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Keep Calm and Carry On

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Digital scan of original 1939 KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON poster owned by

Digital scan of original 1939 poster owned by

Until last week I thought the Keep Calm and Carry On poster had been around and popular since World War II. But when I watched a YouTube video Liz sent me about the poster’s history, I found out I was only half right. And I fell in love with another used bookstore…

The History

Created during WWII by the British MIO and produced by HMSO.

British WWII propaganda posters that were released during the war. [Created by the MIO; Produced by HMSO]

Apparently, though Keep Calm was one of three posters created to aid the war effort in the UK during World War II, it was held back to use if Germany invaded England. Since that never happened, it wasn’t released to the public.

But imagine if Germany had invaded and the British government pulled out their stash of Keep Calm posters. Choosing a few brave souls, they sent them out under cover of darkness to plaster these posters in public places. Can you see the anger of the invaders the next morning — ripping them down or painting them over. But not before the bold message was seen by a few — bright red and ringing in its simplicity. Those few would find themselves standing straighter  and lifting their chins. Keep calm and carry on, they’d say to their neighbours as they shared a bit of bread.

Thankfully, of course, it never came to that — but it’s fascinating to think of the Ministry of Information storyboarding these poster ideas and deciding which message would be used for what circumstance.

Then to find out that the simplest and most striking of all three wasn’t known to the public until 2000 when the owners of Barter Books in Northumberland (UK) found an original print of the poster among old books bought at an auction. They displayed it in their bookshop, finally releasing it to the public in an age that seems so different from the one it was created in and yet its message still strikes a chord in us today.

The Video

It’s lovely and it’s only three minutes long — you will be glad you watched it. I confess I teared up a bit, but that may just be a me-thing.
(Thanks for sharing it with me, Liz!)

The Bookstore

Besides being completely fascinated by the poster’s history, which is the purpose of the video, I fell in love with Barter Books. If I had the money, I would buy a ticket to England and go there tomorrow. The used bookshop is set up in a Victorian train station in Alnwick, Northumberland and owned by Stuart & Mary Manley. One of my favourite bits of their design — the large strips of quotes displayed above you as you walk between the shelves.

Still image from the Barter Books YouTube video.

Still image from the Barter Books YouTube video.

And do you see that couch? I just realised I pinned a picture of that couch on Pinterest over a year ago, having no idea that I would love its location just as much as its velvety, tufted orangeness. There is so much to like about this bookshop — old books, tea rooms, architecture, design, coziness, history. Seriously, I hope it’s not long before I can visit.

Check out Barter Books! You can peruse their Keep Calm shop or browse their books. Now I really want one of their Barter Books mugs that depicts an engraving of the train station.

The Idea

After watching that video, I realised how happy I’d be if I could go on a tour of used bookshops around the world. Not amid my travels, but to actually plan a trip with the purpose of visiting and documenting great used bookstores. Ah. One day I will and it will be lovely and I can tell you all about it.

Barter Books — you are on my list. And so is the Welsh town Hay-on-Wye, packed full of used bookshops, which I tried to visit twice last year. Ah well, third time’s a charm. Hopefully soon.

» Don’t miss previous posts on: Used Bookstores Around the World #1#2, #3. These are the ones I have happened upon over the years — the preamble to my future tour.

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bet mercer

Bet Mercer is a poet-photographer who writes at Gimme Some Reads and Everyday Poetry. She loves quotes, reading her favourite books over again, great conversation, laughter, trees, films, and travelling the world. Follow along with Bet on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Flickr, Etsy and Google+.

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0 comments on “Keep Calm and Carry On”

  1. Wow! what an amazing story and place! Thanks for sharing…I’d love to see it, too. Would be a wonderful place to have just round the corner so you could visit often.

    As to the posters, we could use those today, much more positive messages than much of what we hear today in less dire circumstances.