Osprey Publishing has been providing books for enthusiasts since 1968, since when it has grown, evolved and taken on new challenges until it stands today as one of the most successful examples of specialist publishing around.
The company was founded by Berkshire Printing, part of the tea company Brooke Bond, in order to publish a series of titles based on the work of leading aviation illustrator Dick Ward, whose artwork appeared on a range of collectable cards packaged with Brooke Bond tea. This series was Aircam Aviation, and first book in the series – also the first Osprey title – was North American P-51D Mustang in USAAF-USAF Service, published in 1969. Aircam set the template for Osprey series to follow, with the books combining detailed and authoritative text with colour and black & white artwork and photographs in a standard series format.
With the success of Aircam, Dick Ward decided to apply the same approach to famous military units. Philip Warner, a distinguished historian from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, was appointed series editor and Men-at-Arms came into being. The first title, Foot Grenadiers of the Imperial Guard, was published in 1971. The earliest titles (originally unnumbered) were regimental histories rather than the studies of uniforms and equipment that now characterize the series, but the focus on uniforms and equipment was strong from the beginning. Osprey quickly became recognized as a leading publisher for military history enthusiasts.
In the second half of the 1970s Osprey was acquired by the George Philip Group, the map and atlas specialists. More series followed including Vanguard, now updated as New Vanguard, which focussed on tanks and other armoured vehicles, and Elite, which dealt with the uniforms, equipment and history of some of the world’s most famous fighting forces.At this time, alongside the distinctive and rapidly growing military and aviation series, Osprey published information and reference books in many subject areas and built a significant automotive list.
The fourth of the series that still form the core of Osprey's publishing today, Campaign, covering the great battles and campaigns of history, was launched in 1990. Warrior, detailing the experiences of soldiers throughout the ages, followed in 1993. One of Osprey’s most successful aviation series, Aircraft of the Aces, was launched in 1994 with Mustang Aces of the Eighth Air Force, an echo of Osprey's first title in the Aircam series. Further aviation series Combat Aircraft and Aviation Elite Units added new perspectives to the list in 2000.
In 1998, Osprey became an independent company and moved from London to Oxford, leaving Reed International, latterly Reed Elsevier, who had owned George Philip since 1988. A completely new publishing team was built, steadily increasing the output of new titles. More new series were created – Essential Histories launched in 2001, Fortress and Osprey Modelling in 2003 and Battle Orders in 2004.
The Osprey General publishing programme was launched in 2003 with the objective of reaching out to the non-specialist reader with an interest in military history. It has since become a vital part of the publishing programme, allowing Osprey to publish a range of books from detailed atlases to small gift books, all designed to further the reading of this fascinating subject.
At the end of 2004 Osprey moved into new offices in Oxford and New York, and Osprey Publishing Inc, its newly formed subsidiary, started trading in North America at the beginning of 2005.
In August 2007 Osprey made its first acquisition, in the shape of the enthusiast history, heritage and collectables publisher Shire. New series have continued to appear over the years, all seeking to illustrate, either in words or pictures, new aspects of conflicts across time: Duel in 2007, Raid in 2009, Weapon followed in 2010 alongside Command, then Air Vanguard in 2012 and Combat in 2013.
In December 2014 Osprey Publishing, Osprey Games and Shire books were bought by Bloomsbury Publishing and became part of one of the world’s leading independent publishing houses. Opportunities for Osprey in its new home included the integration of the Conway series, Anatomy of a Ship which has flourished as part of the list. The development of new series continued with X Planes in 2016, Air Campaign in 2018 and, most recently, Dogfight in 2022 and Fleet in 2023.
After over 50 years of publishing, the Osprey list now totals nearly 3,500 books and the central mission is unchanged. Osprey continues to bring together expert authors, illustrators and military-history enthusiasts by delivering the information readers need to increase their knowledge and to enrich their leisure or professional pursuits. Osprey's enthusiasm for military history is balanced by an equal enthusiasm for excellent publishing.
Osprey has always been closely linked to the wargaming hobby community, with its books being widely used as guides for painting miniatures and designing scenarios (some early Campaign series titles even having a dedicated ‘wargaming the campaign’ section), but it was only in early 2008, with the release of Field of Glory: Ancient and Medieval Wargaming Rules in conjunction with Slitherine Software Ltd., that Osprey stepped fully into the gaming arena. The success of these initial forays into publishing wargaming rules led to more projects, notably Bolt Action, in collaboration with Warlord Games, and the Osprey Wargames series of standalone rulesets. Eventually, the list had grown to such an extent that, in 2015, Osprey moved into another new phase of its life with the establishment of Osprey Games.
In an exciting new development, board and card games were added alongside the established wargaming lines and Osprey Games embarked on a range of games in different formats and packages. While military history remains a feature of the list (as seen in the new edition of the classic Escape From Colditz and the more recent release of the award-winning Undaunted series), it has grown to encompass a wide variety of themes, including (non-military) history, science fiction and fantasy, gardening, railway construction, and much more besides! This approach continued with the launch of the Osprey Roleplaying line in December 2019, which further increased the range of options for this award-winning games imprint.
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