February 18, 2015

Princeton receives record-breaking rare books donation


Princeton University's library received a massive donation of rare books this week. © Pete Spiro / via Shutterstock

Princeton University’s library received a massive donation of rare books this week.
© Pete Spiro / via Shutterstock

Princeton University has just received a massive donation to its library, in the form of a rare books collection valued at nearly $300 million. In a statement released on Monday, the university announced that an alumnus donated his extensive library of about 2,500 rare books, which constitute the largest gift in Princeton’s history.

William H. Scheide—described as a “musician, musicologist, bibliophile and philanthropist”—was a member of Princeton’s Class of 1936, and passed away at the age of 100 this past November. He had already moved his collection, to the campus in 1959 from his hometown of Titusville, PA. The Scheide Library has been housed in Princeton’s Firestone Library since then, and though it was privately owned until now, patrons of the library have been able to access it through the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections.

The collection dates back to the 1860s, when Scheide’s grandfather started it, and was continued by his father, also a Princeton alumnus. It includes the first six printed editions of the Bible (including the 1455 Gutenberg Bible); the original printing of the Declaration of Independence; Shakespeare’s first, second, third, and fourth Folios; a handwritten 1856 speech by Abraham Lincoln on the problems of slavery, among other rare and valuable documents.

Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber said of 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. 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.

Librarian Karin Trainer said of the collection’s richness, “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.” She also confirmed that Princeton is working to digitize portions of it, including the Gutenberg Bible, and that it would remain intact as its own collection within the library.


Nick Davies is a publicist at Melville House.