IWM's collections help people to understand the human experience of war from the First World War to the present day. At our foundation in 1917 we collected material from the battlefields of the Western Front, and we still continue to collect objects from armed conflicts which are ongoing today.

So we can improve access to our existing collections for our audiences, we have limited the type of material that IWM is collecting until summer 2025.

IWM continues to commission artists and photographers to respond to and record conflict, and hold the national record of film and photographs produced by Britain's armed forces.



Recently collected objects
Find out more about some of the objects IWM has recently added to its collections.

Our collecting priorities

IWM's Collections Development Policy outlines the type of material IWM accepts into our collections, and our areas of focus for shaping them.

Our collections are managed by time period:

  • First World War and Early Twentieth Century (1900 to 1929)
  • Second World War and Mid-Twentieth Century (1929 to 1949)
  • Cold War and Late Twentieth Century (1949 to 2000)
  • Contemporary Conflicts (2001 to date)

Our Library collections include printed material from the First World War to the present day that relates to the history of conflict and British and Commonwealth nations within this period. 

Across these time periods there are areas which are well developed and areas where the collections are less strong. Each department has its own strategies for building their collections. 

We are currently collecting

  • Books

    • Operational and unit histories
    • Training manuals 
    • Regimental histories
    • Campaign histories 
    • Biographies
    • Novels written during or at the time of wars and conflicts 
    • Published material relating to the economic, social, and cultural aspects of war
  • Printed Ephemera

    Everyday printed items including:

    • Menus
    • Knitting patterns
    • Recipes
    • Greetings cards
    • Song sheets
    • Theatre programmes
    • Propaganda leaflets
  • Pamphlets, leaflets, and flyers

    • Political leaflets
    • Printed material related to pressure groups, charities, NGOs etc
  • Periodicals and journals

    Publications with a regular schedule including:

    • Regimental magazines
    • Service and trench newspapers
    • Veterans' association newsletters
  • Born-digital film, photography and sound

    • Photographs produced on a digital camera
    • Film produced on a digital camera
    • Sound recorded on a digital device

We also have an active oral history programme and welcome nominations to interview eyewitnesses and veterans.

We are not currently collecting

  • Artworks

    • Paintings
    • Prints
    • Posters
    • Drawings
    • Sculpture
    • Camouflage designs
    • Cartoons
  • Analogue film, photographs or sound

    Amateur and professionally produced film, photographs or sound made on an analogue format including:

    • Prints
    • Negatives
    • Cassettes
    • Records
    • CDs or DVDs
  • Documents

    • Personal papers e.g. letters, diaries or memos
    • Unpublished autobiographies or memoirs
    • Pilot's logbooks
  • Exhibits

    • Aeronautical equipment e.g., propellers, instruments, aircraft components.
    • Currency
    • Ephemera e.g., souvenirs, household items, handcrafts, jewellery, toys. 
    • Personal equipment e.g., life jackets, helmets, identity tags, goggles 
    • Field Equipment e.g., signs, tools, stretchers
    • Flags
    • Insignia e.g., patches, emblems, badges
    • Maritime equipment e.g., boats, compasses, life belts. 
    • Medals and decorations
    • Models
    • Optical equipment e.g., telescopes, binoculars, periscopes.
    • Photographic equipment e.g., cameras 
    • Surgical equipment e.g., medical kits, medicines, prosthetics, 
    • Uniform and clothing
    • Weapons e.g., swords, knives, bayonets. 
  • Technological objects

    • Communications equipment, e.g., radios, headsets.
    • Engines
    • Firearms
    • Munitions, e.g., bullets, ammunition, missiles.
    • Ordnance e.g., field guns, artillery, bombs.

IWM does not collect

After over 100 years of collecting and with over 33 million items in our collections IWM must consider additions to our collections very carefully.  

Our priority is to collect material which was used or made during war and conflict, that also demonstrates the first-hand experiences of people who lived through these events.

  • We do not collect material with conditions attached that it must be displayed.
  • We do not collect copies and duplicates 

Objects which are often not significant enough to warrant permanent preservation in IWM’s collections include: 

  • Personal notebooks
  • Exercise books 
  • Technical drawings 

IWM also does not collect material which illustrates themes of war and conflict, which otherwise has no tangible link to it including: 

  • Models or dioramas of aircraft, tanks, ships or battlefields which are custom-built (scratch-built) or made from commercially produced kits 
  • Aviation art, or other recently produced artworks in any medium depicting military themes and made by people with remote links to the subject 
  • DVD, VHS and Blu-ray copies of commercially produced films and documentaries 
  • Novels or stories set in times of war and conflict detailing fictional events or characters and written by people with remote links to the subject 
  • Mass-produced objects of a commemorative nature, such as souvenir glass wear or currency 
  • Commemorative souvenirs and memorabilia produced at, or for reunions of veterans or other interest groups 
  • Recently produced school textbooks 
  • Press cuttings 

Building our collections

A group of Imperial War Museum staff inspect frames stacked against a wall, while remounting the museum's displays in South Kensington in 1924
© IWM (Q 36914)

Donate an Object to IWM

IWM welcomes gifts of historic material. Public generosity has helped to grow IWM's collections since our foundation in 1917.

The IWM Duxford Conservation Team removing wing bolts

Managing IWM's Collections

Find out how IWM safeguards its collections for future generations.

A person who works for IWM cleaning models of dazzle ships in 1926.
©IWM (Q 45234)

Collections online

Explore over 1 million items from IWM's collections that tell the story of war and conflict.