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    

Rppc - Early Bi-plane On Conesus Lake , New York Date UnknownBraniff Airlines Lockheed Constellation L-049 Chicago 4x6 PostcardAirline Issued B+w(5x3")postcard Of Iberia Connie:(ec-ain)1929 Flown Graf Zeppelin Card - Sieger 29b - Los Angeles Usa To Germany PostcardAmer. Airlines Convair At Newark Nj Airport Postcard W/mohawk Dc-3Airline Issued Colour(5x3")postcard Of Irish International Airlines B707Aviation 300 Airport PostcardsLufthansa Airlines Issued Constellation Interior Postcard "tickle The Baby"Lufthansa Airlines Issued Constellation Interior Postcard "meal Time"Twa Lockheed Constellation Over Manhattan Nyc 4x6 PostcardRare 1911 The Most Prominent American Aviators Of The Day Biplane AirplaneLufthansa Airlines Issued Constellation Interior Postcard "feed The Baby"Photo Postcard Beaufighter Plane Crash Malaya Fire Engine Ambulance 45 SquadronBraniff Airways Issued Postcard #2 El Dorado Superjet Boeing 707 Northwestern Airlines Giant Douglas 21 Cockpit 2-14 Cyl Engines Auto Pilot 1941Thomas Cook Airlines Belgium Airbus 320 Airline Issued PostcardAmerican Airlines Dc-6 At Albany Airport,ny PostcardAirline Issued Colour(6x4")postcard Of Singapore Airlines B747-400:(9v-sms?)Vintage -- American Airlines Dc-7 -- Flagship Wyoming --- RppcLufthansa Airlines Issued Constellation Interior Postcard "playing Cards"1958 Air-india Brochure Airplane Timetable Destinations Maps Magic Carpet Route1911 Waterville Me Maine Rppc * Unique Early Wright Flyer Biplane In FlightSan Francisco Airport Mills Field United Air Lines Mail Nc 13353 Boeing 247 RppcA1189 1910 Postcard Artist Signed Clapsaddle Valentines Greeting AirplaneAvianca Airlines Constellation @ Bogota Airport Cont/l Postcard Movifoto #2 Pan American Airways Dc-4 @ Berlin Airport Real Photo PostcardRppc American Clipper Airplane Flying Boat 1930sOld Photo Postcard Northern Consolidated Airlines Airplane Kulik Camp Alaska AkLot Of 13 Twa Promotional Postcards With 6 Diferent ViewsKlm, The Flying Dutchman, Constellation, Royal Dutch Airlines, Real PhotoIberia Airlines Airbus A340 In Flight 4x6 PostcardNewburgh Ny-monoplane At Orange Lake-2 Rppc Postcards St Croix Bi-plane JohnsonRppc - Early " Wright Brothers " Era Type Plane, C. 1904 - 1918Us Aviator Art Smith Aviation In Cloud Japan Asia Tour Airplane PostcardUs Aviator Art Smith Aviation In Japan Asia Tour Airplane PostcardScandinavian Airlines Plane At Sondrestrom Air Base, GreenlandLufthansa Airlines Junkers G-38 At Halle-leipzig Airport B/w Postcard Ww2 Japan Imperial Japanese Navy Propaganda Pc "aircraft-carrier Kaga (加賀)"Seattle-tacoma Inter/l Airport Aerial Real Photo Postcard Ellis PhotoAquila Airways Short Solent Flying Boat Deps. Madeira Cont/l Postcard Dixon Pub.Interflug East German Airlines Issued Real Photo An-24 Cont/l Postcard #5Imperial Airways H.p.42 Over London Croydon Airport Real Photo Postcard #2Disneyland Postcard Twa Rocket Tomorrowland Ca 1955-1966 Unused Vtg Photo Postcard Newark Nj New Jersey Airport 1954 Mohawk Airlines AirplaneBritish Percival Pembroke Aircraft German Rp Postcard Luftwaffe PilotPan Am B 727@berlin - Tempelhof AirportAirlines Postcard Lufthansa German Train River Castle Hill Mountain Air Hostess Municipal Airport Houston Texas - Eastern Airlines The Great Silver Fleet - 2United Airlines B-747 Large Airline Issue PostcardAirliner Postcard Aer Lingus Dc3 Dublin AirportMunicipal Airport Houston Texas - Eastern Airlines The Great Silver Fleet Twa Lockheed Constellation Twa Hangar Chicago Midway 4x6 PostcardContinental Airlines Douglas Dc-10 In Flight 4x6 PostcardFairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar 314th Troop Carrier Group 4x6 PostcardAerial View Of The Kahului Airport,maui Hawaii PostcardNew York City,ny-laguardia Airport"united Air Mainliners"1940s - Linen PostcardNew York City,ny-laguardia Airport"off For A "united"trip 1940s - Linen PostcardBristol Britannia; First Flight London-sydney; Singapore; + PostcardAerosvit Boeing 737-400 Airline Issue PostcardAvianca Boeing 727 Airline Postcard