The collection of Applied Arts contains about 30,000 pieces of decorative arts and sculpture from Europe, the Middle East, India and the Far East. These objects were used in the daily activities and religious rituals of people in those areas, and are evidence for their social customs, beliefs, and taste in art. They illustrate the development of manufacturing techniques, such as weaving, potting and metal-working, and the stylistic changes brought about by the interchange of ideas and skills between different cultures. The main groups of objects are pottery, porcelain and glass, textiles, fans, furniture and lacquerwork; clocks and watches, domestic metalwork, including silver and pewter; jewellery and snuffboxes, armour and weapons, and sculpture in many different materials ranging from ancient Chinese jades to twentieth-century European bronzes.
There are exceptional collections of English and Continental ceramics largely due to the generous bequests of Dr J.W.L. Glaisher (d.1928) and Dr John Shakeshaft (d. 2015), and of glass thanks to Rev. Alfred Valentine Valentine-Richards (d. 1933), Donald Beves (d.1961) and Professor Sir Ivor Batchelor (d. 2005). There are smaller, but choice, collections of European arms and armour (much of it bequeathed by J. S. Henderson in 1933); Limoges enamels, English and Continental silver, jewellery and objets de vertu; furniture (including notable English clocks given and bequeathed by J. Prestige); textiles (especially samplers) and fans, mainly the Messel-Rosse and Lennox-Boyd collections. The sculpture collection ranges from medieval ivories, to Renaissance bronzes (mainly from the Boscawen collection) to works by contemporary artists, acquired through the generosity of Sir Nicholas and Lady Goodison via The Art Fund. The Department's non-Western holdings include an excellent collection of Islamic rugs, pottery and glass, and from the Far East, it preserves fine examples of Chinese porcelain, bronzes, jade and textiles; Japanese ceramics, lacquer and sword furniture; and thanks to the Gompertz Gift in 1984, an internationally important collection of Korean ceramics.