UNC Enriched by $6.2 Million Rare Books Collection

Ole Worm, Museum Wormianum (Leiden: Elsevir, 1655), one of nearly 4,000 rare books on natural history donated to the Wilson Special Collections Library by Florence Fearrington ’58. (Courtesy of the Florence Fearrington Collection, UNC University Libraries)

Florence Fearrington ’58, one of the preeminent rare book collectors of our time and a longtime supporter of Carolina, has donated nearly 4,000 books and objects valued at $6.2 million to University Libraries, where they will become part of the Wilson Special Collections Library.

Florence Fearrington

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

“Florence has established a meaningful legacy based on her passion for our natural world, the book arts and Carolina’s Libraries,” said Elaine L. Westbrooks, vice provost for University Libraries and University librarian. “I firmly believe that an education at Carolina is qualitatively different thanks to the amazing collections that we build here and the inspiring generosity of donors like Florence Fearrington, who make that work possible.”

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

Wilson is planning an exhibition of the malacology books next spring.

Fearrington’s previous contributions to Carolina include gifts to the libraries’ Rare Book Collection, and she established the Joseph Peyton Fearrington and James Cornelius Pass Fearrington Fund at the Health Sciences Library. The namesakes of the fund are, respectively, Fearrington’s grandfather, who graduated from UNC in 1885; and father, who earned Carolina degrees in 1921 and 1927.

Albertus Seba, Locupletissimi rerum naturalium thesauri accurata descriptio (Amsterdam: Wetsten, Smith and Jannson-Waesberg, 1734).  (Courtesy of the Florence Fearrington Collection, UNC University Libraries)

In 2016, she gave $5 million in support of the Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, earmarking $1 million to help update the Grand Reading Room and adjacent exhibition areas in Wilson. The remaining $4 million created the Fearrington Special Collections Library Fund. The library may use income from this endowment to meet emerging needs and pursue opportunities that benefit Carolina students and enhance the work of researchers. The Grand Reading Room in Wilson bears her name.

Fearrington grew up in Winston-Salem. After graduating from Carolina, she was unable to attend business school at Carolina because the program did not yet admit women; she earned a certificate from the Harvard-Radcliffe Program in Business in 1961. She moved to New York, where she made her name in the male-dominated world of finance, establishing Florence Fearrington Inc., a money management firm. She sold the firm in 1997, about the time she started collecting rare books seriously.

Fearrington was honored as a distinguished alumna at University Day in 2016 for those her achievements. She now lives in New Orleans.


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