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    

1911 First U.k. Aerial Post - Brown Postcard - London To Windsor Sp 9 1911 Die 4Sas Boeing 377 Stratocruiser Airline Issue. Aviation Airplane Postcard1950's Crowded At Singapore Airport Real PhotoAir Tran Us Airline Issue Boeing 717 Postcard - 11934 Rppc Postcard Of Us Navy / Uss Macon Airship Docked In Lakehurst NjLoftleidir Icelandic Airlines Dc-4 Airline Issue. Aviation Airplane Postcard1930's Japanese Postcards Army Manchuria Vintage Tank Aircraft Military CavalryHijacked Argentinian Plane Douglas Dc-4 Falklands Port Stanley Racecourse 1966Old Unused Postcard Slovenia Brnik Airport Douglas Dc 6 AirplaneAir Tran Us Airline Issue Boeing 717 Postcard - 2Early Photo H M S Hermes First Plane To Land On Board After Leaving England 1930America West Us Airline Issue Boeing 747 PostcardAustrian Airline Postcard "boeing B777" - New 2015 IssueJal Japan Airlines Latest Disney "journeys With Duffy" B737-800 PromotionRp Germany 1936 Olympic Games Airship Hindenburg Flown Flight Postcard - ShsKetchikan Airways Of Alaska Float Plane Real Photo Postcard - Airlines AircraftNational Greek Airlines Dc-4 Airline Issue. Aviation Airplane PostcardOld Unused Postcard Slovenia Brnik Airport Inex Adria Airways Dc 9 AirplaneMetro Airtaxi College Park Airport Maryland Cgs N355c Inflight Post Card 1976Dr Jim Stamps Us Twa Constellation In Flight Linen PostcardEarly Postcard,china,h M S Hermes Aircraft Carrier ,jacks Neck Resting 1931 RpSouth African Airways Boeing 747 Post Card 4x6Pedal Plane-murray 1941 Army PursuitCudahy Wisconsin Rp Northwest Airplane Airport Milwaukee WiNew British Airways Boeing 787 Dreamliner Airline Issued Postcard2 1910 Boston Air Meet Airplane Postcards, Aviation Postcards,baldwin,kearnyPan-am Service Station / Indianola, Mississippi / Linen Advertising / RestaurantRppc Continental Airlines Vickers Viscount 812 AircraftAir Tran Us Airline Issue Boeing 737 - 700 PostcardAmerica West Us Airline Issue Boeing 757 PostcardVintage Unused Real Photo Post Card (rppc) - “the Rock From Airport” GibraltarVintage German Graf Zeppelin Post Card, Color14 X Airline Issue Postcard LotAir India Boeing 787 Promotional Postcard Dreamliner Brand New MintAna Issued Viscount Postcard American Airlines Flagship Fleet - Stewardess Caring For Passengers1 X Lufthansa Technik Sun Express B737-800 Istanbul Logo Jet Postcard 101 X Lufthansa Technik Etihad A340-600 Formula 1 Logo Jet Postcard 3Postcard Boeing 737-3s1 Taca Int'l Airlines At Guatemala City-la Aurora 1/91Early Postcard,china,h M S Hermes Aircraft Carrier ,jacks Stay At Hankow 1931 Rp5 Hamburg Int Issued PostcardLot Of 12 Chrome Airport PostcardsDenver Co~stapleton International Airport Interior~1960s Ford Mustang DisplayedUnited Airlines Issued Boeing 247 Era 30s Lot Of 2 PostcardsWwii Douglas A24 Army Dive Bomber Airplane Real Photo PostcardWwii Airplane Flying Training Ground Flight Instruction San Antonio PostcardBirmingham Al Airport Postcard Southern Airways Martin 404Colliery Plane Under Coal Breaker In Shamokin Pa - Pennsylvania Anthracite 1909Rppc Lockheed Hudson Plane Us Air Force Real Photo PostcardCorpus Christi, Texas Tx Navy Plane In Bay Front Ca 1940s Linen PostcardAugusta Ga Continental Airport Hotel Issue Large Postcard Delta & Piedmont 1950sBavaria Douglas Dc-3 Swissair Lufthansa Convair Airplanes Stuttgart Airport 19601950's Era - Real Photo - Monterey Peninsula Airport, Monterey, CalforniaHawiian Airlines Dc-9-50 Airline Issue Postcard Atlantis Airlines Set Of Four Airline Issued Postcards From 1970s2 Card Lot, Airplanes, Airlines, In-flight Menu, Boac, Chicago Airport-planes!Airline Issued Colour(6x4")inch Postcard Of Ethiopian B767-300:(et-alj)Air France - Boeing 747 - Airline Issue PostcardContinental Airlines B-727 AirportWestern Airlines L-049 Constellation Lax Ca Airport Bottom Card Free