No doubt you have come across these words on a poster or two at some point. Perhaps you wondered whether they were just poppy retro posters, designed by some royalty-loving English(wo)man, which somehow caught on like wildfire. In truth, the poster is over 73 years old. It was born when tension was peaking during WWII, essentially to spur on the British armed forces and citizens.

Keep Calm and Carry On was produced as a propaganda poster by the British government in 1939, at the beginning of the Second World War. The poster was part of an effort to boost the morale of the British citizens, under threat of an imminent Nazi invasion. However, it was little known – and never used. In fact, it was one of three posters commissioned by the Ministry of Information, printed in two and a half million copies – but it was never distributed.

The specifications for the poster series included: a simple design with a special and attractive sans-serif font which could be linked to the Ministry. In order to hit that mark, the designers used the Government’s official typography, adding the crown to symbolize King George VI’s support. The other two posters respectively read “Your courage, Your cheerfulness, Your resolution will bring us victory” and “Freedom is in peril, Defend it with all your might.” As opposed to the poster which is the subject of this article, the two messages above were issued across the entire country.

Many years later, a copy of the Keep calm and carry on poster was found in a second-hand bookshop called “Barter Books” in Alnwick, Northumberland, in North East England. The owners loved the design so much that they hung it up for visitors. Finding their customers totally enamored with the poster, the bookshop owners decided to start selling copies of the design – after all, the copyright had expired 50 years after its creation. Only two originals of the poster were known in the public domain until 2012, when a collection of about 15 originals was revealed in the TV program Antiques Roadshow by the daughter of a Royal Observer Corps (ROC) veteran.

Today, the design is repeated infinitely, with its simple and attractive message which has never gone out of fashion. In fact, there is an “official” page which sells an array of merchandise featuring the motto, ranging from T-shirts to mugs and even deck chairs. Celebrating its slightly cheeky tone, parodies of the poster have popped up all over Tumblr, Pinterest and Facebook, where “Carry on” is replaced with other phrases, such as “Keep Calm and Drink Coffee” or “Keep Calm and Call Batman“.

Some examples of poster parodies:

Translation of the original article in Spanish by Marie Vandendriessche.

This is a nonprofit explanation.

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