Princeton University Receives $300 Million Rare Book Collection

Princeton University Receives $300 Million Rare Book Collection

Princeton University has announced an extraordinary bequest of rare books and manuscripts from the late William H. Scheide ('36). 

Valued at nearly $300 million and considered the largest gift in the university's history, the collection comprises some twenty-five hundred rare manuscripts, including a 1455 Gutenberg and five other early printed editions of the Bible; an original copy of the Declaration of Independence; a music sketchbook from 1815-16 in Beethoven's own hand; the first, second, third, and fourth folios of Shakespeare's complete works; significant music manuscripts handwritten by Bach, Mozart, Schubert, and Wagner; a lengthy handwritten speech by Abraham Lincoln on the problem of slavery; and Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's original letter and telegram copy books from the last weeks of the Civil War. The collection — which was started by Scheide's grandfather, William Taylor Scheide, in 1865 — has been housed in Princeton's Firestone Library since 1959, when Scheide moved the collection from his hometown of Titusville, Pennsylvania. 

Scheide's interests also focused on civil rights. In the early 1950s, the future first African-American Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall, then a lawyer from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Legal Defense Fund, asked Scheide if he would support a case called Brown v. Board of Education. Scheide became a leading funder of the landmark 1954 case that desegregated U.S. public schools and served on the fund's board for thirty-eight years. 

Scheide, who died on November 14, 2014, at the age of 100, started playing piano at the age of 6 and became an avid musician. He graduated from Princeton with a history degree in 1936, earned a master's in music from Columbia University in 1940, and in 1946 founded the renowned Bach Aria Group, which performed and recorded under his direction for nearly thirty-five years. His contributions to Princeton include support for the Scheide Scholars program, which has enabled hundreds of students to attend the university; the Scheide Professor of Music History position; and funds for the reconstruction of the Woolworth Center of Musical Studies and the construction of the Scheide Caldwell House, which provides offices and classrooms for key humanities initiatives at the university. In recognition of his support, the university awarded Scheide an honorary doctorate of humanities in 1994. 

"Through Bill Scheide's generosity, one of the greatest collections of rare books and manuscripts in the world today will have a permanent home here," said Princeton president Christopher L. Eisgruber. "It will stand as a defining collection for Firestone Library and Princeton University. I cannot imagine a more marvelous collection to serve as the heart of our library. 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."