Shakespeare First Folio's saga ends as man is convicted of handling stolen goods

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By David Montgomery and Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 10, 2010

The flashy, champagne-loving British book fancier who walked into the Folger Shakespeare Library two years ago with what turned out to be a rare, valuable -- and stolen -- volume of Shakespeare's First Folio was cleared of theft but convicted of two related crimes Friday in a British courtroom.

Raymond Scott, who always carries a jeweled champagne flute with him, and who sometimes travels to court in a limousine or a horse-drawn carriage with a Scots piper, was taken into custody. He will receive a psychiatric evaluation. At sentencing within the next month, he faces up to 14 years for handling stolen goods and taking stolen goods out of Britain.

Antiquarian detective work by a team of scholars at the Folger was instrumental in cracking the case. They quickly identified the book as the prized Durham First Folio, 387 years old and worth about $2 million. It had been stolen from a glass case in the Durham University Library in 1998. Its subsequent whereabouts were unknown, until Scott came calling at the Folger and pulled the 900-page relic from his bag, along with a box of Cuban cigars.

"We were very grateful to the staff at the Folger," said Chris Enzor, Durham chief crown prosecutor. "It was their expertise and professionalism that led to the return of this national treasure to us."

At the Folger on Friday morning, staffers expressed surprise and a little disappointment that Scott hadn't been convicted on all charges. But most of all, they shared a sense of pride for the walk-on part they played in the bizarre drama.

"All of us here are just delighted we could play a role in restoring the First Folio to the Durham Library," said Stephen Enniss, librarian of the Folger. "Really, that's the most important outcome."

Scott's attorney, Toby Hedworth, could not be reached for comment. During his closing argument at the trial, he cast his client as the innocent fool, a Walter Mitty type taken in by friends in Cuba.

"Yes, he's feckless and a spendthrift," Hedworth said, according to the Northern Echo newspaper. "He is, you may think, of questionable taste. . . . Is he just the sort of bizarre, naive, out-of-the-mainstream type of character who could be taken in by someone much more worldly and cynical in Cuba?"

Scott, 53, never took the stand. He lived with his mother in a humble book-crammed abode, with his Ferrari in the garage, several miles from Durham University, in northeast England. In a 2008 interview with The Washington Post, he claimed that the folio was owned by friends in Cuba, on whose behalf he was acting. "If I had been the person who had stolen this book, the last thing in the world I would do is to openly walk into the Folger Shakespeare Library, under my own name, showing them my passport -- the great center of Shakespeare learning -- and say, 'What have I got here?' " he said then.

From the beginning, the case bore elements of tragedy, comedy -- farce, actually -- and history, just as the lost-and-found anthology of plays is organized into those three dramatic genres favored by the Bard.

Published in 1623, the First Folio contains 36 of Shakespeare's plays and is the unique reliable source for about half of his works. A world without the First Folio would be a world without "The Tempest," "Twelfth Night," "Henry VIII," "Antony and Cleopatra" or "Macbeth." Scholars consider the First Folio one of the most important books printed in English, along with its near contemporary, the King James Bible.

Some 230 copies of the First Folio are known to survive, including 79 at the Folger, the world's largest collection of them. The Durham Folio was among the most prized by scholars, because it was in such good condition and could be traced to a single-ownership lineage back to the early 17th century.

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