for it to be authenticated. Posing as a wealthy international playboy he told researchers he’d been entrusted with the folio by friends in Cuba, the court heard.
Folger staff suspected the folio, which had its covers removed and pages missing, might be stolen and contacted the British Embassy, Durham Police and the FBI. Weeks later Scott, of Manor Grange, Wingate, County Durham, was arrested.
The 53-year-old watched intently from the dock as the 1623 artefact once owned by Bishop of Durham John Cosin, was examined. The trial was told Scott “damaged, brutalised, and mutilated” the folio in an attempt to disguise it after its theft from a display of treasures of English Literature at the Cosin Library on Durham University’s Palace Green.
But former university librarian and Keeper of Rare Books Ian Doyle said the folio was unique and had been quickly identified as the Cosin edition. He told the trial: “Of course, it is the most important printed book of English literature in its contents, since its contents are all or virtually all of Shakespeare’s plays, and as many of them are not in any other printed edition is therefore the sole source of our knowledge of them.”
Dr Doyle said it was identifiable by peculiarities in the way the book was printed and in its size, plus a handwritten note on the catalogue page referring to the play Troilus And Cressida. He said the book, which was normally kept in a safe, was stolen from a locked, reinforced exhibition cabinet. University staff did not realise immediately because the cabinets were covered by blankets to protect the exhibits from the sun.
The court has heard how Scott, who has denied the theft, handling and transportation overseas of the folio, had become infatuated with a young Cuban waitress and had been sending her money, leaving himself £90,000 in debt. He met Heidy Garcia Rios while staying in Havana.
She was part of a triumvirate including Scott and retired Cuban Army commandant Deni Mareno Leon planning to share the proceeds of the folio sale, the court heard. Scott claimed Leon entrusted him with the folio after inheriting it from his late mother, who had stored it for more than 50 years in a wooden bible box at her home in Havana.