February 1, 2012 — A sheepskin diploma from the Class of 1852, a copy of Corks & Curls from 1895, chinaware from the 1940s depicting University of Virginia landmarks – these are just a few of the things that are helping to fund the Rotunda restoration.
Whit Hunter, a third-year student in the College of Arts & Sciences who grew up in Charlottesville attending U.Va. football games, watching his father teach and his siblings learn at the University, is auctioning these and other memorabilia online to raise money for RestoreUVA.
"This is an incredible collection. There are some amazing, once-in-a-lifetime pieces on there," Hunter said.
He became involved in the Rotunda restoration initiative as chair of the Jefferson Society's Restoration Ball, to be held March 24. He first learned of the Restoration Ball efforts while helping his friend (and current housemate) Shep Ware, put it on last year.
"He did such a great job with it," Hunter said. When the Jefferson Society held elections in the spring, Hunter took over the reins.
The bulk of the items originate from one collector, with whom Hunter connected through another Jefferson Society member, Scott Tumperi. The pair spent hours looking through the collection. Learning that the donor was interested in selling some of the items to an auction house, Hunter proposed, "Why not put this online for the people who care about these items the most – stakeholders of the University?"
The auction allows the donor – who has asked to remain anonymous – to recoup the original price of the items and for RestoreUVA to add a markup that will go directly to the Rotunda restoration. Hunter, an Echols Scholar studying entrepreneurship and innovation, said the idea of creating value for all parties excites him.
He estimated the compounded value of the items currently on auction at $250,000. There are another $2 million worth of items that he and his collaborators would like to add to the website. He said he thinks that the fundraiser could raise more than $1 million.
"It's a question of getting the word out," he said. The Office of the Architect predicts that Phase I of the Rotunda restoration, replacing the roof, will cost $4.7 million.
Jon Carrier, a second-year student in the Darden School of Business and 2008 U.Va. systems engineering graduate, created the RestoreUVA website. He said he agreed to build the site because "it sounded like a really unique opportunity. This is an absolutely astounding collection of items that cannot be replicated."
Carrier is creator and CEO of 501 Auctions, a company that runs charity auctions. He started his company after getting involved in fundraisers at Darden.
"I was responsible for helping to run an auction and realized how difficult an auction can be, so I decided to build something to make it easier," said Carrier, who has run auctions for Darden and the Law School.
He said the website will present items on limited release. At the end of every week, the current auction will close and a new collection of items will appear for bidding. Once the entire auction has closed, Carrier and collaborators plan to assess the online auction model for future fundraisers at U.Va.
"It's impossible to get a collection that's comparable to this, but I think there's a lot of potential around U.Va.," Carrier said.
Hunter said the website is getting a great response so far. Many items have already sold, including an enamel box depicting the Rotunda for $630; a centennial book printed in 1922 written by an editorial committee that included John Calvin Metcalf, Robert Henning Webb and James Southall Wilson for $230; Raymond Bice's personal copy of the 1965 Corks and Curls for $110; and an Albertype postcard of the Range for $54.
Hunter noted that the restoration efforts owe much to the University administration, which has been supportive in providing resources, and community.
"This was indeed a collaborative effort with graduate students, undergraduates, local business, alumni – all volunteering under the common calling to restore the Rotunda," Hunter said. "I think we all have a common calling to the Rotunda as University stakeholders."
All items are available for immediate purchase, and bidding for the auction will close in mid-March.
— by Kate Colwell