The “golden age” of postcards (about 1898 to 1918) corresponded with great leaps in transportation technology. Prior to that, in the 18th and early 19th centuries, U.S. mail was delivered via horses and stagecoaches. Then, steamships and railroads led to even faster delivery times, and by the end of the 19th century, postcards really took off, thanks to standardized postage rates and free rural mail delivery.

In Europe and the United States, 19th-century inventors were tinkering with steam-powered, electric, and gasoline-fueled horseless carriages, which led to the introduction of mass-produced automobiles, like Ford’s Model T, which hit the market in 1907. Other tinkerers were even more ambitious, like the Wright Brothers and Count Zeppelin, who wanted to share the sky with the birds. Thus, the first dirigibles and airplanes took flight around the turn of the century.

While we might take it for granted that we can zip down the highway in our cars or hop on a plane and fly across the country in a matter of hours, in the early 20th century, these advances were profound technological marvels. And so, cars, and especially airplanes, were popular subjects for postcards.

Publisher Raphael Tuck and Sons, of England, produced several aviation series of its trademark “Oilettes,” or postcards reproducing original oil paintings. These paintings documented the Wright Brothers Biplane, the Zeppelin, the Spherical Balloon, the Bleriot Monoplane, and M. de Lesseps’ Channel Flight.

As lovely as these sets are, collectors are drawn to real-photo postcards showing the actual aircrafts from the earliest days of aviation. In the early 19th century, there were only 30 licensed pilots in the United States, so such photographs are rare.

Even more rare are postcards from newspaper contests that capitalized on the way air flight had captured the public’s imagination. Pilots who made successful flights from one city to another would be offered as much as $10,000. Postcards were also produced to commemorate events such as the 1911 Chicago International Aviation Meet in Grant Park, where Lincoln Beachy set the world altitude record of 11,642 feet.

In the 1920s, the United States Postal Service contracted out its air mail routes to 12 carriers, including companies that evolved into Pan Am, Delta, American, United, Trans World Airlines, and Northwest. It wasn't until 1925 that small numbers of passengers were allowed to fly the friendly skies...

Of course, as they grew—particularly after the Boeing 247 and Douglas DC-3 were introduced in the 1930s—the airlines themselves issued official cards featuring various airplanes or touting different routes. Cards from once glamorous and now-defunct airlines like TWA and Pan Am are of particular interest to collectors.

The least valuable aviation postcards are those made by museums, as they were published in great numbers and are rather common now.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)



Andreas Praefcke's postcard collection of theatres and concert halls worldwide. Showcases 3700 images of over 1810 … [read review or visit site]

Tall Tale Postcards

Tall Tale Postcards

Don't let this one get away from you. This 'unbelievable' collection, from the Wisconsin Historical Society, featur… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Trans Canada Air Lines Passengers Leaving Plane PostcardTrans Canada Air Lines Old Twin Propellar Aircraft PostcardThy TTrans Canada Air Lines Stewardess, Pilot Embracing PostcardWwii Boulton & Paul Staff Aircraft D Day Glider ? Raf Mousehold Norwich C1940Vintage Aerocondor Columbia Prop Jet Lot Of 3 With Spectators In 2Indian Airlines Airbus A320 Airline Issue. Airplane Postcard Flugzeug AkDr Jim's Stamps Us Linen Postcard A-31 Building Municipal Airport New MexicoVintage Jal Japan Air Lines Jet At Tokyo International At Night Nbc CardWwii Boulton & Paul Staff Aircraft Raf Mousehold Airfield Norwich Norfolk C1940Twa Aerospatiale Concorde In Flight Artist Concept 4x6 PostcardOklahoma Ok Tulsa International Airport Postcard Old Vintage Card View Standard Fort Worth Tx The Greater Ftw International Airport Amon Carter FieldVintage Island Airlines Ford Tri-motor Lot Of 4 Port Clinton Municipal AirportPakistan P/card C.1954 Karachi Airport Used To SingaporeVintage Malev Hungarian Airlines Pair Tu-154Switzerland Transvalair Airline Issue Canadair Cl44 Postcard Sion AirportLufthansa Airlines G-34s At Dessau Germany Airport B/w Postcard Twa Lockheed Constellation Super G With Texaco Fuel Trucks 4x6 PostcardBoac - Boeing Stratocruiser - Old Postcard ViewAnk Issued 737 Postcard Braniff Airlines Aerospatiale Concorde Over San Francisco Bay 4x6 PostcardPan Am, Boeing B-314 Vintage Linen Postcard New, Never Used!!!!!!!!!!Pan Am, Martin M-130 Vintage Linen Postcard New, Never Used!!!!!!!!!!Vintage Klm Royal Dutch Airlines Dc-8-63 Japan Nbc CardNew York Ny Laguardia Airport Postcard Old Vintage Card View Standard SouvenirVirginia Va Roanoke Piedmont Airlines Postcard Old Vintage Card View Standard PcPan Am, Lockheed Constellation Vintage Linen Postcard New, Never Used!!!!!!!!!!El Al Israel Airlines 1971 Airline Timetable B707 PostcardAirport Postcard Stavanger Braathens & SasAlbuquerque Nm Municipal Airport Continental Airlines Vintage Postcard Ca 1950sRppc Ny Adirondacks Inlet 4th Lake Fulton Chain Sailboat Airplane In Sky?Pc Klm K.l.m Royal Dutch Airlines Douglas Dc-8 @ Schiphol Amsterdam AirportTwa Red & Silver Lockheed Constellation Postcard50's Continental Airlines @ Honolulu Airport, Hula Girls Greeting = HawaiiEastern Airlines Issued Dc-2 Over Houston Tx Linen PostcardEarly Aerial Of Airliners At St. Louis Municipal Airport Real Photo Postcard 1955 International Airport, Fort Worth, Texas PostcardQsl Ussr Crimea Aeroflot Airline Route Map Uk5-jaj Airplane Russia SimferopolMiat Issued 767 Postcard Taca Issued A320 Postcard Air France Airlines Issued Wibault-penhoet 282t "golden Clipper" PostcardBoeing C-17 Globemaster Iii - With Raf Aircrew - Official Boeing PostcardAirliner Postcard China Dc4 At Hong Kong AirportBoac - Handley Page Hermes - Old Postcard ViewAirline Postcard - Cathay Pacific Vr-hff With Flight Crew Inc Hostess/stewardessJac Issued Do228 Postcard Fly Air Issued 737 Postcard Mai Issued A320 Postcard Oversized Japanese Ww2 Propaganda Hand Drawn Kids Arisaka Bayonet Plane Helmet PostcardClassic Car^train^boat^airplane^early 1900s Travel Greeting Postcard 1915Pan Am, Sikorsky S-40 Vintage Linen Postcard New, Never Used!!!!!!!!!!Louisiana La New Orleans Moisant International Airport Main Lobby Postcard OldVintage Business Air Service Piper Navajo Fleet Rotterdam AirportIllinois Il Chicago O'hare International Airport Terminal Postcard Old VintageVintage Pan Am 747 Jetliner Airliner Aircraft Postcard Unposted Pan Am, Sikorsky S-42 Vintage Linen Postcard New, Never Used!!!!!!!!!!Pan Am, Boeing 747 Vintage Linen Postcard New, Never Used!!!!!!!!!!Us Aviator Art Smith In Japan AirplaneUs Aviator Art Smith In Japan Acrobatic Flight Airplane