Co.Design

The Surprising Origins Of That Blasted "Keep Calm And Carry On" Graphic

The graphic was designed during WWII to be used only during crisis. But it was lost to history until found in a dusty bookstore basement.

"Keep Calm and Carry On"—suddenly, the slogan, printed on a colored background and topped with a royal crown, has cropped up everywhere, emblazoned on everything from totes and T-shirts to coffee mugs and throw pillows. Where did this bloody thing come from, and why has it become the meme of the moment?

As one might expect, the sentiment—a steely resolve to remain unflustered—is thoroughly British. But it was coined more than 70 years ago, as one of three propaganda posters produced by the British government in the run-up to World War II. The posters were printed using a "special and handsome" typeface, which would be difficult for Germany to counterfeit, and featured the crown of King George VI. The other two were distributed, but "Keep Calm" was placed on reserve, for use only in times of crisis, and actually never saw the light of day. That is, until one of the 2.5 million posters turned up more than 50 years later in a box of used books at a lovely secondhand bookstore called Barter Books in the northeast town of Alnwick.

The proprietors of the shop did their bit to disseminate copies of the poster, which has since been recycled to oblivion. So a poster that wasn’t even rolled out for the Blitz is now the new "grin and bear it."

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11 Comments

  • William Russell

    FINALLY! An explanation as to why I've seen a handful of different variations on this over the last 6 or so months, but much more frequently lately.... Keep Calm and two (usually) clever words beginning (usually) with the letters C & O. It's had a shadowy sort of feel feel to it like in the early days of the "All your base are belong to us" meme, before it was a full-blown fad to photoshop that phrase onto more and more clever locations. Before you realize that you are witnessing the birth of a new internet and pop culture meme, it really does have a mysteriously ominous vibe, like a secret message that the whole world can see, but only the intended recipient can understand

  • Lara Mulady

    A woman in the UK found 15 originals rolled up in her attic recently! She took them to the Antiques Roadshow and had them valued at appox. several thousand pounds. Lucky woman! Would be incredible to have a framed original http://www.dailymail.co.uk/new...

  • Chica B

    This is very intersting thanks! My favorite parody is : "kepp calm and have a cup of tea". So British!

  • BP

    Thank you for bring this to my attention. I don't live too far so it would be great to visit. 
    It's actually 'Alnwick' not 'Alnick'