One of only a handful of surviving original KEEPCALM AND CARRY ON posters
An original 'Keep Calm and Carry On' poster, one of only a handful known to have survived from World War Two.
In 1939, on the eve of World War Two, a British governmental department soon to be known as the 'The Ministry of Information' ordered the production of public reassurance posters in a uniform design for the purpose of steadying the nerves of the general public and boosting morale at a time of war. The poster layout was simple with each design carrying a short and authoritative message from King George VI to his people with large white bold letters on a striking red background along with an image of the Kings crown.
As war broke out, the instruction from The Ministry of Information to display the posters to the public was issued and the task of putting up the posters around the country started. The first to be displayed was 'Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory' which appeared everywhere, on bill boards, the sides of buildings, train stations, buses, the London underground, on street walls, in shop windows an so on. Shortly after, a second design of the posters was distributed and put up which carried the phrase 'Freedom Is In Peril, Defend It With All Your Might'.
The poster that bore the (now famous) phrase, 'KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON' was never officially put on public display (although a few were put out on display), it was reserved for a scenario like the German 'Blitz' bombing campaign but by the time the 'Blitz' arrived in Britain the posters had become unpopular with the British public who viewed them as patronising and divisive and thus the poster campaign came to a halt.
During and after the war, stocks of the posters were pulped and this is the reason why only a handful of the original posters survive to this day. Most are held by the British National Archives and only a handful of the posters are in private hands, one is held by WartimePosters.co.uk, one by Barter Books in Alnwick, Northumberland (responsible for starting the recent popularity of the poster) and a small batch of posters are held by Moragh Turnbull who lives in Scotland. Since it's recent rediscovery by Stuart & Mary Manley of Barter Books, the poster has now captured the attention and affection of the world. Its bold phrase has become very popular appearing on millions of products such as clothing, kitchenware etc. Countless parodies of the poster are being produced with alternative and comical phrases. The 'KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON' poster is becoming as recognisable worldwide as the British red telephone box and some say it is the most iconic image of the 21st century!
Primary source of information: Lewis, R M, 'Undergraduate Thesis: The planning, design and reception of British home front propaganda posters of the Second World War': Written April 1997.
The history of this surviving example
Printed in 1939, this poster is though to be part of a batch of posters sent to a Police station in the town of Princes Risborough in Buckinghamshire at the start of the WW2. The posters would have been distributed in the local area and put up on public display if and when the instruction was received from The Ministry of Information to do so. Two sizes of the poster were sent, 10" x 14&1/2" and a larger 19&3/4" x 29&1/2".
During or after WW2 the posters were put into storage in the police station and were not seen again until some storage space was reclaimed in the late seventies. The posters were regarded as junk and destroyed but luckily one poster was retained. Some years later the poster was put up for sale as wartime memorabilia and purchased by a collector. WartimePosters.co.uk now proudly own that very poster.
Britain in her darkest hour
Although the 'KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON' poster looks great and it's phrase good advice for today's modern and hectic lifestyle, we must never forget it's real purpose. Posters like these were created to advise the people of Britain in their darkest hour, defending against an invasion, and if Germany had successfully invaded, the words 'KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON' would have marked the very end of Britain. The people fought hard, they gave all, the poster is perfect to reflect the British spirit and the British 'stiff upper lip' attitude during the struggle against all odds in the face of uncertainty.
Although the poster did not see the light of day during wartime, the people of Britain did indeed...KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON!
The Story of Keep Calm and Carry On (only 3 mins)