The Letterpress Shakespeare in New York
On 18 June, The Folio Society held its first official press launch outside of the UK with an evening reception to celebrate the completion of The Letterpress Shakespeare. The venue was the Official Residence of the British Consul General in New York City, and guests came from across the media and publishing industries, along with some long-time local Letterpress Shakespeare collectors. After opening remarks from Martin Cook, Deputy Consul General, Folio’s Production Director Joe Whitlock Blundell gave a brief, engaging talk on the genesis of the project – in short, explaining why we took the decision to print, by letterpress, all 38 of Shakespeare’s plays, as well as the sonnets and poems, and present them in individually leather-bound volumes, each with hand-marbled paper sides. As Joe pointed out, the original concept may well have been caused by temporary insanity, but the end result, eight years on, is one of The Folio Society’s proudest achievements.
Among those present to see all 39 volumes together in one room for the very first time were representatives from The New Yorker, the New York Times, Forbes Magazine and the London Evening Standard, and a number of well-known historians, artists and writers, including Simon Winchester, author of The Surgeon of Crowthorne, a fascinating book (soon to appear in a Folio edition) that explores the origins of another monument to the English language, the OED. Also on hand were leading lights from various historical, linguistic and performing-arts organisations including the Royal Oak Foundation, the English Speaking Union and the Globe Theatre USA.
One very special treat was a performance by actor and long-time Folio Society member Richard L. Sterne of Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech from Romeo and Juliet. Richard, a New York resident, made his professional acting debut in the legendary 1964 Broadway production of Hamlet, directed by John Gielgud and starring Richard Burton – a production staged for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. The rehearsals and out-of-town openings of the production inspired Richard to write a book about it, first published in 1967. It made a perfect epilogue to the evening. Our thanks to staff at the Consulate and to Richard for his ebullient performance.