The appearance of the Brotherton First Folio has changed significantly over its life and reflects the changing values placed on it – from use as an early working copy to a prestige collector's item.
It is likely that the original binding was calf, like the Bodleian Library's First Folio. Early users were unlikely to lavish the care on the book which it would later receive from collectors and its present home.
As well as staining and slight page discolouration, there are many signs of wear and tear:
The title page and the last page are particularly soiled with centuries of ingrained dirt from handling and the surface of the title page appears burnished.
The low quality rag paper has many losses around the vulnerable page edges. These are filled with repairs and include a large repair and ink facsimile to the lower part of what could be an original title page and on the last page.
Past scholars have made creases and annotations, although some of these are now only partial due to binders cutting down the edges of the textblock.
Much of the damage to the pages has been meticulously repaired, possibly during the present nineteenth century rebind. Page creases have been pressed out and losses and tears filled with handmade papers similar to the original.
The painstaking restoration and the high quality binding attest to the increasing esteem in which the book was held and is consistent with the good reputation of the binder.
Subsequent handling has caused fragile pages to tear at the edges. The greatest concentration of damage is at the beginning of the volume up to A2.
The title page has some contemporary Japanese paper mends.
The front and back free endpapers are a grey-brown, wove paper and have been adhered to the adjacent flyleaf. These have proven less durable than the majority of the text.
The flyleaves, of off-white rag, laid paper are discoloured yellow, slightly foxed and acidic; those at the front have completely fractured along with the free endpaper. The stub left by this loss is now causing the first page of the text to fracture at the top and bottom.
At the back the free endpaper is beginning to fracture at the gutter.
The binder's sheets have been tipped in, which has caused this fracturing as it does not allow the pages to flex freely.