It's crunch time at Tullie House as the Carlisle museum launches a last ditch effort to raise the cash to save the Crosby Garratt Roman helmet, which is due to be auctioned at Christie’s on Thursday October 7.
© Christie's Images Ltd
If successful, local tourist bosses say the acquisition of the full-faced Roman Cavalry helmet unearthed by a metal detectorist in May 2010 could have a "Mona Lisa effect" on the city.
Tourist chiefs believe the helmet, which is almost 2,000 years old, would attract thousands of new visitors to Carlisle and Cumbria and boost the tourism economy.
"An acquisition of this calibre held in the city could make Carlisle unmissable in 2011," said broadcaster and Cumbria Tourism chair Eric Robson. "You only have to witness the public appetite and media interest to see how this could transform awareness of Carlisle and its place in Roman Britain.
"If the city can secure it, there is a real opportunity to create a Mona Lisa effect where visitors coming to Cumbria won't want to leave the county without having visited Carlisle to see it."
It would also represent a huge acquisition to the Roman archaeology collection housed at Carlisle's Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery - already regarded as one of the best in the country.
A new £1.5m Roman Frontier Gallery is due to open at the Museum in June 2011 and curators are keen to acquire the helmet as its stunning centrepiece.
Tullie House will be represented at the Christie's auction in London on Thursday, but with a guide price of between £200,000 and £300,000, the Museum is still working hard to raise at least £80,000 in donations from the public to help "unlock" funding from other organisations. A mystery benefactor has pledged £50,000 – if public donations can match it.
"There are only a few days left to raise the money and we face a David and Goliath battle, because no-one really knows how much it will sell for," said Hilary Wade, Tullie House Museums Manager. "If it is financially realistic to bring this extraordinary helmet back to Cumbria, then we will do all in our power to do so, but it will not be easy.
"In addition to the economic benefits, an acquisition of this magnitude would not only enhance the historical collection here at Tullie House, but help us generate interest in the past, as well as the place of Carlisle and Cumbria in the story of Roman Britain.”
Donate by visiting www.tulliehouse.co.uk/romanhelmetappeal, calling 01228 618743, or donating online through a special appeal found at Just Giving.