Princeton receives record $300 million donation in rare books

Princeton gets its biggest donation ever
Princeton gets its biggest donation ever

Princeton University just received the largest gift in its 269-year history: $300 million worth of rare books and manuscripts, including the first printed editions of the Bible and the Declaration of Independence.

William H. Scheide, an alumnus from the class of 1936 who died last year at the age of 100, left about 2,500 books and manuscripts to his alma mater, the university announced Tuesday.

The collection includes the first six printed editions of the Bible, including the famed Gutenberg Bible of 1455, and the first printed editions of Shakespeare's plays.

It also includes an autographed 1856 speech by Abraham Lincoln about slavery, original letters from Gen. Ulysses Grant from the end of the Civil War, early journals by explorers of the New World, early printed reports of battles in the Revolutionary War and a 1754 journal by the future president, Maj. George Washington.

The collection also reflects Scheide's interest in music and musicology, with an autographed music sketchbook from Beethoven and manuscripts from Bach, Mozart, Schubert and Wagner.

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Scheide's collection was amassed over 150 years. His grandfather William Taylor Scheide started the collection in 1865, and built upon it from his earnings as an oil executive. The collection was continued by his father John Hinsdale Scheide, also an oil executive, from Princeton's class of 1896.

The collection was kept in their hometown of Titusville, Pennsylvania, the birthplace of the oil industry, until 1959, when it was moved to Princeton. It has been kept at Princeton since that time in the Scheide Library section of the university's Firestone Library. In this way it was made available to Princeton students, despite its status as a private collection.

"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,'" said Scheide's widow, Judy McCartin Scheide, who helped him amass the collection.

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