London

Man searches for missing book in 1757 Shakespeare collection to complete romantic gift

Can you help Omar Gutierrez find a missing book from a Shakespeare collection printed in 1757?

Omar Gutierrez bought the incomplete works from London's City Lights Book Store after it sat in store basement

The co-owner of City Lights Bookshop, Teresa Tarasewicz, said the collection likely came from an estate sale. (Supplied/Teresa Tarasewicz)

Teresa Tarasewicz doesn't remember when her book store received an incomplete collection of Shakespeare plays published in 1757.

The antique books, which Tarasewicz said likely came from an estate sale, had been tucked away among window display decorations in the basement of City Lights Bookshop in London, Ont. for several years before she found them.

"I knew immediately that we had something when I saw it," Tarasewicz said of the moment she unearthed The Works of Shakespeare in Eight Volumes. Collated with the Oldest Copies, and Corrected: With Notes, Explanatory, and Critical: By Mr. Theobald from the depths of a cardboard box.  

After researching the collection's value and figuring out how to market it, she put a sign up in the store's poetry section advertising that patrons could see it upon appointment.

The collection has seen better days, and could have been worth up to $11,000 if it were in good, complete condition. (Supplied/Teresa Tarasewicz)

Over the course of a year, a few people inquired about the collection, said Tarasewicz. But there had been no serious buyers until last Tuesday, when a man from Waterloo, Ont. made an impromptu visit while on a trip to London.

Omar Gutierrez, who recently finished a Master's degree in English and became something of casual Shakespeare buff while in university, said he was in the market for a gift for his girlfriend.

The sign caught his attention, and he asked to see the collection.

"On our first date, we went to see a Shakespeare play in Stratford," he explained. "We went to see the (Merry) Wives of Windsor. She really liked it."

He wasn't completely sold on the antique books until he noticed the first one contained the play he and his girlfriend had seen in Stratford in the summer.

"That kind of ultimately convinced me that I should get it. So I did."

But the story doesn't end there.

Quest for the missing book

The collection, which was carefully placed inside a shoe box for Gutierrez's trip back to Waterloo, has seen better days.

The pages are yellowed and stained. The bindings, which are ribbed like the spine of a skeleton, are worn. One book is held together with an elastic band, and the sixth book – which would complete the set – is missing.  

Omar Gutierrez said he took Christine to see the Shakespeare play The Merry Wives of Windsor for their first date. (Submitted by Omar Gutierrez)

Had it been in better condition, Tarasewicz said it could have been worth up to $11,000. Instead, she sold it to Gutierrez for $800.

And now he's searching for the missing book.

"I'm definitely going to try and look around and see if it comes back," he said.

"I don't know what it would mean until – and if – I find it. Maybe I'll be super excited and pumped I have all of them, I know it's going to be really hard to do, so just out of the sheer unlikelihood of finding it, I'm sure I'd be happy about it."

Teresa Tarasewicz said the Shakespeare collection sat in a box, next to window display decorations, in the basement of City Lights Bookshop for several years. (Liny Lamberink/CBC News)

He said there was "no way" he would sell the books if he completed the set, but admits he likes the imperfect quality of this romantic gift. 

"We have a theme of imperfection in our relationship," he explained noting that he and his girlfriend work at accepting what is, not what could be. 

"Not everything works perfectly," he said.

A Shakespearean theme

The young couple's relationship has another Shakespearean theme that fits with the timing of discovering the plays.

Gutierrez said Christine began studying for her MCAT not long after their first date and said they wouldn't be able to see each other for six weeks.

After a few dates, Gutierrez said he was reminded of the Shakespeare play Love's Labour's Lost, when Christine said they couldn't hang out while she studied for her MCAT. Reading her this part of the play was a "good moment" in their relationship, he said. (Omar Gutierrez/Submitted)

It reminded him of the Shakespeare play, Love's Labour's Lost, in which a group of young students pledge not to see women while they're studying.

"At some point, the guy decides they're losing too much life experience by not trying to see any women or interact with them in any way and just focusing on their studies," said Gutierrez.

"I kind of knew that quote, not because I knew a lot of Shakespeare quotes but just because it happened to be one of my favourite parts. So I proceeded to read her the quote and I thought it was a pretty good moment for us."

Gifting book-by-book

Gutierrez planned on giving his girlfriend the first book for her graduation in April, and gifting the others for future special occassions. As for potentially ruining the surprise by publicly searching for the lost book, he is not worried.

"Some of the Shakespeare plays have the ending right at the beginning," he said. For example, in the first few lines of Romeo and Juliet, the audience finds out that the protagonists will die.

"And yet reading through it is still really exciting," Gutierrez explained. "So if she finds out that I got them and she'll be receiving them, I don't really see how that would really ruin the effect of it."

About the Author

Liny Lamberink

Reporter/Editor

Liny Lamberink is a reporter in London, ON. She can be reached at liny.lamberink@cbc.ca