Rare Book Monthly

Articles - December - 2014 Issue

The Greatest Book Collector Dies at 100

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William Scheide plays the piano on his 100th birthday (from YouTube).

The owner of what must have been the greatest private book collection in the world has died at the age of 100. William Scheide of Princeton, New Jersey, died on November 14, 2014. He celebrated his centenary in January, and remained active until his passing. Mr. Scheide's collection was begun by his grandfather, continued by his father, and reached its penultimate achievement only a few years ago. It seems unimaginable that anyone will ever be able to build a comparable private collection again, though one never knows. So few copies of the greatest books are even available any longer in private hands, and Mr. Scheide's collection now too will go to an institution.

 

His most notable collecting accomplishment occurred in 2002 when then 88-year-old William Hurd Scheide completed a quartet of the first four bibles ever printed. Yes, that does mean that Mr. Scheide owned a Gutenberg Bible. He also owned a copy of what is known as the “36-Line Bible” printed in Bamberg in 1461 and the beautiful “1462 Bible,” printed in Mainz (like the Gutenberg) by Johann Fust and Peter Schoeffer. The missing piece, until 2002, was the Mentelin Bible, printed by Johann Mentelin in Strasbourg in 1460. It is rarer than a Gutenberg, with only 28 copies known to exist. The copy purchased by Mr. Scheide had been unknown for 150 years when it resurfaced in 2002.

 

Just how remarkable this collecting feat was can be seen by the fact that only two other collectors have ever owned all of the first four bibles before. The first was King George III, America's last colonial ruler. He managed to put together a great bible collection, even while losing America. The other was the Second Earl of Spencer, a major collector of religious works and the first President of England's Roxburghe Club. He died 180 years ago. For reference today, he was the great-great-great-grandfather of Lady Spencer, better known as Princess Diana.

 

The first four bibles constituted an important, but small part of the Scheide collection. Among the other amazing pieces he owned were a 14th century Magna Carta, a 1493 Columbus letter, a Vespucci letter, an original copy of the Declaration of Independence, and first editions of such important works as Paradise Lost and On the Origin of Species. Naturally enough, you can add a Shakespeare First Folio to that list (along with a second, third, and fourth).

 

Mr. Scheide had a particular love for music. He was instrumental in starting a music department at his alma mater, Princeton University. His collection included signed manuscripts by Beethoven, Bach and Mozart. He was particularly partial to Bach, having his work published in a Bach literary journal.

 

William Scheide was, naturally, a very wealthy man. It was family wealth, tracked back to his grandfather. His grandfather was an early associate of John D. Rockefeller. He went on to manage the pipeline business for Rockefeller's Standard Oil. It freed William Scheide to focus on philanthropy through his life. Though possessed of a somewhat irascible personality, he was devoted to helping people who did not grow up with the advantages he enjoyed. He was particularly known for his support of Civil Rights, being a longtime generous donor to the NAACP, and one of the major financial supporters of the Brown vs. Board of Education lawsuit in which the U. S. Supreme Court desegregated the schools in 1954. He continued through life to support political candidates who were focused on helping the needy, rather than those who sought to reduce taxes on the wealthy, though that would certainly have been in his own best financial interests.

 

Mr. Scheide's book collection was begun by his grandfather after the latter retired from Standard Oil. His father continued the collection, and then William jumped in enthusiastically to build it to new heights. Over half a century ago, Mr. Scheide decided it was no longer something to be kept around the house, so he arranged for Princeton University's library to house the collection. It became the only private book collection to be housed in an institutional library. He later had an add-on built to the Princeton library, with their approval, of course, to house his collection. Princeton wasn't loaning out his Gutenberg to students, but the collection was made available to scholars for research. While nothing was officially stated for most of those years, Princeton undoubtedly was hoping Mr. Scheide would one day make an important announcement. That he did a decade ago, when William Scheide said that on his death, his library would be bequeathed to Princeton University. And so, another monumental private collection makes its way to an institutional setting, to be preserved for future generations and scholars forever (but no longer available to the private collector).


