The gift of wonder: a collection of rare books arrives in Carolina



Florence Fearrington ’58, one of the foremost rare book collectors of our time and longtime supporter of UNC-Chapel Hill, has donated nearly 4,000 books and objects valued at 6.2 million dollars to the University of North Carolina Libraries at Chapel Hill University, where it will be part of the Wilson Special Collections Library.

“Florence Fearrington’s legacy of generosity and commitment to Carolina has been instrumental in our university libraries,” said Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz. “This collection of rare books, with the love and dedication that have presided over its conservation, will enrich our special collections and attract future generations of students, researchers and experts from around the world. We are grateful that Florence trusted Carolina as a home for her priceless collection. “

The collection includes 1,900 rare books, most on the subject of natural history, including beautifully illustrated books on malacology – the study of shells and mollusks – and books, catalogs and prints on Wunderkammers, or “curiosity booths”. The collection also includes a number of pre-1915 children’s books, 13 color costume books and thousands of reference books that complement the subject of rare books.

Florence Fearrington in the Florence Fearrington Reading Room in the Wilson Library at UNC-Chapel Hill. (University Libraries / Mark B. Perry, Jr.)

“Florence has created a significant legacy based on her passion for our natural world, the book arts and the libraries of Carolina,” said Elaine L. Westbrooks, vice-president of university libraries and university librarian. “I firmly believe that an education in Carolina is qualitatively different because of the amazing collections we build here and the inspiring generosity of donors like Florence Fearrington, who make this work possible.”

All of these books will soon be available to patrons – students, professors, researchers and the general public. Once cataloged, the collection will also be available online.

Additionally, the Wilson Library is planning an exhibition of the Malacology books in the spring of 2021 – but it won’t be the first time Carolina has seen books and ephemera from this intriguing collection. In 2012, Fearrington organized an exhibition, “Rooms of Wonder: From Wunderkammer to Museum, 1599–1899,” mainly from his collection of books on Wunderkammers, at the Grolier Club in New York. A version of this exhibit was shown at the Wilson Library in 2014.

Fearrington’s previous contributions to Carolina include donations to the University Libraries Rare Book Collection, and she established the Joseph Peyton Fearrington and James Cornelius Pass Fearrington Fund at the Health Sciences Library.

In 2016, she donated $ 5 million to support the Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, earmarking $ 1 million to help update the Great Reading Room and adjacent exhibition areas at Wilson Library. The remaining $ 4 million created the Fearrington Special Collections Library Fund. The university librarian and the director of the Louis Round Wilson library can use the income from this endowment to meet emerging needs and seek opportunities that benefit Caroline’s students and enhance the work of researchers. In recognition of this substantial donation, the Great Reading Room at Wilson Library has been renamed the Fearrington Reading Room.

Fearrington grew up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and graduated in Mathematics from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1958. Unable to attend Carolina Business School because the program did not yet admit of women, she obtained a Harvard-Radcliffe certificate. Business program in 1961. She moved to New York City, where she made a name for herself in the male-dominated finance world, establishing Florence Fearrington Inc., a very successful financial management firm. She sold the business to US Trust in 1997 – around the time she started seriously collecting rare books.

Fearrington was honored as a Distinguished Alumnus at University Day in 2016 for her pioneering career in finance and her accomplishments as a rare book collector. She currently lives in New Orleans, Louisiana. Her most recent donation counts towards the most ambitious fundraising campaign in University history, For All Kind: the Campaign for Carolina, launched in October 2017. In June 2020, the University raised more than two-thirds of its goal of reaching $ 4.25 billion. by December 2022.



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