The origin of Pen and Sword Books is closely linked with its sister company, the Barnsley Chronicle; one of the UK's oldest provincial newspapers – established in 1858 – and one of the few weeklies still in private ownership.
The first books published by the company were in response to public demand following of a series of articles published in the newspaper:- Dark Peak Aircraft Wrecks told the story of crash sites in the Dark Peak area of the Peak District National Park, and a further weekly feature on the history of two Kitchener battalions, known as the Barnsley Pals, aroused a thirst for more information. Over the years these books have been reprinted a number of times and have collectively sold around 20,000 copies.
Following on from the success of Dark Peak Wrecks and Barnsley Pals books, a number of local history paperbacks were produced along with a series of battlefield guide books. Battleground Europe proved immediately successful and as more and more titles were produced the company made the decision to launch a book publishing arm of the group.
The company acquired the Leo Cooper military history imprint and "Pen and Sword" was born. Leo Cooper, the husband of the famous novelist Jilly, had established a strong reputation for publishing military history titles and had some famous books in his list. With the Leo Cooper imprint and its backlist, Pen and Sword became established as one of the UK's leading military history publishers.
Over recent years Pen and Sword has continued to grow and has added new imprints to its core area of military history, as well as publishing the majority of its catalogue digitally in eBook format. Pen and Sword specialises in all areas of military history, naval and maritime, aviation, local history, genealogy, social history, transport, discovery and exploration, archaeology, nostalgia and true crime. In 2017, a new lifestyle imprint named White Owl was launched, which publishes books on areas such as health and diet, hobbies and sport, gardening and wildlife and space.
With over 350 books published every year, Pen and Sword has established itself as a specialist book publisher.