A vast array of rare books, manuscripts and documents, including several exquisite 15th century bibles, first folios of Shakespeare’s works and an original copy of the US Declaration of Independence, have been bequeathed to Princeton University.
The collection, valued at around $300 million, was given to the university by William H. Scheide, who died last fall at age 100. Scheide had moved the collection to Princeton in the late 1950s from his home in Titusville, Penn., where it had been amassed over three generations, creating the Scheide Library at Princeton in the process.
The bibles include a Gutenberg Bible printed in 1455 and described as exceedingly rare and beautifully illuminated.
The collection also contains Shakespeare’s first, second, third and fourth folios, according to The Guardian.
“Shakespeare’s first folio, for example, was the first book of plays published in a format generally reserved for literature,” the publication reported. “The first folio is sometimes called ‘incomparably the most important work in the English language,’ according to Folger Shakespeare Library.”
Other items in the collection include a handwritten speech about slavery by Abraham Lincoln, a 1493 letter from Christopher Columbus to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain about his discovery of the New World, musical sketchbooks and manuscripts of Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert and Wagner, as well as all 47 volumes of music produced by Bach.
Scheide’s bibles – the first four printed editions of the Bible – are the jewels of the collection.
They consist of:
- A Gutenberg Bible, the first major Western book printed from movable type, printed by Johannes Gutenberg in 1455 in Mainz;
- A Mentelin Bible, printed by Johann Mentelin in 1460 in Strasbourg;
- A copy of what is known as the “36-Line Bible,” printed in Bamberg in 1461, possibly by Albrecht Pfister; and
- What is known as “The 1462 Bible,” a beautiful work also printed in Mainz, by Johann Fust and Peter Schoeffer.
It is believed that only two other individuals, King George III of England and the second Earl Spencer, great-great-great-grandfather of Diana, Princess of Wales, have ever owned copies of all four of the Bibles, according to a 2002 story in the New York Times.
The gift represents the largest donation in Princeton’s history.
The Scheide family collection began with William T. Scheide, an associate of John D. Rockefeller in the Pennsylvania oil fields who made his fortune and retired at 42.
His son, Princeton alumnus John H Scheide (Class of 1896), continued the collection.
William Scheide was also an avid musician, earning his master’s degree in music from Columbia University after earning a bachelor’s degree in History at Princeton in 1936.
As a philanthropist, Scheide also financed civil rights work. He was a major funder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s fight in the Brown v Board of Education legal battle that led the US Supreme Court to declare segregation in schools unconstitutional.
(Top: William Scheide seen in the Scheide Library at Princeton.)
(HT: Beguiling Hollywood)