WASHINGTON, England — Raymond Scott sipped Dom Perignon from the jeweled (Swarovski crystals) champagne flute he carries with him in his briefcase. He was oddly jovial for a man just arrested on suspicion of stealing a prized 400-year-old volume of Shakespeare.
Scott, 51, who said he is innocent, described himself as an “amateur bibliophile” with a penchant for fine things, especially antiques, because “when you touch an antique, you seem to reach back through the centuries to the person who actually created it.”
In an interview in his northeast England home town of Washington, he said he often travels away from his small brick home in a working-class cul-de-sac. He jets off to Monte Carlo, Paris, Havana. He visited Washington D.C. for the first time last month and rather liked it — at least, until the FBI launched an international search for him.
As he explained, he excitedly left his suite at the Mayflower and walked into the Folger Shakespeare Library on Capitol Hill on June 16. He was seeking help authenticating an old Shakespeare volume he had just taken out of Cuba in his hand luggage.
Travel restrictions forbid the Cuban owner to leave the island, so Scott said he offered to bring what was described by the Cuban owner as “a family heirloom” to the “epicenter” of scholarly work on Shakespeare, in the U.S. capital.
After Scott left the book at the Folger, an outside expert judged it to be a First Folio, a work stolen in 1998 from the University of Durham in a multimillion-dollar heist of some of the rarest books in the English language.
Scott said that though he lives 12 miles from the university, he has never been there.
“If I had been the person who had stolen this book, the last thing in the world I would do is to openly walk into the Folger Shakespeare Library, under my own name, showing them my passport — the great center of Shakespeare learning — and say, ‘What have I got here?’
“It’s like taking a revolver with six chambers, loading five chambers, spinning, putting it to your head and pulling the trigger. It just doesn’t make sense,” he said.
Scott, a tall thin man, has never really had a job, but he said his mom (whom he referred to at one point as “Lady Bountiful”) bankrolls his trips — and his gold Versace ring, his diamond Rolex and a succession of exquisite cars: a Rolls Royce, an Aston Martin, a Lamborghini, a silver Ferrari.
Speaking in a hotel with a plate of langoustines in front of him — lobsters couldn’t be found — Scott said he remembered the moment he realized how much better the best was. He was 18, and he had slipped his feet into handmade leather Italian shoes.
He was in his garden last Thursday, pruning roses for his mother, when British police arrived to arrest him.
His town of Washington is the ancestral home of George Washington, “the original Washington” he says in an interview that spanned several hours and locations, including the historic stone Washington family home.
Police questioned Scott for two days last week. They carted off more than 1,000 of his books and impounded his Ferrari before they released him without charge. Durham police said he remains a suspect in the ongoing investigation.
Scott said he told the Folger two weeks ago that he wanted “to go to The Washington Post to publicize the discovery, which is not the act of a person with something to hide.”
He thinks Stephen Massey, a veteran independent rare books consultant and appraiser who examined the folio, got it wrong. He insists that his Cuban copy is not, in fact, the Durham copy.
Published in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare’s death, the First Folio has been called the most important edition printed in the English language. It is a large-format collection of 36 of Shakespeare’s plays, including “Antony and Cleopatra” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” About 230 copies are believed to have survived, including 79 at the Folger.
Scott said he does not think Massey can prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that his volume was the one stolen in Durham.
When looking at these centuries-old pages, Scott said, “an expert can only say with his hand on his heart” that “there is a balance of probabilities” regarding which volume this one is.
Massey, a former executive with Christie’s, was called in by the Folger’s Richard Kuhta.
In an interview, Massey said, “It wasn’t too much of an Albert Einstein-like leap” to conclude it was the Durham First Folio.
From a published census with detailed descriptions of existing First Folios, Massey knew the exact dimensions of the Durham First Folio. He knew that the table of contents had a handwritten notation in ink saying “Troilus and Cressida,” written beneath the printed title “Henry VIII.” He knew the title leaf with the portrait of Shakespeare was missing.
All these details checked out, he said.
The last page, which contained details that could prove the folio was the stolen Durham volume, was missing.
Massey said he delivered his findings to Scott by telephone the day he was arrested.
If Scott is worried that he will ultimately be charged, he doesn’t show it. He said he started becoming an amateur bibliophile only seven years ago. Ten years ago, when the robbery occurred, he said, “I wouldn’t have known the difference between a First Folio Shakespeare and a paperback Jackie Collins.”
He said it was just “serendipity” that he met a man in Cuba with a “First Folio of Shakespeare, the icon of culture.”
Scott said he feels he was born in the wrong age: He doesn’t use e-mail and barely uses a cellphone.
“The only thing that I don’t like that are antiques are my girlfriends!” he jokes, saying he has a 21-year-old fiancee in Havana. He said he has been engaged several times but never married.
His favorite books are art books of Rafael, da Vinci and Titian. He said he has no close friends and spends much time alone, listening to Italian opera.
Even inside, Scott wears dark glasses. He sees no point in saving money. His spending, he said, “is a practical realization that I am mortal. And basically, I don’t want to leave my money to the Flat Earth Society or the local cats’ home.”
Told that his neighbors have described him as eccentric, Scott paused before saying he is really more of a “dilettante.” Yes, that is a good description, he said, because he is a “dabbler, particularly in the arts.”
But then he paused again and said, “I suppose a mad person doesn’t think they are insane. Nobody entirely conforms to the norm. Long live those differences!”
A neighbor, who did not want to be identified because of police involvement in the case, said Scott is a “harmless man who was very nice.” She said he could not possibly be an international thief.
Another neighbor said she thought it odd he spends so much time polishing expensive cars in front of his home and then takes the bus.
Scott’s late father, an electrical engineer, and his mother, a retired government employee, spent little. He said he just came back from staying at the Ritz in Paris, where he regularly goes to lay a dozen roses for Princess Diana.
His shoes are Vinnci, he says, lifting his right foot to show the label.
He said he never went to university, never had a boss, never had to get up at a certain time. He does drink a lot: “There are people who are happy and relaxed and creative without alcohol” he said, “but I am afraid it doesn’t apply to me. I need my fix — and not just any alcohol.”
He said that he thinks he would be “monosyllabic and taciturn” if he didn’t drink but that his “compulsion” for alcohol has gotten him in trouble. He offered that he has been arrested for stealing alcohol from a supermarket. He has done “petty, minor” things wrong and was not a “paragon of virtue,” but he said he certainly didn’t pull off the Shakespeare heist.
But now that this has happened, he said, he is rather enjoying the celebrity. Maybe he will get a slice of the value of the book, which Massey placed at around $2.5 million (Scott thinks it is higher). Anyway, all this hubbub is a break from what he calls the “trivia of life,” like vacuuming.
“I think I was preparing for this all my life, really. I just felt that I was destined for something a bit more than 9-to-5. I just felt that eventually, maybe I would make my mark on the world.”