John and Joséphine Bowes did not attempt to create a comprehensive collection of European silver, but they did try and buy certain key pieces that represented overall styles or techniques, as well as items of a more personal interest, such as a gold mechanical mouse, significant because John called Joséphine ‘Puss’. The collection was much developed with the reorganisation of the Museum in the 1950s. Today it has a small but fine collection of about five hundred pieces of European silver from about 1600 to 1900, which shows the full range, from a Jacobean spice box to important 19th century pieces, including two racing cups won by John Bowes. The most important items come from the collection of the 6th Marquess of Ormonde, gifted by HM Treasury in 1982, and include a fine group of Regency silver by Paul Storr. The objets d'art include some jewellery and two important 19th century documented jewelled snuff-boxes. A unique item is the Silver Swan, a life-size silver cased automaton which appears to bend down and catch a fish to the sound of accompanying music. It is thought to be the one shown by James Cox in his 'museum' in London in 1773.
The Museum has an extensive collection of base metals, pewter, copper and brass, which complement the small collection of silver, and include candlesticks and fireplace fittings. There are ormolu mounts from furniture and room interiors, some allegedly from the royal palaces, acquired after the Siege of Paris in 1871.
Joséphine’s own jewellery collection was sold after John’s death to pay death duties, but the Museum still has a decorative belt that she is shown wearing in a portrait, emphasising her fashionable small, corseted waist.