Since its foundation in 1917 IWM has been building its collections in order to illustrate and record all aspects of conflict in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. We want our collections to continue to engage, challenge and remain relevant to our audiences, and we need to safeguard it for future generations.

IWM’s collection covers all aspects of conflict involving Britain, its former Empire and the Commonwealth, from the First World War to the present day. As well as objects, it includes a range of media, from artfilm and photographs to printed materials, documents and sound.

Building our collections

A leather glove that shrank during a gas attack in the First World War
© IWM EPH 4377
What We Are Collecting
We collect material from contemporary conflicts and wars from the First World War to the present day, to help us understand people’s experience of war and its impact on society.
A view of the card index kept at Leytonstone Public Library
IWM (D 22113)
Recent acquisitions
Items in our Collections come from many sources, from artists and members of the public through to government departments and military personnel.
Offer material to the collections
Donated objects are recorded, preserved and cared for to the highest standards. However, this comes at a high cost, forcing us to be selective about what we can now accept into our keeping.

Conservation and Collections Care

IWM’s Project Conservator treating a SWW flying helmet in the conservation lab
IWM’s Project Conservator treating a SWW flying helmet in the conservation lab
Care and Conservation
The effective care of collections is central to the work of IWM. Collections care is the responsibility of all our staff, but a specialised care team exists to provide support and guidance across the organisation. Proper care ensures the preservation of our unique collections for future generations.
Conserving the Handley Page Victor XH648
Conserving the Handley Page Victor XH648
Conservation Engineering
At IWM Duxford our team of conservation staff and volunteers are working to safeguard the history of our large museum objects. In our Conservation in Action hangar you can chat to the team about the work they are doing and find out how we protect our objects for future generations to experience and enjoy.
A volunteer conservator dismantles a 4” gun.
A volunteer conservator dismantles a 4” gun. © IWM.
Warship Conservation
HMS Belfast joined the Imperial War Museums collection in 1978, becoming a museum and also the largest item in our collection. As both a historical object and museum its needs are unique and it requires constant conservation work.

Collection development

Collections review
In summer 2010 IWM began a five-year Collections Review to assess all its holdings and make strategic plans to develop the Collection.
Petty Officer Wren Hilary Wilson at the TARE Control position.
IWM (A 35110)
Digitisation programme
IWM has an ongoing digitisation programme that reflects various priorities. Read more about the items currently undergoing digitisation. 
Gassed by John Singer Sergeant
© IWM (Art.IWM ART 1460)
Loans programme
Our loans programme is one of the ways IWM shares its collections, knowledge and skills with organisations worldwide. IWM lends material from its exceptional collections to museums across the UK and abroad.