First collection of William Shakespeare's plays sells for a record $10 million

The rare book, which dates back to 1623, contains a number of the playwright's most famous works

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A rare book from 1623 that brought together William Shakespeare's plays for the first time sold for a record $9.97 million at auction on Wednesday.

The First Folio containing 36 of Shakespeare's plays, one of only six known complete copies in private hands, was bought by American private collector Stephan Loewentheil, Christie's in New York said.

The buyer is founder of the 19th Century Rare Book and Photograph Shop in the US.

The price also marked a new world auction record for any printed work of literature, and smashed the previous high of $6.16 million for a Shakespeare First Folio that was set in 2001, the auction company said.

Comedies, Histories and Tragedies was compiled by friends of the English playwright seven years after his death. It includes 18 plays that had never been published before and might have been lost, including Macbeth and Julius Caesar.

"It is an honour to purchase one of only a handful of complete copies of this epochal volume. It will ultimately serve as a centrepiece of a great collection of intellectual achievements of man," Loewentheil said in a statement.

The First Folio marked the first time that Shakespeare's plays had been organised as comedies, tragedies and histories. The book's large size – previously reserved for law books and works of theology – helped raise Shakespeare's status in future years, Christie's books experts said.

Without the First Folio some of Shakespeare's most famous lines would likely have been lost, including classics like "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears," from Julius Caesar, and "If music be the food of love, play on," from Twelfth Night.

The October 14 sale was the first time in nearly 20 years that a complete copy of the First Folio had come to auction. It was put up for auction by Mills College, a private liberal arts college in Oakland, California.