Henry Clay Folger

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Henry Clay Folger (June 18, 1857-June 11, 1930) was born in New York City to Henry Clay Folger, Sr., and Eliza Jane Clark Folger. Through his ancestor Peter Foulger, who settled in Massachusetts in the late 1620s,[1] Folger was distantly related to Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, astronomer Maria Mitchell, and social reformer Lucretia Mott.[2]

Early life

Henry in 1879, the year he graduated from Amherst. Folger Digital Image 6323.

As a child, Henry's family moved often; before Henry matriculated at Amherst College, his family had lived in twelve different residences in Manhattan and Brooklyn, as well as a home upstate in Troy, New York. From 1873 to 1875, he attended Adelphi Academy, a coeducational prep school in Brooklyn founded in part by Henry Ward Beecher. At Adelphi, Henry made the acquaintance of businessman Charles Pratt, who would long serve as a mentor to Henry, as well as of Pratt's son Charles Jr., with whom Henry attended Amherst.

Henry began classes at Amherst in fall of 1875. He joined the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity and sang in the College's Glee Club, which performed in Boston and Brooklyn. He also participated in a variety of oratorical essay contests; he was one of the Kellogg Prize winners in 1876 for the essay, Pericles before the Aeropagus, and took first prize for an 1879 essay on Tennyson. Henry modeled his oratorical style on Daniel Webster. As a senior, Henry performed as Dick Deadeye in Amherst's production of HMS Pinafore, a role that later prompted Emily Jordan Folger to nickname her husband "Dick".[3]

Marriage to Emily Clara Jordan

Henry was first introduced to Emily Clara Jordan as early as 1880 by siblings Charles and Lillie Pratt, with whom Henry and Emily were close friends, respectively. They were married at Westminster Presbyterian Church on October 6, 1885. The Folgers had no children.


After graduating from Amherst in 1879, Henry attended Columbia Law School and worked for Charles Pratt, Sr., at Charles Pratt and Company. Upon his admission to the bar in 1881, he remained at the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey as the manufacturing committee's First Statistical Clerk. His methodical compilation and tracking of oil production statistics prompted his success in the company, and he became chairman of the manufacturing committee in 1899 and president of the Standard Oil Company of New York (Socony) in 1911, following the breakup of Standard Oil. He became chairman of the Socony board in 1923, and retired in 1928. He was well-known in the company for his Shakespeare collecting.


Portrait of Henry by Frank O. Salisbury, 1927. Folger Digital Image 209.

Among the most remarkable items acquired by Henry and Emily during their forty years of collecting Shakespearean and Elizabethan materials are the Titus Andronicus quarto, the earliest copy of one of Shakespeare's works, the Vincent copy of the First Folio, and an immense amount of material related to the great Shakespearean actor David Garrick. Other notable items were featured in the exhibition A Shared Passion: Henry Clay Folger, Jr. and Emily Jordan Folger as Collectors.

The first rare book Henry purchased was a 1685 Fourth Folio, acquired in 1889 from Bangs and Company for $107.50. He purchased his first original First Folio in 1893. Henry kept an extensive want list to monitor his purchases and budget; he and Emily chose items to buy through careful monitoring of auction catalogues, which Emily would mark up with potential purchases later reviewed by Henry. Henry rarely attended auctions, using professional book dealers like A.S.W. Rosenbach and Henry Sotheran as middlemen to preserve his anonymity as a buyer. Henry also favored purchasing whole collections, as bulk purchases kept prices down for individual items. Among the collections Henry acquired was the Halliwell-Phillipps collection. He rarely consulted scholarly experts about his collecting, preferring to rely on Emily's expertise. If possible, he personally inspected items before buying them. After purchase, items were stored in Brooklyn Standard Oil warehouses, monitored by Emily, who managed an extensive card catalog of their collection.

The Folger Shakespeare Library

Later life and death

In May 1830, Henry was admitted to St. John's Hospital in Brooklyn for surgery on an enlarged prostate. He continued to work on the Library's construction while recovering. He later had a second operation to remove his prostate; soon after this operation, he died on June 11, 1830. His ashes were interred in a mortuary urn in what is now the Old Reading Room, behind the bronze tabled engraved with To the Glory of William Shakespeare and the Greater Glory of God, flanked by his Salisbury portrait.



  1. Stephen H. Grant, Collecting Shakespeare: The Story of Henry and Emily Folger (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014), 3.
  2. Kim Downs-Watson, "Peter Foulger: what we have discovered about a most remarkable man," Nantucket Historical Association, April 1983, 22.
  3. Grant 20-22.