Collection

The collection is one of the city’s greatest cultural assets and a priceless resource for learning, engagement and creativity.

It consists of around 800,000 objects, displayed and stored in our nine venues. Most areas of the collection are Designated as being of national importance, and it includes the finest collection of Pre-Raphaelite art in the world.

Explore Art  features a selection of images from our Fine Art collection for you to discover and enjoy.

There is also online access to some of the collection via the following websites:

Art Collection

Fine Art

Birmingham Museums has around 35,000 items of mainly Western European art including paintings, works on paper, sculpture, digital art and photography from the 12th to the 21st centuries.

Strengths include:

  • a substantial and internationally significant collection of the Pre-Raphaelites and their contemporaries
  • the largest collection in the UK of the work of Birmingham-born artist David Cox
  • 30,000 works on paper, especially British 18th and 19th century watercolours and drawings
  • Italian Baroque painting (major works by Gentileschi, Guercino and Castiglione)
  • modern and contemporary art, particularly British art, abstract painting and printmaking

Applied Art

The Applied Art collection consists of around 33,000 items of ceramics, jewellery, silver and metalwork, glass, stained glass and design archives, furniture and woodwork, textiles and dress from the medieval period to the present. Strengths include:
  • British Arts and Crafts and the Birmingham School (complementing the fine art collection)
  • Birmingham jewellery and metalworking, including the outstanding Matthew Boulton material
  • the Pinto collection of treen, Canziani collection and other items, collectively forming a nationally significant collection of British and European Folk Art
  • contemporary metalwork
  • studio ceramics

History Collection

Ancient Near East

The Ancient Near East Collection has some 7,000 items from the Neolithic to the period of Islamic conquest in the 7th century AD. Jordan, Palestine, Israel, ancient Mesopotamia and Persia are well represented. Highlights include a plastered skull from Jericho, Nimrud ivories and Luristan bronzes.

Ancient Egypt

There are around 8,000 ancient Egyptian artefacts spanning Egyptian history from the Predynastic period to the Graeco-Roman and Coptic eras. Strengths include a rich diversity of smaller objects illustrating daily life, such as Late Period bronzes, mummies, shabtis, Predynastic pottery and ivory work, amulets and stone vessels.

Ancient Greece, Rome and Cyprus

There are 2,300 items from Ancient Greece and Rome, the only collection of its kind in the West Midlands. Strengths include:

  • high quality pottery, a representative collection of clay figurines, clay oil lamps, metal items and plaster casts from Ancient Greece
  • pottery, clay oil lamps, clay figurines, some stone sculpture and inscriptions, glass vessels and some metalwork from Ancient Rome
The Cypriot collection of 1,400 items consists mainly of pottery, with many complete pots dating from the Early Bronze Age to the Roman period.

British archaeology

The British archaeology collection includes prehistoric, Roman and medieval material, mainly from excavations in the West Midlands. The finds from Weoley Castle dating from the 13th-16th century include high status material such as pottery, metal tools and vessels, glass and organic remains. 

The Anglo-Saxon holdings have been transformed by the discovery of the Staffordshire Hoard in 2009. This consists of over 3,500 artefacts and fragments dating from the 7th century, made from gold, silver and copper alloy, decorated with garnet and fine filigree. The majority are fittings from the hilts of swords and daggers, and there are also helmet parts and Christian crosses.

World cultures

This collection is made up of some 9,000 items, including material from Oceania, Australia, Polynesia and Melanesia, Africa, North, South and Central America, and Asia. Particular strengths are:

  • weaponry
  • West African textiles
  • Peruvian pottery

Highlights include an Oklahoma Cherokee coat, a Rarotongan god stick, and the large copper statue of Buddha from Sultanganj.

Numismatics

This is one of the most important collections of its kind in the UK due to its size (about 100,000 items), breadth, and capacity to demonstrate the impact that Birmingham-made coins and tokens have had on coinage world-wide. Strengths include:
  • Birmingham-made coins and tokens from the 18th to 20th centuries, particularly those associated with Matthew Boulton
  • the Soho and Birmingham Mints

Medals date from the 16th to 21st centuries and commemorate an enormous range of subjects ranging from people, places and events, and place those made or worn in Birmingham in an international context.

Birmingham history

There are over 42,000 items from Birmingham history, a diverse collection representing the history of Birmingham and its people from prehistory to the present, and demonstrating the city’s international role. 

The collection represents domestic, working and civic life, local trades and industries, personal items associated with political figures such as Joseph Chamberlain, topographical views and a significant collection of oral histories. 

Science and Industry Collection

Transport and technology

Over 40,000 items covering transport, engineering, machine tools and production machines, scientific and medical instruments, music boxes, player pianos and organs, horology, computing and mechanical devices spanning over 250 years of technological development. 

Products of Birmingham’s historic trades and industries such as motorcars, firearms, pens and buttons are well-represented. The City of Birmingham steam locomotive and the Spitfire are spectacular objects.

James Watt’s Smethwick Engine of 1778 is the oldest working steam engine in the world and its significance in the history of world industrialisation can hardly be overstated. 

Natural science

The Natural science collection consists of about 250,000 specimens, covering zoology, botany, entomology, geology, mineralogy and palaeontology, the largest natural science collection in the West Midlands, and an important regional resource. 

Particular strengths include significant bird, egg, herbarium, mollusc, insect, gem and mineral collections. These are valuable for scientific research and include unique type specimens as well as impressive display specimens such as the Triceratops dinosaur skull, fossil crocodile and Giant Irish Deer.