Princeton Receives Gutenberg Bible Printed in 1445, Other Rare Books Worth $300 Million

The Bible
The Gutenberg Bible, first printed book. |

Princeton University has received a donation of rare books and manuscripts, including a Gutenberg Bible that was printed around 1445. With an expected appraisal value of nearly $300 million, it's the largest gift in the university's history.

The Ivy League university has received the gift from musician, musicologist, bibliophile and philanthropist William H. Scheide, a 1936 Princeton University alumnus who died in November at age 100.

"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 statement.

The Gutenberg Bible was printed in Mainz in 1455 or 1456, and was the first substantial book to be printed from moveable types in Europe. Today, there are only 48 copies of the Gutenberg Bible, some of which are in the U.S. Harvard and Yale universities, the New York Public Library, the Library of Congress and the Morgan Library & Museum in New York, according to Bloomberg.

"It will stand as a defining collection for Firestone Library and Princeton University," Eisgruber added. "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."

The collection includes original printing of the Declaration of Independence; Beethoven's autograph, in his own handwriting, music sketchbook for 1815-'16; Shakespeare's first printing works; significant autograph music manuscripts of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Wagner; a lengthy autograph speech by Abraham Lincoln from 1856 on the problems of slavery; and Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's original letter and telegram copy books from the last weeks of the Civil War.

The Scheide Library has been housed in Princeton's Firestone Library since 1959, when Scheide moved the collection from his hometown of Titusville, Pennsylvania.

"Bill's generosity was legendary," said university librarian Karin Trainer in the statement. "He was likewise generous with his library."

She also said that the Scheide Library's "true value" is the support it provides for the university's academic programs.

"At its core, the Scheide Library is the richest collection anywhere of the first documents printed in 15th-century Europe," said Anthony Grafton, Princeton's Henry Putnam University professor of history. "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."

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