You’ve seen the design, we’re sure—on posters, postcards, t-shirts, coffee mugs. And, like us, you’ve no doubt been led to understand that the original posters from which the design was taken appeared throughout England for the duration of World War II.
Keep Calm and Carry On.
You’ve seen it, right?
Well, the thing is, the above account of the design’s history isn’t quite correct. This design was created in the lead-up to World War II, and it was selected by the British government, along with a couple of other designs, to be used on a series of propaganda posters meant to help foster a sense of confidence, optimism, and yes, calm during a time fraught with worry and danger.
Only it was the other two designs that got used; they were distributed throughout the country in September 1939. The design so familiar today, the one pictured to the right, was designated by the government to be used in case of extreme emergency—in case of a Nazi invasion of English soil, for example.
As such, the design was never put into wide use and was all but forgotten until the year 2000, when Stuart and Mary Manley, the owners of Barter Books, a used book shop in the northeast of England—Alnwick, Northumberland, to be precise—found one of the posters in a box of old books.
We’ll hold off on telling you the rest of the delightful story. You can watch it for yourself in the following video. The footage of the Manleys’ shop alone makes the video well worth watching, but you’ll also learn what bits of copy were used in the other two poster designs. They’re effective enough, but they fall short of the to-the-point pithiness of “Keep Calm and Carry On.”