Mills College — the 148-year-old women's college in Oakland’s Leona Heights neighborhood — has struggled over the past several years to make up for a multi-million dollar deficit. In 2017, the institution claimed a “financial emergency” and laid off staff (including five tenured professors) amidst budgetary problems. Now, the college is selling a treasured copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio and an authentic, handwritten musical score by Mozart as a means to financially catch up.
KQED first broke the news earlier this week that the Oakland institution was gung-ho on selling two of its prized possessions: a 1623 copy of William Shakespeare’s First Folio and a handwritten musical composition by none other than the late Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart himself.
The library is not an ATM, and even selling a First Folio is not enough to solve Mills College’s financial problems. https://t.co/GWkOjcnRkk— John Overholt (@john_overholt) December 13, 2019
“In order to continue to support Mills’ current programs and people while we build a bridge to a sustainable future, the college has decided to sell two precious assets,” Elizabeth Hillman, the school’s sitting president, wrote in an internal email Thursday that was later published by the media outlet. “These gifts have been treasured deeply by the Mills community and will now be sold in compliance with college regulations.”
Given to Mills College in 1977 by Marie Louise O’Brien — who’s father, Elias Olan James, taught English Literature at Mills and was a namesake of a Shakespeare collection at the campus's Olin Library — authentic copies of First Folios are notorious for fetching millions. And shattering records, whenever those sales are finalized.
The most recent trade of ownership of a copy was sold on the popular bookselling and auctioning website Christies in 2016 for $2.75 million; a First Folio was auctioned at a dizzying $6.1 million in 2001 — which in today’s money, would’ve been sold for the equivalent of $8.8 million — making it one of the most expensive 17th-century books ever sold. (That honor, however, goes to a Puritan book of psalms printed in 1640, one of only 1,700 thought to be made, that was purchased for more than $14 million in an NYC auction circa 2013.)
“It is the first collection of Shakespeare’s [thirty-six] plays and includes [fifteen] that have not been published separately before,” said Thomas Goldwasser, a well-respected book historian and seller in SF, waxed to the news site. “One would have to consider it the single most important work in English literature.” Currently, there are only 235 surviving copies of the book known worldwide.
Interestingly enough, the exact folio Mills College is putting up for sale was already evaluated in 2007 by Stuart Bennett, an SF-based rare bookseller, according to the Bay City News Group. To the news outlet, Bennet admitted that he’d be “very surprised” if the college’s copy didn’t sell for at least $4 milion, perhaps even eclipsing $6 million at its final sell.
Mozart’s score, though, isn’t expected to garner nearly as high of a price tag when all is said and done. Sources put its worth, conservatively, in the six-figure realm. We tracked down a recent like-penned score by the 18th-century-composer that sold in Paris for the equivalent of $420,304.
These two sales are part of the MillsNext Strategic Plan to help safeguard them from looming (and more severe) financial woes. But, with slipping attendance and graduation rates, only time will tell as to how much longer they can hold on by the skin of their teeth.
Image: Flickr via @BenSutherland