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July 14, 2000

William Foyle's private collection of more than 4,000 volumes dating from the 12th century was treated like a shrine by his daughter Christina, the more well-known face of Foyle's Books.

Christina's death last June led to this week's sale of her father's library - which includes such literary treasures as all four Shakespeare folios from the 17th century and a single leaf from the Gutenberg Bible.

The sale has put first editions, early illuminated manuscripts and important historical documents, worth millions of pounds, on public view for the first time in 35 years.

Some of the proceeds are likely to be used to tame the 30 miles of shelves that run higgledy-piggledy through Foyle's Charing Cross Road bookshop today.

William Foyle discovered his passion for books when he and his younger brother Gilbert failed their civil service entrance exams. The ease with which they sold their textbooks encouraged them to revolutionise the bookselling business, while William's personal interest as a collector was fuelled by frequent visits to local sale rooms.

Although annual sales of about 4 million books made Foyle a millionaire and allowed him to transform his 12th-century county home into a collector's haven, he is said to have had little concept of how much his library was actually worth. Some of the rarer volumes are being auctioned for more than 50 times the amount he originally paid.

He has been described as an "unlikely gentleman" with "a laugh like an alarm clock". His academic career was limited to a short course at King's College, London, but he was an enthusiastic scholar who spent hours reading. He died in 1963.

The sale of his collection is the largest British book collection to appear at auction for more than 20 years.

Book of Hours, estimated price Pounds 15,000-Pounds 20,000

Jennifer Currie

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