The founders’ collections of The Bowes Museum are very comprehensive and include paintings, prints and drawings, sculpture, ceramics, furniture and textiles, mostly of continental origin. The 20th century saw additions of local history and archaeology, including a two-headed calf exhibited locally. It should be noted that John Bowes did not deliberately include any family heirlooms of the Bowes family of County Durham, though some pieces may have entered by accident, or by purchase in the 20th century.
Following the administration of the Museum by Durham County Council in 1956, the collections were re-organised administratively into
departments of fine art, to include paintings, sculpture, prints and drawings and some metalwork; ceramics, to include pottery and porcelain, glass, precious metals and some ‘objets de vertu’; furniture, to include clocks and watches, room panelling and some local vernacular furniture; textiles, to include costume, tapestries, embroideries, lace; local history, archaeology and toys. The library and archive are the subject of a separate cataloguing programme.