The ceramics collections developed in a haphazard fashion over the first 80 years of the museum's existence. The earliest items where around 30 pieces of Pilkington's lustre ware in 1913. Lady O'Hagan donated a Capo di Monté vase in 1914 but only a few items had been donated up until 1929, when Mr John Tattersall made a gift of 18 pieces including Sunderland lustre-ware and a Nottingham salt glazed stoneware jug in form of a bear.
In 1936, a collection of 68 pieces of Chinese pottery was purchased, the first such purchase of ceramics by the museum. This year was an important one for the ceramics collection as a Spode dinner service that had on loan since 1905, for display in the Dining Room, was given to the museum. Also donated in 1936 was the first piece of Cliviger ware to be added to the collection.
Many of the individual cups and saucers and plates donated in the fifty years between 1930 and 1980 commemorated local events such as the first parliamentary election fought between General Scarlett and Richard Shaw in 1868 and the opening of Victoria Hospital by Prince Albert Victor in 1886.
A start was made on collecting the work of other potteries in the North West in 1983, with the purchase of four pieces manufactured at the Della Robbia Pottery around 1904 but no further Della Robbia pieces have been purchased since. The Museum's interest in studio pottery can be dated back to 1972 when Burnley Council approved a collecting and purchasing policy for the Museum which included the acquisition of works by contemporary regional artists. In 1986 the Museum was able to implement the policy through the Lancashire Crafts scheme and in the period 1986 to 1994 purchased over 100 items from around 40 working artists.
All the above, apart from the Pilkington's pots presented in 1913, are recorded in the general ceramics collection POTS:
A collection of approximately 157 pieces of Goss ornaments was donated by Mrs Baker of Burnley in 1950 and these together with a further collection of over 50 pieces donated by Mrs Schofield in 1968 are recorded separately as the Goss ornaments collection POTG: .
In 1957, Mr. G. Millington of Globe Iron Works, Preston, presented part of a large collection of ceramic tiles c. 1890-190. The other recipient of the collection was Harris Art Gallery, Preston. The Towneley part consists of around 500 tiles by around 20 makers. This collection is also recorded separately as the ceramics tiles collection POTT: .
A small collection of 11 items of Pilkington pottery donated in memory of Andrew Halsted in 1980 was overshadowed in 1984 by the bequest of Thomas Nuttall of over 160 items. This collection was incorrectly catalogued at the time, resulting in some of these pots bearing the same accession number as other ceramics in the general ceramics collection. In 2007, the Nuttall collection was re-catalogued to assign a prefix N to the original numbers assigned and the accession register updated to include the Nuttall collection. All the Pilkington pottery including the 1913 entries and the Halsted and Nuttall collections are recorded as the Pilkington Royal Lancastrian collection POTP:.
The most recent major addition to the ceramics collection was the gift of a collection of domestic ceramics including Shelley, Susie Cooper and Clarice Cliff from Mrs Milner in 2006. This is recorded as the Milner 20th Century ceramics collection POTM: .