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    

Air Malawi Vickers Vc-10 Airline Issue. Aviation Airplane PostcardPakistan International Airlines , Boeing 707 * Vintage Postcard * PiaAircraft Postcard Braniff International Dc-8 Jet In FlightSwitzerland Zurich Airport Rp Postcard El Al Israel ConstellationAlitalia Caravelles & Itavia Dc3 @ Genova Airport PostcardTrans Caribbean Airways Dc8 Airline Issue PostcardAircraft Postcard Braniff International Dc-8 Jet In FlightAircraft Postcard Braniff International Boeing 727-27c On RunwayAircraft Postcard Braniff International Jet With Schedule For Texas To AlaskaPakistan International Boeing 707 Aviation Airline Issue Postcard1911 San Francisco Real Photo Rppc Postcard "wreck Of The Antoinette" Airplane Rppc Moline, Il Illinois Moline Airport C1940s Ekc PostcardWinnipeg Canada Stevenson Airport Northwest Airlines Rppc Postcard126) Allegheny Airline Airplanes At Greater Pittsburgh Pa International AirportTwa Star Stream Dc-9 1966 Old Vintage "3-d" Foldout PostcardRppc Airplane View 6th Brigade Texas City Texas Galveston County Photo PostcardAna All Nippon Airlines Tokyo Int'l Apt Corroboration A320 Or B787 Rare PostcardVintage Bonanza Airlines Las Vegas Sahara Casino Postcard1915 Rutland Vt Fair Advertising Baxter Adams Stunt Airplane Pilot ~~ RareWizz Air Issued Stewardess A320 Postcard 1¢ Wonder's ~ Postcard W/ "santa Flying Plane" (creases) ~ Pc8371950s Postcard Along The Way Twa,disneyland Rocket To The MoonLot Loftleidir Douglas Dc8 Jet Airplane Aviation Airline Issue Vintage PostcardLarge Metal Sign Lady On Air Plane Americana Beautiful Girl Raf Usa World War IiAirline-issued Postcard / Varig / Convair Cv-990aSky Airlines Boeing 737 Crew & Cockpit Airline Issue. Aviation Airplane PostcardApache Airlines Grand Canyon Phoenix Arizona Airplane PostcardBea Vanguard @ Barcelona Airport Airline Postcard B 05 41 United Air Lines Airplane & Flight Crew Old Plane Glossy Photo PcThree United Air Line Airplane Postcards, Plus Cleveland Airport & One Menu CardCessna Aircraft Businessliner & Private Airplane, Lot Of 6 1940-1950's PostcardsLot Postcards Swissair Boeing 747 Dc 8 Dc 9 Metropolitan Etc Flughafen ZurichJapan Asia Airlines Dc 8, Airline Issued CardQantas 707 @ Sydney Airport Airline Postcard Printed In Japan 60'sAircraft Postcard Continental Airlines Douglas Dc-7 Coach Interior View Unused!1¢ Wonder's ~ New Year Postcard W/ "plane Dropping Good Luck" ~ Pc929Aircraft Postcard Swissair Dc-8-62 Jet In FlightAircraft Postcard Air France Boeing 747 Jet In FlightAircraft Postcard Japan Airlines Boeing 747 JetAircraft Postcard Avianca Columbia Jet Flying Above Rio MagdeleniaAircraft Postcard Varig (brazil) Boeing 707-359b JetNorthwest Airlines C1949 New Boeing Stratocruiser PostcardMilitary Post Cards, Lot Of 70, Mint; Mostly Ww Ii Aircraft, Ships, Marines;Airline Issued Postcard Tarom Ilyushin Il-18 1962Finnair Md-80 Santa Claus Colours Airline Issue. Aviation Airplane PostcardVintage Postcard Real Photo Cal-aero Flight Academy Ontario Ca.Plainview Ne Photo Postcard Fabulous Future Fantasy Airship Blimp Plane Bz310Vintage Postcard Municipal Airport Jacksonville Florida Eastern Air Lines Tail1979 Dubai Multiview W/ Airport Used Postcard Emirates Uae Abu DhabiAirline Issued Postcard Tarom Ilyushin Il-18 1962 Romania Not Aeroflot52335745 - German Wwi Shot-down Airplane RppcAirline Edited Postcard - Tap Air Portugal Lot Of 4 Beechcraft Twin-bonanza, Super 18, Travel Air, Airplane PostcardsAirline-issued Postcard / Air France / Klm / Best Price GuaranteePostcard - Baf British Air Ferries - Flughafen Airport - Ford Cortina Gt Mk 1 Original German Postcard 1933-45 Ww2 Air Force Luftwaffe Anti-aircraft Gun 88 S320 X Mixed Airline Postcard LotLot 0f 31 - Jet Airplane Aircraft Airlines Postcards - Unused - #2Allegheny Airlines Dc-3 At Tri-state Airport PostcardCta Mcdonnell-douglas Md-87 Airline Issue Postcard