Scott Clemons ’90 (Courtesy Scott Clemons)
Scott Clemons ’90 (Courtesy Scott Clemons)

While most students’ bookshelves at Princeton are lined with dog-eared textbooks and hand-me-downs, Scott Clemons ’90 lined his shelves with something a little different: rare books.

Clemons, now president of the Grolier Club in Manhattan, co-organized an exhibition that opened at the club last month titled “Aldus Manutius: A Legacy More Lasting Than Bronze.” Aldus Manutius, who died 500 years ago this year, was a famous scholar-printer of the Italian Renaissance.

Gutenberg may have invented the movable-type printing press, but “anyone who has ever sat in a cafe, or in the bath, with a paperback owes a debt to Aldus and the small, cleanly designed editions of the secular classics he called libelli portatiles, or portable little books,” wrote The New York Times.

“It’s become a cliché to call them the forerunners of the Penguin Classics,” Clemons told the Times. “But the concept of personal reading is in some ways directly traceable to the innovations of Aldus’s portable library.”

Coming to Princeton as a freshman in 1986, Clemons already had an interest in books, and in particular, the classics. He was also interested in how classical literature transitioned from the manuscript era to the era of print. And so when these two interests collided, rare book collecting became a newfound passion.

He credits the nurturing of this passion to “good book people” like the late William Scheide ’36, who recently donated his collection of 2,500 rare books to the University, making it the largest gift in Princeton’s history, and Steve Ferguson, who still works in the rare books department in Firestone Library.

“I started collecting as an undergraduate, so some of the collection that I have now got on shelves and dorm rooms in Princeton,” Clemons told PAW. He had two or three Aldines while at Princeton. Today, he has roughly 1,000.

Between schoolwork and singing with the Katzenjammers, Clemons also worked a part-time job with an independent rare books dealer named Joe Felcone. “Joe introduced me to other dealers, auction houses, book fairs — just to the world of rare books. He opened a lot of doors for me to attend auctions and book fairs,” Clemons said.

Clemons also remembers his Greek 101 class with his favorite professor, Andrew Ford. “It was his Greek 101 class that compelled me to major in classics,” he said.

And did being a classics major influence his trajectory into the world of rare books?

“It didn’t influence it, it dictated it,” Clemons said. “The initial interest in the books that I collect was the texts themselves.”

The exhibition at the Grolier Club runs through April 25. It is open to the public free of charge Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free, one-hour public tours are held every Wednesday at 1 p.m., led by one of the curators.