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Princeton Receives Its Biggest Gift, A $300M Rare-Volume Collection

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By Susan Snyder

The Philadelphia Inquirer


Princeton University on Monday announced its largest gift in history: a rare book and manuscript collection — including the first six printed editions of the Bible — valued at nearly $300 million.

The 2,500-volume collection, which includes an original printing of the Declaration of Independence and Beethoven’s autographed music sketchbook, has been housed at Princeton’s Firestone Library since 1959.

That’s when alum and Philadelphia native William H. Scheide moved it there from Titusville in Western Pennsylvania, the town where he was reared.

Scheide, a musician, musicologist, bibliophile, and philanthropist who graduated from the New Jersey university in 1936, died in November at age 100 and left ownership of the collection to Princeton.

The vast trove was started by Scheide’s great-grandfather, William Taylor Scheide, who made his fortune in the oil industry in Western Pennsylvania and retired early to pursue his passion of book-collecting. The collection was embellished by his father, John Hinsdale Scheide, and then Scheide himself.

“There were three generations of Scheides responsible for building this wonderful collection,” said Karin Trainer, university librarian, “and all of them were very generous about sharing the collection.”

William Taylor Scheide and his wife used to allow neighbors in Titusville to borrow the books and take them home, she said.

The collection is the only one outside of Europe to include all four of the first Bibles, according to the university: The 1455 Gutenberg Bible, the 1460 Bible (or Mentelin Bible), the 36-line 1461 Bible, and the 1462 Bible.

Other notable items in the collection, according to the university, are: “Shakespeare’s first, second, third and fourth folios; significant autograph music manuscripts of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Wagner; a lengthy autograph speech by Abraham Lincoln from 1856 on the problems of slavery; and Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s original letter and telegram copy books from the last weeks of the Civil War.”

An early 14th-century manuscript of the Magna Carta and Emily Dickinson’s recipe for chocolate pudding also are included.

Scheide, who began playing piano at 6 and later took up the organ and oboe, was a Bach scholar, who in 1946 founded and directed the Bach Aria Group, which performed for more than three decades. He majored in history at Princeton — there was no music department at that time — and later earned his master’s in music at Columbia University.

Committed to social justice and a supporter of the NAACP, Scheide also helped pay for the litigation of Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, the case that desegregated U.S. public schools, Trainer noted.

After his mother died, Scheide moved the collection to Princeton and housed it in an addition that replicated the original room his father built.

The collection will continue to be accessible to students, scholars, and the public upon request, Trainer said. The library has begun digitizing the collection to make it even more accessible. The Gutenberg Bible already is online.

Princeton president Christopher L. Eisgruber called the gift “one of the greatest collections of rare books and manuscripts in the world today.”

“I cannot imagine a more marvelous collection to serve as the heart of our library,” he said in a statement. “We are grateful for Bill Scheide’s everlasting dedication to Princeton and his commitment to sharing his breathtaking collection with scholars and students for generations to come.”


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Princeton Receives Its Biggest Gift, A $300M Rare-Volume Collection