The core of the Bowes Museum collection of 19th century ceramics lies in purchases that John and Joséphine Bowes made at the International Exhibition of 1867 and 1871. The receipts for these survive in the museum archives, making it an important documented group . Their purchases included pieces from Portugal, Austria, Sweden, Germany, Russia and Italy, often countries not otherwise represented in their extensive collections. The group from England is important, and include an early pâte-sur-pâte vase from Minton, and some ‘Art tyle’ panels from the London Exhibition of 1871. There is a small but interesting collection of glass (c.500 items) ranging from the 17th to the 19th century, including some 19th century exhibition pieces. The most important item is a documented cabaret set commissioned from Emile Galle by Joséphine Bowes in 1871, one of his first known commissions.
In recent years, the museum has deliberately tried to update its collections of French 19th century ceramics, to include some major vases from Sèvres, and an important plaque by Théodore Deck painted by Paul Helleu.