Posted On: 2014-12-08 03:40
User Name: jaysnider

My librarian, Karen Nathan and I had the opportunity to visit with him in his library, where he spent a generous amount of time showing us his Gutenberg and explaining the method of its printing. An unforgettable day.


Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> SMITH, CHRISTOPHER WEBB. 1793-1871. <i>Indian Ornithology.</i> [Patna, India]: 1828. $50,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DUPRÉ, LOUIS. 1789-1837. <i>Voyage à Athènes et à Constantinople, ou Collection de portraits, vues et costumes grecs et ottomans.</i> Paris: Dondey-Dupré, 1825. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ADAMS, JOHN. Autograph Letter Signed ("J Adams"), [to Dr. Perkins?] while recovering from his small pox inoculation, [late-April, 1764]. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUSTEN, JANE. Autograph Letter Signed ("J. Austen"), to her sister Cassandra, 4 pp, "Thursday – after dinner," [September 16, 1813,] Henrietta St. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUDUBON, JOHN JAMES. 1785-1851. <i>The Birds of America, from Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories.</i> New York & Philadelphia: J.J. Audubon & J.B. Chevalier, 1840-1844. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DODWELL, EDWARD. 1767-1832. <i>Views in Greece.</i> London: Rodwell and Martin, 1821. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> JAMES, JESSE. Autograph Letter Signed ("Jesse W. James"), to Mr. Flood demanding Flood retract spurious accusations, 3 pp, June 5, 1875. $200,000 to $300,000.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Textile of the Great White Fleet, with portraits of Theodore Roosevelt, Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans & successor Charles Stillman Sperry, 1908. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> William J. Stone, <i>Declaration of Independence,</i> Force printing, 1833. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Shugart family papers including documentation of the Underground Railroad, 63 items, 1838-81. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Records of the Dickinson & Shrewsbury salt works, over 2000 items, with extensive slave labor correspondence, legal records & receipts, bulk 1820-1865. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Gloria Steinem, typescript for her speech <i>Living the Revolution,</i> with related letters and documents, 1941-77. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> <i>Liberty Triumphant or the Downfall of Oppression,</i> depicting the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party, c. 1774. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Juan Eusebio Nieremberg, <i>Historia naturae, maxime peregrinae, libris XVI distincta,</i> Antwerp, 1635. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Antonio de Mayorga, manuscript map of Mexico City, 1779. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Thomas L. McKenney & James Hall, <i>History of the Indian Tribes of North America,</i> first edition, 3 volumes, Philadelphia, 1842-44. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Samuel Walker, diary of the entire first cruise of the USS Kineo, a gunboat on the Mississippi, 1854-69. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Scrapbook on early Stanford football, with letters from Walter Camp, 1893-95 & 1931. $8,000 to $12,000.
  • <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Roberts, David. Twenty Lithographs of the Holy Land, 19th Century. $2,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Declaration by the Reps. of the United Colonies of N.A. 1775. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Composer Jerome Kern personal Letters, Albums and Other. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Paine, Thomas. <i>Common Sense,</i> London 1776. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Stowe, Harriet Beecher. <i>Uncle Tom’s Cabin,</i> Cleveland 1852. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Hobbes, Thomas. <i>Leviathan,</i> 3rd edition, London 1651. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Anno Regni Georgii III. Intolerable Acts and other Bills, 1774. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Wilberforce, William. An Abstract of the Evidence, 5 Letters, and two books. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Nightingale, Florence. Notes on Nursing and Signed Letters, ca. 1860 $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Tolstov, Leo. <i>War and Peace,</i> 5 volumes, 1886. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Dickinson, John. Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, 1768. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Twain, Mark. <i>Tom Sawyer,</i> 1877 [and] <i>Huckleberry Finn,</i> 1885. $4,000 to $6,000.

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