In London last month, the numerals 1623 stared out from the title page of a rare Shakespeare book. Printed in a quaint typeface, those digits left no mystery about the publication date of that highly prized volume—which fetched $5.2 million at a Sotheby's auction on July 13. Were publication dates so easy to come by for some other treasures by the Bard and for thousands of other undated books, maps, etchings, and other printed works, many uncertainties in history and other fields might quickly clear up, scholars say.
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