The Bowes Museum has one of the largest collections of European 18th century porcelain in Britain, covering virtually all factories that operated on mainland Europe. These include Meissen, Frankenthal, Vienna, Fürstenberg, Nymphenburg, Ludwigsburg and Berlin. These are all ‘hard-paste’ porcelains, like the Chinese, a complete fusion of china clay and china stone to temperatures in excess of one thousand degrees. A rival was the glass-like ‘soft-paste’ porcelain, made in England and France, which was more fragile but had its own beauty.
The Bowes Museum has extensive collections of French soft-paste porcelain from St. Cloud, Mennecy and Vincennes, which Joséphine Bowes collected before all these factories were fashionable, and numerous examples of good-quality porcelain from the royal factory at Sèvres, including an extensive collection of the individually decorated cups and saucers, as well as a group from the Republican period of the 1790s. There is also an extensive collection of hard-paste Paris wares, and an early documentary cabaret set from Limoges (the source of the china clay in France).
The range of European factories was extended in 1988 with the acquisition of the Enid Goldblatt collection of about five hundred from little known factories such as Baden Baden and Korzec, and one of the rare surviving pieces from the Vezzi factory in Venice, which only operated for a few years in the 1720s. There is also a small but comprehensive collection of English ceramics 1700-1850, some believed to have been purchased by the family in the 18th century, and about one thousand pieces of Oriental export porcelain mostly gifted by John Bowes' cousin, Susan Davidson in 1878. This includes some very fine Japanese porcelain in the 'Kakiemon' and 'Imari' styles.