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

By David Montgomery and Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 10, 2010; C01

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.

But all's not quite well that ends well (to cite another of the Bard's plays unique to the First Folio). The Durham Folio that Scott brought to the Folger had been badly mutilated, with the covers and binding removed, and two front pages and the last page cut out.

"To be confronted with the theft and mutilation of not only a national treasure, but a world treasure, is really upsetting," said Richard Kuhta, the former librarian of the Folger, now retired, who led the team of scholars and curators responsible for the recovery, research and return of the missing Durham Folio. "Once I knew what I was dealing with -- your heart just stops for a moment."

On June 16, 2008, Scott strutted and fretted his way into the stately marble and oak-paneled library on Capitol Hill -- and onto the world stage. Ever since, Folger staffers have said they felt legally constrained from sharing details of what happened. Now, for the first time, they speak freely.

That day, Kuhta said, Scott was wearing designer sunglasses, an oversize T-shirt with a big fish on it, a big gold watch and lots of jewelry. He said he traveled a lot and was just up from a villa in Cuba, where the fishing had been great.

At first, Kuhta was more puzzled than alarmed by his unannounced visitor. Scott said he wanted the Folger's experts to confirm that the book was a First Folio and also to appraise it, so Scott could sell it at auction.

When Kuhta cautioned that maybe it wasn't a First Folio, Scott became agitated.

"Mr. Scott took the book, sort of spun it around, started flipping through the pages like he was handling an airport novel, and insisting it was a First Folio," Kuhta said. "He went from being obsequious to being insistent. I just sort of leaned back in my chair and said [to myself], 'Hmm, what do we have here?' "

The real work was about to begin.

"The most important thing I did was to never let that book out of my sight once I became suspicious," Kuhta said.

Fortunately, Scott agreed to the Folger's standard procedures -- most especially, leaving the volume in the Folger's custody while the authentication and appraisal work was done over two weeks.

Scott was staying at the Mayflower Hotel. He popped by the Folger a couple of more times, always bearing gifts -- more cigars, expensive bow ties. One day he carefully counted out 25 $100 bills to become a member of the library's Curators' Circle of patrons. (The library put the money in an escrow account and has not spent it.) Scott attended one of the staff's daily afternoon teas, contributing a cake, inscribed "Shakespear" -- misspelled.

Kuhta knew the first day that the mysterious volume was a genuine First Folio. He had Georgianna Ziegler, the head of reference, take it to the library's vault, deep underground, and do a preliminary comparison with authenticated First Folios. (Other Folger staffers on the sleuthing team included Stephen Galbraith, curator of books, and Renate Mesmer, assistant head of conservation. Daniel De Simone, a rare books curator at the Library of Congress, also was consulted.)

The covers and pages missing from Scott's mysterious folio would have borne telltale stamps revealing it as the missing Durham Folio.

"Anything that would have made it easy to identify had been removed," Kuhta said.

Because the Folger doesn't do appraisals, Kuhta told Scott he wanted to bring in New York-based Stephen Massey, an expert formerly with Christie's. No two First Folios are the same size. In rebinding over the centuries, each has been trimmed unpredictably. The missing Durham Folio was known to be 210 millimeters wide by 330 millimeters in height. Massey measured this one: 210 by 330, exactly.

In addition, the Folger curators had already noted that someone long ago had hand-written "Troilus and Cressida" on the table of contents, another feature of the missing folio.

By this time, late that June, Scott had left Washington, promising to stay in touch. Kuhta made several phone calls: to the FBI, Scotland Yard, the British Embassy and the library at Durham University. "I believe we've recovered your book," he said.

The Folger staff spent the next four months doing confirmatory studies on the volume -- examining sewing supports from the binding, finding unique typographical anomalies. "We overworked the case, because we knew if we went to court, our work could be challenged," Kuhta said. At trial, presented with evidence assembled by the Folger, Scott's lawyer conceded it was the missing Durham Folio: stolen property.

Day after day in Newcastle Crown Court, Scott continued the flamboyant role he had assigned himself, detailing for reporters the designer names of his courtroom outfits and accessories: Valentino, Versace, Cartier, Louis Vuitton. But the prosecution presented evidence of a different persona: A man who lived with his mother on state benefits; who ran up about $135,000 in credit card debt.

His own lawyer summed up to the jury: "There's no fool like an old fool."

At Durham University, there was rejoicing: "It was like the heart had been taken out of the library," said Sheila Hingley, head of the university's Heritage Collections, "and now we've got it back."

Omonira-Oyekanmi reported from London.

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