The nature of collecting has changed considerably since RAMM's formation. In recent decades international conventions and treaties have banned the import of protected natural history specimens. Some items already in the collection, like the Bengal tiger and Pere David's deer, represent species that have become endangered or extinct within the life of the museum through hunting or habitat loss.
Acquisitions of ethnographic material are now sometimes made in consultation with other museums and the source communities. In recent years high-profile accessions include dance crests from New Britain and a totem pole carved by a master craftsman from Vancouver Island; and there have also been a number of high-profile repatriations of particularly significant pieces.
RAMM's decorative art collections have expanded significantly in the post-war years, both in volume and content. An internationally important collection of West Country silver has been built up and the costume collection has grown significantly, making it a comprehensive range of clothing worn by local people from the 1700s.
From the late 1960s fine art collecting included works by Victorian artists, such as Francis Danby, William Powell Frith and Sir Edward Poynter, as well as 20th-century British artists particularly Camden Town Group painters like Walter Sickert, Lucien Pissarro, Robert Polhill Bevan, Harold Gilman and Spencer Frederick Gore. Modernist works by Dame Barbara Hepworth, Sir Terry Frost, Patrick Heron, Paul Nash, John Minton and Duncan Grant are now represented in the collection.
Since the Second World War changing tastes and legislation have outlawed the import of illicitly obtained antiquities into Britain. RAMM no longer accepts artefacts from abroad, restricting itself to collecting the archaeology of Devon. Finds are mostly obtained through controlled excavation carried out by professional archaeological units financed by developers under the ‘polluter pays' principle. And given the rich archaeological deposits in Exeter, redevelopment in the city almost inevitably leads to archaeological discoveries.
RAMM has recently acquired the following works for its collections:
A painting of 'John Rolle Walter', 1753 by Pompeo Girolamo Batoni, purchased in 2008 with assistance from the Heritage Lottery Fund, The Art Fund, the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, Devon County Council, the Friends of Exeter Museums and Art Gallery and the Reynolds Chard Bequest, 2008.
An Egyptian tapestry 'A Fields and Village on the Nile' woven by Mahrous Abdou, which was acquired from the Ramses Wissa Wassef Arts Centre, Egypt. It purchased with assistance from Dr Jenni Balfour-Paul, The Art Fund, the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, and the Friends of Exeter Museums and Art Gallery.