Princeton University is now the owner of a 2,500 rare book collection valued at $300 million. The university announced on Monday, Feb. 16, 2015 that they were bequeathed William Hurd Scheide’s collection after he died in November at 100 years old. Scheide was a Princeton alum who graduated in 1936. Since 1959, Scheide allowed Princeton to house and make accessible to the Princeton community and researchers his vast collection, only difference is now the university will outright own it.
According to university officials, it is “the largest single donation in the school’s history” Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber commented in the press release announcing the donation, “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. 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.”
University Librarian Karin Trainer described the essence of the collection, saying, “There are discoveries to be made in every document and volume in the library. This is a scholar’s library; its contents were acquired because of their research value.” While Princeton’s Henry Putnam University Professor of History Anthony Grafton highlighted the collection’s European volumes and documents explaining, “At its core, the Scheide Library is the richest collection anywhere of the first documents printed in 15th-century Europe. But its magnificent books and manuscripts illuminate many areas, from the printing of the Bible to the ways in which the greatest composers created their music.”
Among the historically significant items in the collections are the “first six printed editions of the Bible,” a 1455 Gutenberg Bible, the first “substantial European printed book,” and “Shakespeare’s first, second, third and fourth folios.” There is a “significant” amount of “autographed music manuscripts” by “Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Wagner,” and an autographed music sketchbook of Beethoven’s from 1815-16, which is the only one located outside Europe.
The collection also boasts impressive American history documents from early discovery recounts to colonial history to the Revolutionary War through the Civil War. Among some of the more memorial pieces are a rare 1754 “Journal” from Major George Washington, an “original printing of the Declaration of Independence,” 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.”
The collection was 150 years in the making, and begun by Scheide’s grandfather, William Taylor Scheide in 1865 when he was only 18 years old. His father John Hinsdale Scheide, a 1896 graduate of Princeton University continued the collection, even building a library for the collection in their hometown of Titusville, Pennsylvania. Scheide began adding on to the collection in 1954, 12 years after his father’s death, and moved it to Princeton in 1959 after his mother’s death. There in Firestone, Scheide had the university recreate his father’s library for the collection. The room was decorated with the original “furniture, statues, rugs and leaded-glass windowpanes” from the library in his family’s home.
Although the Scheide Library collection has been available to the Princeton community for 55 years in the university’s Firestone’s Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, now it will be belong to university. The Scheide Library is in the process of being relocated and the new library room and its design will again replicate the original Titusville library in Scheide’s family home. Princeton is also working n digitalizing “selections” from the library to make them more widely available.
Scheide’s wife, Judy McCartin Scheide continued building the collection with her husband practically until his death, and personally commented about what the collection meant to her husband, “This collection is the fulfillment of the dreams of three generations of Scheide book men. Having it reside permanently at Princeton is a testament to the joy Bill took in sharing the books, papers, manuscripts, letters, music and posters with others – those were some of his happiest times. He loved showing people – especially young people who had never seen anything like this before – the collection, letting them touch the books and experience what he called ‘the wow factor.'”
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are academic & universities news, particularly history & library news.