A highly-valuable collection of Shakespeare’s works stolen 10 years ago has been recovered with the help of staff from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon.
The first folio edition, printed in 1623, is believed to be worth at least £15million, and was stolen from Durham University nearly a decade ago.
It was recovered after a man claiming to be a collector took the book into a library in Washington DC to get it identified about two weeks ago.
After the book was recovered, a worldwide manhunt for the thief was launched, leading to the arrest of a man in Sunderland on Wednesday.
When the authorities in the US were trying to identify the book, they contacted the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
Durham graduate Paul Edmondson, the head of learning at the Trust, said the extensive archive at the organisation included the first census of the various folios of Shakespeare’s work and had been invaluable identifying the stolen book.
“As a graduate of Durham University, I recall going to look at their copy of the first folio on the morning of my Shakespeare paper,” said Dr Edmondson. “I was saddened to hear of its theft more than 10 years ago.
“That our distinguished archive has now been able to supply the missing clue makes us all feel very proud.”
The worldwide manhunt, involving English police and the FBI, led to a raid on the Sunderland property on Wednesday night.
The arrested man, who is 51, was taken to Durham City police station where he was questioned.
Detective Superintendent Andy Reddick, who is co-ordinating the inquiry, said the Shakespeare tome remained in the safe care of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC.
Several other rare literary treasures were stolen in the raid on the Palace Green Library in December 1998.
Two hand-written manuscripts from the late 14th or early 15th century were taken; one bearing an English translation of the New Testament and the other containing a fragment of a poem by Canterbury Tales author Geoffrey Chaucer.
Books stolen included a first edition of Beowulf, printed in 1815, and two editions by the 10th century scholar Aelfric, printed in 1566. They were among more than 50 works on public display in two rooms of the library charting the progress of English literature from the Middle Ages to the 20th century.
A Durham Police spokesman said the works were described at the time as “a unique and irreplaceable part of the region’s heritage” and would be virtually impossible to sell to legitimate buyers.
The folio was one of the first collected editions of Shakespeare’s plays printed. Only between 200 and 300 copies are thought to have survived around the world.
Durham vice-chancellor Chris Higgins said staff at the university were absolutely delighted that the first folio would be heading home.
He added the book would be going back on display at the library, under a strict security regime.