The Crosby Garrett helmet fetched £2m more than its estimated price

Roman helmet sale fuels call for tighter legislation

Rebecca Atkinson, Issue 110/11, p13, 01.11.2010
Helmet sold for £2.3m at auction was not covered by Treasure Act

The £2.3m sale of a bronze Roman helmet to an anonymous bidder at auction last month has led to renewed calls for an extension to the Treasure Act.

The Crosby Garrett helmet, which was found by a metal detectorist in a Cumbrian field, did not come under the remit of the 1996 Treasure Act and therefore did not have to be handed over to the Crown in return for a reward.

Despite a £1.96m fundraising campaign by Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery, the 2,000 year-old artefact sold for £2m more than its £300,000 estimate.

Hilary Wade, museum and arts manager at Tullie House, said the sale highlighted the need for the act to be reviewed and potentially extended.

Currently, only prehistoric base-metal finds are considered “treasure”, along with gold or silver objects and hoards of coins that are more than 300 years old. 

A review of the act, which was due in 2007, could have led to the definition of treasure being extended to include Roman metal objects, such as the helmet.

“It’s frustrating that it has not happened,” said Roger Bland, head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS).

But he warned that PAS resources were already stretched. “It would be hard to cope with [an extension to the definition] without more resources, but we are facing a decrease in our network.”

Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery plans to start negotiations with the buyer via Christie’s auction house.

“It’s disappointing that we didn’t acquire it, but our tack is to look at any opportunities for us to have the Crosby Garrett helmet on display in the future,” said Wade.

Much of the money raised by the museum is being returned to donors who pledged the money solely for the purchase of the helmet.

Some funds raised by the Friends of Tullie House will be used for other acquisitions and for conversation purposes.