An unprecedented £900,000 of public donations, one of the largest responses ever to a heritage appeal, has helped save the Staffordshire Hoard for the West Midlands.
As the most significant Anglo-Saxon find in the world, the treasure will attract history buffs and visitors from all over the world to the region, providing a major boost for tourism.
The fund reached the £3.3 million target needed to buy the largest ever haul of Anglo-Saxon treasure thanks to a final £1,285,000 grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund this week.
The hoard, made up of almost 1,600 items dating from about 650AD, is joint owned by the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and Stoke-on-Trent Potteries Museum.
The private donors, a third of who were from the West Midlands, handed over sums ranging from a few pence to £100,000 to ensure that the largest ever haul of Anglo-Saxon gold can stay in the region.
The Art Fund, which organises fund raising for museums and galleries all over the country, has been astounded at the speed and level of response.
More than 100,000 people queued to see the hoard in Birmingham last autumn, while a further 54,000 saw a recent exhibition in Stoke.
“It was an unprecedented response to a fund raising campaign and just shows how the Staffordshire Hoard has captured the public imagination,” said Art Fund head of policy and research Sally Wrampling.
“A third of the donors were from the region, the vast majority of those from Birmingham. We have reached the targets three weeks ahead of the deadline and we have to thank the public for this.
“There was an anonymous donation of £100,000 from America.”
Martin Mullaney, city cabinet member for leisure, sport and culture, revealed that the mysterious donor, an American woman, at first sent an unsigned cheque for $100,000.
“We sent it back with a polite note and another signed cheque for $150,000 was sent, it’s remarkable,” he said.
He added that the focus must now switch to raising a further £1.7 million needed to clean up, research and put on world-class exhibitions of the hoard.
“In Birmingham we will also look at the Anglo-Saxon world, while the Potteries may concentrate on the ancient kingdom of Mercia. We will also get Tamworth and Lichfield involved.”
Birmingham museum curator Rita McClean said that decisions about which items would be shown where will be made over the weeks and months ahead.
“We need to examine what we have got and how best to exhibit them. Birmingham and Stoke will tell different aspects of the Anglo-Saxon story.
“As Birmingham is the centre of manufacturing and jewellery we may focus on how these items were made.”
She said that the world’s leading Anglo-Saxon historians and archaeologists are gathering at the British Museum later this month to take a close look at the artefacts and share their thoughts, ideas and theories.
Regional development agency Advantage West Midlands welcomed the news, saying it would provide a major boost for the tourist economy.
Head of Tourism Nigel Russell said: “This amazing find will deliver economic benefits through increased tourism and help improve the profile, image and perceptions of the region.
“Tourism is the fourth largest industry for the region, valued as contributing more than £6 billion annually to its economy. The region’s position as the birthplace of the industrial heritage is acknowledged worldwide and is enjoyed by millions of visitors every year.
“The Staffordshire Hoard now presents a unique opportunity to tell the story of the region’s ancient past, and its position as the Kingdom of Mercia - central to the Anglo-Saxon history and heritage of the UK.”
He added that AWM is working to find further funding for the museums.