Princeton receives largest donation in its history

In a 2002 file photo, William H. Scheide opens one of the first four editions of the Bible ever printed, which he has loaned to the Scheide Library at the Firestone Library at Princeton University in Princeton, N.J.
Daniel Hulshizer | AP

Princeton University received nearly $300 million worth of rare books and manuscripts, marking the largest donation in the school's history.

Musicologist and philanthropist William H. Scheide left his collection—which includes the first six printed editions of the Bible, a handwritten music sketchbook from Beethoven, and the original printing of the Declaration of Independence—to his alma mater after his death in November, the school announced this week.

The documents and books had been housed in the privately owned Scheide Library on Princeton's campus, but ownership was transferred to the university after the philanthropist's death.

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"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," Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber said in a news release.

"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," Eisgruber added.

The collection began with Scheide's grandfather, William T. Scheide, who made his fortune in Pennsylvania oil.

Beyond an expected appraised value nearing $300 million, the collection also likely has significant value for future research.

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"At its core, the Scheide Library is the richest collection anywhere of the first documents printed in 15th-century Europe," Anthony Grafton, a specialist in the cultural history of Renaissance Europe and Princeton's Henry Putnam University Professor of History, said in the release. "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."

Scheide graduated from Princeton in 1936, and passed away last year at the age of 100.