Princeton receives largest donation in its history in the form of rare books

Works include a Beethoven sketchbook, early print of the Declaration of Independence

Princeton University received a $300 million donation—the largest in school history—in the form of 2,500 rare books, university officials announced Monday.

Alumnus William Scheide, who died last fall, left his private collection to the school—although it has been housed in the university's Firestone Library and available to students and researchers since 1959.

Also in EAB Daily Briefing: Higher ed receives record $37.5 billion in donations

Significant works in the collection include a first printing of the Declaration of Independence, a Gutenberg Bible printed in 1455, Shakespeare folio editions, annotated manuscripts from Bach, and Beethoven's sketchbook filled with musical ideas from his time in Vienna around 1815.

Scheide's grandfather began collecting books in the 19th century, leaving them to his family about 107 years ago. When Scheide then transferred the works to Firestone, he asked librarians to recreate his father's wood-paneled library, as his father was also an alumnus. Now, the works are all kept in a singular room known as the Scheide Library, featuring stained-glass windows in addition to his father's bookcases and original furniture.

Efforts to digitize the collection have begun, but nothing compares to being able to examine the primary materials, says Paul Needham, the Scheide librarian since 1998.

"[A]ny amount of digitization can enhance that material, but it can never replace it... And so really, digitization, which is a wonderful thing, works hand-in-hand with study of original objects," says Needham (Cornish, "All Things Considered," NPR, 2/17; Mytelka, "The Ticker," Chronicle of Higher Education, 2/16).

The takeaway: An alumnus who passed away last fall left $300 million in rare books to Princeton University, the largest gift in the school's history.

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