Italy's hard-pressed universities may be unable to meet a plea from the daughter of wireless pioneer Guglielmo Marconi to purchase a collection of her father's archives and apparatus.
The universities, Italian museums and ministries failed to show any concrete interest in pre-empting an auction by the Marconi Corporation plc in the UK that could break up the collection.
Elettra Marconi, 73, warned that if the collection were auctioned, it would be lost to Italy for ever. "It is the history of the radio itself," she said. "If the collection were sold off piecemeal, it might make more than £5 million, but it would be a tragedy."
Mr Marconi was a native of Bologna and the villa where he grew up, and carried out his earliest experiments, is now a museum run by the Marconi Foundation. It is closely connected to Bologna University.
Foundation president Garbriele Falciasecca, professor of telecommunications at Bologna University's engineering department, said: "The university would be extremely happy to have the collection. Unfortunately the price is unapproachable for us. No Italian university could afford it. The most valuable part of the material in the UK is on paper, a vast archive of documents. It would be tragic if this were dispersed since it can be studied effectively only as a whole. It is less important that the documents come to Italy than that they remain together."
Communications minister Maurizio Gasparri said he would launch an appeal to banks, foundations and publishers to bring the collection to Italy. But the auction has been postponed pending a restructuring of Marconi, which has debts of about €4.5 billion (£3 billion).
"Suggestions that we've already decided to split it up are pure speculation," a Marconi spokesman said.