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Our first collections were brought together more than 200 years ago and we’ve been adding to them ever since.

From art to archaeology, history to industry, the natural and the wider world, they are amongst the UK’s finest with many recognised as nationally and internationally important. They can be seen on display across all our museums, in our stores or online.

Applied Art

Since Bristol Museum & Art Gallery opened in 1905, there has been a particular emphasis on collecting local wares. Ceramics Bristol has one of the largest collections of English delftware, representing a major industry in and around the city from the 1640s until 1785. Delftware gave way to ordinary earthenwares, in particular those made by […]


These are complemented by a rare books library, field note books, archive documents and photographs. Built up by donations from local people, curators, and groups including the University of Bristol and Bristol Naturalists’ Society, the collection represents the wildlife found in Bristol and the South West of England over the last 200 years. Specimens from around […]

British Archaeology

The collection spans all periods of human history and includes examples of everything from the earliest Prehistoric flint and stone tools to Victorian potties. The collection has been growing since 1825 when archaeological objects began to be donated to The Bristol Institution, a forerunner of Bristol Museum & Art Gallery. Most of the objects collected […]

British Empire & Commonwealth

The British Empire and Commonwealth Collection is in the care of Bristol Archives and Bristol Museums. Access the British Empire & Commonwealth Collection catalogue to search for objects and archives.  This unique collection documents the links between Britain and countries in the British Empire from the late 19th century to recent times. Through objects, photographs, films, personal […]

Eastern Art

It holds a Designated status under the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council Designation Scheme, which identifies and celebrates pre-eminent collections of national and international importance held in England’s non-national museums, libraries and archives. A highlight of the collection is the Schiller bequest of Chinese ceramics and other items (1946), including fine Tang dynasty (618-906 AD) […]

Fine Art

The collection spans Northern and Italian Renaissance painting, Baroque to modern French art, and British painting from the 17th century to the present day. It tells the story of art in Bristol and internationally and reflects the social and architectural history of the city and the changing landscape. There are many key examples from the […]

Foreign Archaeology

There are also Mediterranean, Greek, Roman, Assyrian, Mycenaean, and Near Eastern objects. The development of the collection was driven by two main factors: the desire of worldwide travellers to acquire antiquities, and the opportunity for museums and private collectors to acquire finds through sponsorship of British organised excavations. The main benefit of objects from excavations […]


Its quality, size and diversity make it one of the most significant regional collections in the UK. Specimens in this collection reveal the amazing and diverse geology of Bristol and the South West of England. Fossils give a glimpse of life in the area spanning hundreds of millions of years. The remains of tropical marine life […]

Historic Maps

So far, these range from Hoefnagle’s 1581 map of Brightstowe to Fuller’s 2014 map of Bristol. The maps show the development and expansion of the city over the centuries, documenting the history of the city as the population grew, as industries started and stopped, and as new areas were developed, from the 18th century garden suburb of Montpelier to the post-war […]

Industrial & Maritime History

The collection now numbers over 10,000 objects and over 60,000 photographs. The majority of these are housed in the store adjacent to M Shed, which can be seen on regular tours. Individual items can be seen by appointment. Much of Bristol’s wealth was provided by a few select industries such as printing, engineering and tobacco, […]


The Firearms collection covers guns made over a 200 year period from about 1750. The majority are locally-produced pistols, muskets and rifles. It also contains guns from the Boer War, sporting guns for hunting, and guns from Africa dating to the 18th century and the 1950s. The Uniform collection has mostly dress uniform from local militia and volunteer regiments, […]


The emphasis is on the local, so there is a series of coins minted at the Bristol Mint, from the 11th century under Aethelred II to the 17th century under William III.  There are also archaeological finds, from the Iron Age Dobunnic tribe, the Romans and official and unofficial coins issued by the kings and […]

Social History

The Social History collection contains about 40,000 items, nearly all of which are linked to Bristol and the surrounding area.

World Cultures

There are about 10,000 objects ranging from tiny pottery beads to full-size native American canoes, from huge bark-cloth masks from Papua New Guinea to a ball of string from the Congo. There are painted coats from Canada, a quilted horse armour from Nigeria and initiation costumes from South Africa. In museums in the U.K. World […]

Highlights in our collection