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”)

Carthalia

Carthalia

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    

Dc-3a Monterrey Airport Mexico 1951 Rppc American Mexicana Airline Xa-fil BombEcuatoriana Airlines B-720-b Large Airline Issued PostcardNorthwest Airlines Transport Electra Airline Issued PostcardJetstar Issued A320 Postcard Aviation Group Of (3) Postcards Female Pilot Of Bluebird Plane (au191)Rppc Early Biplane "aeroplane At Parkersburg Wv - Just Starting" Circa 1910Cruzeiro Do Sul Convair 440 Airline Issue Aviation Airplane Postcard Flugzeug AkRppc Early Aviation Charles Witmer Flying Biplane, Buffalo Ny1911 PostcardPocono Airlines Beech 18 Airline Issue Postcard - Great Graphics On BackMiat Issued 737 Postcard Utah Ut Salt Lake City Municipal Airport Postcard Old Vintage Card View Standard1 X Formosa Airlines 2 X Dornier 228 Airline Issue Postcard1 X Ana B787 Violin Airline Issue PostcardRppc Early Aviation Walter E. Johnson Biplane In Front Of Crowd Posted 1912Rppc Early Aviation Silvio Pettirossi And His Wife In Airplane PostcardTae Airlines Of Spain Issued Dc-8 Cont/l Postcard Emery Airlines Dc-8 Airport Large Airline Issue PostcardSanta In Plane, School Of Military Aeronautics, Austin, Texas Antique P.c. N5564Hong Kong China Road To Kai Tak Airport Busses Postcard C1976Trans Canada Airline Cleveland Oh Hopkins Airport Restaurant Postcards 1950California Ca Los Angeles Theme Building At International Airport Postcard Old1 X Norwegian B737-800 Airline Issue PostcardAviaco Bloch Languedoc Ec-agv 1950s PostcardReal Photo Postcard 1925 Usps Air Mail Airplane Pilot Wreck Charles H.ames AzoSager Real Photo Postcard 1925 Airplane Wreck Charles H Ames Usps Air Mail PilotKlm Royal Dutch Airlines Super Constellation Airline Issued Interior PostcardEmery Airlines Dc-8-70 Airport Large Airline Issue Postcard1970s Esso Fuel Truck At Shirahama Airport Japan Vtg PostcardMixed Airlines German Airports Lot Of 3 Rp Postcards Dallas Tx Love Field Airport Terminal & Tower Unused Hard2find PcAmerican Airlines Boeing 707 'astrojet' In Flight 4x6 Postcard1941 Rppc, United Airlines Mainliner Airplane, Burbank Ca Los Angeles A.m.f Post1 X Jet Blue Goodbye Lax 228 Airline Issue PostcardStockholm Arlanda Airport - Caravelle Dc-3 Tu-104 Convair 440 - Postcard ViewIceland Air (hekla Aurora) Boeing 757 In Flight 4x6 PostcardAmerican Airlines Mcdonnell-douglas Dc-10 Airline Issue Postcard1 X Hawaiian Airlines Maui Airline Issue Postcard1 X Air Berlin Oslo Airline Issue PostcardIllinois Il Chicago O'hare International Airport Postcard Old Vintage Card View Old American Airlines Advertising Post Card W/ Attached Flag PennantOlley Air Service Of Croydon De Havilland Dove G-ajot Official PostcardVery Old Card, Lufthansa German Airlines, Heinkel He 111, Airline Issued CardCubana Bristol Britannia Airline Issue PostcardNorthwest Airlines Issued Dc-3 Era 40s Route Map Postcard Vintage Aeromarine Airways Postcard The White Flying CruisersAruba Curacao Dakota Airport Postcard Cover Airmail Use In 1949Postcard Nm Albuquerque Municipal Airport Continental Airlines PlaneMixed Airlines German Airports Lot Of 3 Cont/l Postcards #2Mixed Airlines France Airports Lot Of 3 Cont/l Rp Postcards 14 X Airline Issue Postcard LotFlorida Fl Miami International Airport Gateway Postcard Old Vintage Card View PcContinental Airlines B-757 Airlines Issue Card AirportAir America Airlines L-1011 Airport Large Airline Issue PostcardContinental Airlines Dc-10-30 Airlines Issue Card AirportRppc - French Liner "normandie" With Biplane Overhead C1937U.s. Navy/ Eagle W/sailor's Cap Holding German Sub/ Japanese Plane/va./ Postcrd 8 X Interflug Airline Issue Postcard Lot Northwest Conny @ Tokyo Airport PostcardMccarran International Airport Las Vegas, Nevada Postcard Grand Canyon Airport Postcard