A range of highly collectable government-published booklets once served as a main medium for Britons seeking news about the progress of World War Two

When they were first published, HMSO pamphlets were lapped up by the million by a public eager to know the progress of Britain’s war. Eighty years on, they can still be found fairly easily. Yet, despite their commonality, it is worth reading between the lines as to why these official histories were so popular and what they have to offer the today’s collector.

Even if you have never bought an HMSO history, it’s likely you will have seen them – probably because they’re unmissable. They were a staple of militaria fairs or military history sections of second-hand bookshops, stacked high in a pile for a quid each. Indeed, as a young lad, they were one of the first items of militaria I bought with my pocket money. Around 70 such titles were published during World War Two and the immediate postwar years, many of them penned by noteworthy authors.

Founded in 1786 as a sub-department of the Treasury, His Majesty’s Stationery Office (HMSO) is the governmental publishing house. As the name suggests, it was initially tasked to provide stationery to government offices. However, its remit broadened over time, publishing the Parliamentary transcripts Hansard, plus guidebooks and reports, making them one of Britain’s largest publishers. Thus, it was ideal for the design, marketing and distribution of official propaganda.

Want to read more?

This is a premium article and requires an active subscription.

Existing subscriber? Sign in now

No subscription?

Pick one of our introductory offers