From the start of regular U.S. passenger service in 1914, travelers have saved a wide variety of aviation and airline memorabilia, spanning everything from fine china and food-service items to maps and timetables. In general, older objects are the most desirable, though collectors frequently focus on specific carriers or aircraft models to narrow their field.
When the early airmail routes began offering seats for traveling passengers, they often included free meals or refreshments to tempt big-spenders away from traditional rail transport. Full meals were first served during the 1930s on china made by well-known companies like Wedgwood, Hall, Syracuse, Royal Doulton, and Homer Laughlin. These sets were designed to be lighter than household dinnerware, and often included the airline’s logo or name in their graphics.
Besides these china place-settings, airlines required a variety of glassware, flatware, napkins, menus, and other food service items. Passenger travel also necessitated the use of more disposable pieces, like safety-direction cards, amenities kits, swizzle sticks, blankets, headrest covers, and baggage labels, all of which are collected today. Whether used by major or minor airlines, paper goods like maps and timetables are particularly more valuable the older they are. Since the number of scheduled flights was very limited before 1930, aviation ephemera from this time period is quite rare.
Aviation collectibles also include any equipment used by airline personnel or ground staff, which is typically closely linked with certain carriers. Crew uniforms and badges or “wings” have been used since the earliest days of air travel, with specific designs to indicate employee positions from flight attendants to pilots. Early figural metal badges, like a Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT) pin with its Native American headdress logo, are sought for their rarity and their aesthetic appeal. Junior wings, the free pinbacks given to children on most flights during the 20th century, are another popular item among collectors.
In addition to exotic travel posters, commercial airlines created an array of promotional items to give their customers, like ashtrays, postcards, cigarette lighters, calendars, mugs, pinbacks, and more. Playing cards were one of the most common airline giveaways, as they were useful in-flight, simple to pack, and cheap to produce. Early decks dating to the 1920s are typically the most desirable, like the 1929 deck issued by TAT to celebrate its new bi-coastal service.
As passenger carriers debuted new aircraft designs, they frequently manufactured miniature models in metal or plastic to place in ticket offices and travel agencies. While many of these were produced as scale models of actual airplanes, others were created merely as decorative ashtrays or sculptures, especially during the heyday of glamorous air service in the '40s and '50s.
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Recent News: Aviation Memorabilia
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Historic Flirtey drone donated to Smithsonian's National Air and Space MuseumVertical Magazine (press release), April 29th
Flirtey is proud to be a part of the Smithsonian's unequaled aviation collection.” The drone was delivered to the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, which is located near Washington Dulles International Airport. The center...Read more
Commentary: An unusual view of the US Air Force's F-22Reuters UK, April 28th
A day with the U.S. Air Force starts early. Arriving at an airbase in eastern England, my two Reuters colleagues and I know only a little about the day ahead: we will fly to an undisclosed European location on board a refuelling plane, accompanied by...Read more
NAS Whidbey schedules open house for June 25Whidbey News-Times (subscription), April 13th
Aviation memorabilia will also be available for purchase as well as a variety of food and beverages. All visitors over the age of 18 will be required to have state or government issued identification for access to the base. Because of security measures...Read more
Yankee Air Museum's "Bomber Buffing" Saturday, April 9The Daily Telegram, April 8th
Organizers report it will be a chance to visit an operational hangar, view airplanes closely and shop among those who enjoy aviation and airline memorabilia. Hunter said most people only get to see planes like the two bombers flying overhead...Read more
June 25: Open House at NAS Whidbey IslandSanJuanIslander.com, April 7th
Aviation memorabilia will also be available for purchase as well as a variety of food and beverages. All visitors over the age of 18 will be required to have state or government issued identification for access to the base. Due to security measures...Read more
Space Walk of Fame hosts memorabilia auctionFlorida Today, March 30th
The U.S. Space Walk of Fame Museum may be the place to be this Saturday for those interested in purchasing space and aviation memorabilia. The Museum will hold its Charity Space Memorabilia fundraising auction Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. with ...Read more
SDASM acquires major aviation collectionCBS 8 San Diego, March 8th
SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The San Diego Air and Space Museum announced Tuesday that it acquired a large collection of records from the Vought Aircraft Heritage Foundation, which preserved the history of Vought Aircraft Cos. Vought is the company responsible ...Read more
Delta museum hosts airline memorabilia showAtlanta Journal Constitution, June 18th
The Airliners International 2015 memorabilia show has 250 dealer tables beneath "The Spirit of Delta" Boeing 767 in the Delta Flight Museum. The 4-day show is open to the public for a $7 admission fee Thursday, June 18, 2 p.m.-6 p.m., Friday, June 19, ...Read more