Associated Press
A 400-year-old edition of Shakespeare's works was stolen 10 years ago, and it was recovered after a man took it into a U.S. library and asked to have it authenticated.

LONDON — It's a case of all's well that ends well.

Police have recovered a 400-year-old volume of Shakespeare stolen in England a decade ago and worth millions of dollars after a man walked into a library in Washington, D.C., and asked to have it authenticated.

Police in Durham, northeast England, said Friday they had arrested a 51-year-old man over the theft of the First Folio edition of 1623, which scholars consider one of the most important printed books in the English language.

It was among seven centuries-old books and manuscripts stolen in December 1998 from a display case at the Durham University library.

The university said at the time it would be virtually impossible to sell the books to legitimate buyers, and for almost a decade police found no trace of them.

The mystery began to unravel on June 16 when a man brought the First Folio to Washington's Folger Shakespeare Library and asked to have it verified as genuine. The man claimed to be an international businessman who had bought the volume in Cuba.

"We have people come to us from time to time with questions about books," said Garland Scott, head of external relations at the library, one of the world's leading centers of Shakespearean research. "It's not every day that someone walks in with a First Folio."

Scott said library staff members soon had their suspicions raised. The book was largely intact, but the end boards and some early pages — which bore marks that would have identified them as the Durham copy — had been removed.

"There was something about it that felt a little off to us," Scott said.

Staff members at the library asked to keep the book while they did research, and their investigation soon confirmed it was stolen. They told the FBI, which launched an international appeal to find the man.

Police said a suspect was arrested at an address in the English town of Washington, near Durham, on Thursday. He was being questioned Friday while detectives searched his home.

The book remains in a climate-controlled vault at the Folger Library. Durham police said authorities felt it would be safer there than in "an FBI warehouse next to piles of cocaine and cannabis."

Plans were being made to bring the book back to Durham.

American writer Bill Bryson, the university's chancellor, said its recovery was "wonderful news."

"Like Shakespeare himself, this book is a national treasure giving a rare and beautiful snapshot of Britain's incredible literary heritage," said Bryson, whose books include "Shakespeare: The World as a Stage."

"I'll certainly be joining the crowds who will be eagerly welcoming it home."

The First Folio was published seven years after William Shakespeare's death and was the first collected edition of his plays. Some 750 copies were printed, and about a third have survived, though most are incomplete. Only about 40 complete copies of the book are known to exist, most in museums or public collections.

The stolen copy was acquired by John Cosin, former Bishop of Durham, and was part of the library he established in Durham in 1669. The university said its estimated value, if in perfect condition, was $30 million.

The university said it was hopeful of recovering the other stolen woks, which include a 15th-century manuscript containing a fragment of a poem written by Geoffrey Chaucer, author of "The Canterbury Tales"; an edition of "Beowulf" printed in 1815; and a book of maps and poetry dating from 1612.

It promised to keep the First Folio safe.

"Our security has been very significantly reviewed and enhanced to the highest standards since the theft 10 years ago and we are confident the First Folio will be safe when it arrives back in Durham," said the university's vice chancellor, Chris Higgins.