Rare volumes of the Bard's plays and poetry were found last month among the dog-eared copies of popular romance paperbacks and thrillers that had been donated for the local library system's book sale.
The tomes, published in the 18th century, could net some cash for the library system. But instead of selling the titles to private collectors, the Springfield-Greene County Library decided to donate the volumes to the nearby Missouri State University's rare book collection, where they will be available to all bibliophiles.
"It's a great find, especially for here in the Ozarks," said David Richards, head of special collections and archives at the university. He will accept the leather-bound set Wednesday.
"They're rare and they're in excellent condition," he added in an interview with Good News Now.
The 1773 "Works of Shakespeare," edited by Lewis Theobald, and the 1774 "Poems Written by Shakespear" (spelled without an "e" at the end), edited by John Bell, were found among piles of secondhand books dropped off at the library system's Brentwood branch.
Astute volunteers sifting through the boxes turned over the Shakespearean anthologies to a librarian, who began by deciphering the publication date, which was printed in Roman numerals on the title page.
After some Internet research, the staff contacted Jane McWilliams, a Friends of the Library board member entrusted with examining potentially valuable donations -- anything worth more than $1.
"I work with the better books at the book sales," McWilliams told AOL News.
A librarian called her and said, "We may have a treasure."
Indeed. McWilliams located versions of the Theobald collection selling for $1,500 to $2,300 in London and Stockholm. The book of verses could fetch $700 to $1,700, McWilliams said.
Theobald published his volume during a literary feud with poet Alexander Pope, who Theobald believed had ruined Shakespeare's work in his own reproduction of the playwright's oeuvre, McWilliams said in a KSMU broadcast.
The eight-book set of plays and the poetry collection were anonymously dropped off at the branch.
Feelings of regional pride prevented McWilliams and the library's supporters from adding the Shakespeare books to the inventory for sale at their semiannual fundraiser last month.
"It's a miracle that we had them," she told AOL News. "To think that they ended up in Springfield, Mo. I really thought that they shouldn't leave Springfield."
The book sale raised $108,000, McWilliams said, even without the Shakespeare books.
The spines of the book are decorated with curlicues and decorative flourishes. The front pages include plate illustrations.
"Sometimes we get a call and it isn't an original," Richards said. "It was nice to see that this was the real McCoy."
They'll share shelf space next to Samuel Johnson's 1755 Dictionary of the English Language and Benjamin Franklin's publication of "Cato Major" by Cicero.