Keep calm and carry on is a great message and a very timely one for us at this exact point in history. It's also a great poster design. The baronial graphic of the crown and the clear Gill font in caps further expresses the simple focus of the message. Well, sure, we can be optimistic with such a thoughtful and charming mantra and a pleasing graphic design to view. I'm feeling better about the world already.
The timelessness of the message and the beautiful simplicity of the graphic elements do not reveal the artist who designed the poster. Now available throughout Great Britain on t-shirts, tote bags, tea towels and door mats, to name just a few, what little is known about it is that it was created as part of a British Ministry of Information propaganda campaign in August of 1939 to alleviate fear of a possible German invasion.
A series of three posters were created under the crown of King George VI, yet only the first two were widely released, appearing on billboards, train stations and shops throughout England. The third design, Keep Calm, was held in reserve, and, thankfully, never needed for its intended use.
Somehow, somewhere, a copy of the unused poster was saved for about 60 years. It resurfaced in a box of old books purchased at auction in 2000 by booksellers Stuart and Mary Manley of Barter Books in Northumberland. They hung the poster in their shop and started to research its origins. Frequent requests to purchase it led them to reproduce the poster and offer it for sale. Some 40,000 copies have been sold through them.
In spite of its wartime origins, the message of resilience is welcome. The archives of British history and design gained a document almost unknown and the rest of us gain the benefits.
Special thanks to Jon Henley for his article Keep Calm and Carry On in the Guardian on March 18, 2009 and Mary Manley's blog entry on March 4, 2009.