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.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

National Air and Space Museum

National Air and Space Museum

The National Air and Space Museum holds some 50,000 artifacts, a significant subset of which can be viewed on this … [read review or visit site]

Aviation Models

Aviation Models

Peter Jackson and friends have put together this great gallery of travel agent airline display models. The photo ga… [read review or visit site]

Airways News

Airways News

Chris Sloan's collection of airline photos and paper. Includes four main sections: timetables and maps, planespotti… [read review or visit site]

Uniformfreak.com

Uniformfreak.com

Cliff Muskiet's incredible collection of 600 vintage stewardess uniforms from over 250 airlines since the 1950's, i… [read review or visit site]

Lufthansa Model Collection

Lufthansa Model Collection

A private collection of desktop Lufthansa airplane models. Available in English and German, this compact but rich s… [read review or visit site]

AirTimes

AirTimes

This incredible collection of airline timetables by Perry Sloan includes hundreds of vintage and modern airline tim… [read review or visit site]

Airline Spoons

Airline Spoons

Dieter's Flickr photoset of over 1,000 airline spoons is stunning. Browsable alphabetically, the spoons go back as … [read review or visit site]

Airline Bag Lounge

Airline Bag Lounge

It would be hard to pick just one of these carry-ons for your next flight: Troy Litten's Airline Bag Lounge is a vi… [read review or visit site]

Travel Brochure Graphics

Travel Brochure Graphics

The staggering number of images on this site are, unbelievably, only a subset of David Levine's collection of 1920s… [read review or visit site]

Advertising Antiques

Advertising Antiques

This classy looking British site features hundreds of high resolution photos of antique porcelain pre-war (enamel) … [read review or visit site]

Ad Access

Ad Access

Duke University's library has pulled together an impressive collection of over 7,000 ads printed in U.S. and Canadi… [read review or visit site]

American Package Museum

American Package Museum

Ian House's gallery of early 20th Century American package designs. Browse the exhibits in slide show mode or view … [read review or visit site]

Found in Moms Basement

Found in Moms Basement

Paula Zargaj-Reynolds’ blog, an extensive collection of 20th century vintage advertising, is a visual feast. Scro… [read review or visit site]



Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage Precise Or Topping Lockheed Usaf F-104a Starfighter Aircraft Desk ModelAntique Wwi Tiffany & Co Sterling Silver Usa Air Force Aviation Wings Pin 2 YqzAntique Wwi Sterling Silver Usa Army Air Force Aviator Pilot Wing Pin #10 Nr YqzVtg Wwii Sterling Silver Usa Army Air Force Glider Pilot Aviation Wing Pin 5 YqzAntique Wwi World War 1 Sterling Silver Usa Air Force Aviation Wings Pin 1 YqzVintage Topping F4u Corsair Desktop Model / 1st Topping ModelVtg Wwii World War 2 Usa Army Air Force Airship Pilot Aviation Wings Pin #4 YqzOriginal 1949 Air France Airlines Africa Travel Poster Albert Brenet 39" X 25" Vintage '50s Usaf Fairchild C-123 Assault Transport Metal Desktop Model Airplane1960's Alitalia Sud Aviation Caravelle Travel Agent Desk Model Belplast MilanoVtg Wwii Sterling Silver Usa Air Force Flight Engineer Aviation Wing Pin #6 Yqz Vintage Wood Airplane Propeller, Sensenich 1947, 76" Long, No Reserve!Topping Atlas Missile Desk Top Display Model-19" Tall-no Stand-complete? Look!1960's United Airlines Hawaii Travel Poster - Fantastic - Stan Galli (6073-b)Lockheed Lufthansa L 1649 Desk Display Model Airplane - Atlantic Models ChromedAntique Wwi Sterling Silver Usa Army Air Force Observer Aviation Wings Pin 3 YqzVintage Riffe Twa Lockheed Constellation Airplane Ashtray Metal Chrome DesktopCollectable British Airways Concorde Stainless Steel Letter Opener Inflight GiftChrome Plated ~usaf B-57 Contractors Desk ModelOriginal Wwii Fighter Stick Gun/bomb Trigger Grip Mechanism Corsair F4u FighterVintage Military Desk Top Model Usaf Agm-65a Hughes Topping Maverick MissileDimensional Technologies Aegis Leap Standard Sm-3 Desktop Display Model MissileGemini Jets 1:400 Scale Emirates Airlines Boeing 777-300er (a6-ebt)British Airways Cabin Crew Csd Cravat Hawker 800xp Mid Size Jet Metal Travel Agent Desk Model 34 Cm WingspanPhoenix Singapore Airlines Boeing 747 9v-spq 1/400 Scale Model. Free Uk Post!Antique Wwi Royal Flying Corps Airplane Altimeter41.5x30” Blueprint Bell P-39d Airacobra Aircraft Plane Inflight 200 Pan Am Delivery 747-100 Polished 1/200 Scale Sold Out Rare Vintage Boeing Us Navy E-6b Mercury Resin 707 Aircraft Desk Display ModelOld Bea Airlines Dehavilland Comet Desk Display Plastic Model - Skyland-englandGemini Jets 1:400, British Airways, Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner, G-zbja1/400 Bigbird Air France 747Vintage Concorde Silk Scarf Made For British Airways 76 X 76 CmVintage Pan Am Airlines Globe Hat Badge Gold Filled Lgb 1/10 10k Gf Paa InsigniaPhoenix Egyptair Boeing 777-300er 1/400 Scale Mode Aircraft. Free Uk Post!Wwii Usaaf A-2 Flight Jacket ~ 100th Bg (bloody Hundredth) ~ 418th Bomb SquadronBoeing Md-11 House Color 1/100 ModelVintage United Airlines Tiki Advertising Statue Hawaiian Ruehl Heckman 1940 Thos D Murphy Aviation Calendar Catalina Flying Over AvalonPhoenix Models 1:400, Japan Air System, Boeing 777-289, Ja008d, Rainbow SevenVintage 1930s Eugene Iverd Boy Pilot & Dog Aviation Art Print Ambition RealizedAirline Safety Card Ba Concorde Issue 5Gemini Jets 1:400 Gjarptseta Airport Support VehiclesPacmin Models Iran Air Boeing 727-100 Airline Display 1/100 Scale 50 Years Old American Trans Air Airline Boeing 737 Captains Pilot Hat Cap~superior UniformOld Vintage Aircraft Propeller Protractor W/ Wooden Case ~ Aviation Tool 6587Vtg Bell Air Craft Sterling Service Division Lapel Hat Pin Enameled Bastian BrosBritish Airways Concorde First Team " Shirley " Name BadgeVarig Brazilian Airlines Boeing 707 Metal Model On Stand 5 " L 5" Wing Span 10k Yellow Gold Boeing 15 Year Service Pin Cto Cto Stone Pendant Tie Lapel 1.9gOld United Airlines Class Photo With Stewardess Diploma From July 1961Vintage Allyn Topping Douglas D-558-1 Skystreak 1947 Factory Model Exc ConditionWesco United States Air Force B-1b Rockwell Int. Wood Desktop Model AircraftVintage 1940's Pan American Pan Am Stewardess Solid 10k Gold PinCorgi Aviation 1/72 Raf Jaguar Gr.1a/3 Xz356/ep Mary Rose Aa35414Phoenix Singapore Airlines Boeing 777-200 9v-sqi 1/400 Scale Model. Free Uk PostCessna 310 Display ModelBoeing Commemorative Photo Of X-15 Rocket Research Airplane And Coins 22" X 18"1/400 Gemini Jets British Airways 747