The Rare Book Collection (RBC) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill began in 1929 with the gift of 400 incunabula by the Hanes Family. Continuing Hanes support over the following decades has allowed many important additions, including ancient clay tablets, medieval manuscripts, imprints of the great sixteenth-century scholar-printers, important examples of the printing of later centuries, private press books, and works on the manufacture of book materials. Additionally, the Hanes Family has given special gifts to honor each of the Library's millionth volume celebrations: John Gower's Confessio Amantis printed by William Caxton (1483); The Book of Hawking, Hunting and Heraldry (the Book of St. Albans) (1486); the Estienne Collection, three hundred books by the sixteenth-century family of scholar-printers; and Anne Bradstreet's Several Poems(1678).
A second benefactor, William A. Whitaker, began his support of the RBC in 1947 with the gift of a Second Folio of William Shakespeare. He later established the Johnson-Boswell Collection, comprised of life-time editions of Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, and their circle, and the Charles Dickens Collection, which contains both lifetime editions and Dickensiana. Mr. Whitaker presented the library with a number of other special collections and hundreds of volumes of general literature. The endowment he established facilitates the continuing development of the literature and publishing history collections in the RBC.
Archibald Henderson, a third major benefactor, began giving his George Bernard Shaw Collection to the Library in 1948. Today, the Henderson-Shaw Collection contains about 3,000 books and pamphlets as well as more than a thousand pieces of ephemera. Among its rarities are rough proof and rehearsal copies of the plays and editions inscribed by Shaw to Henderson, his "authorised" biographer.
From the 400 volumes of the original gift of the Hanes family in 1929, the Rare Book Collection has grown to 150,000 printed volumes, 18,000 broadsides and prints, and 1,200 manuscripts covering the full range of human knowledge. The Rare Book Collection is especially proud of its holdings in English literature, incunabula, sixteenth-century imprints, and French history. Other special strengths include crime and detective fiction, Sherlock Holmes, Spanish Cronistas, World Wars I & II, and publishing history. Continued gifts and endowments permit the Rare Book Collection to grow and meet the research needs of the University and the citizens of North Carolina.