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    

Iceland Island 1935 Used Stamps On Air Mail Postcard ( Zeppelin) To Cz.....c2608Tempair International Airlines - Boeing 707 - Airline Issue PostcardPan Am Boeing 377 Stratocruiser Clipper America In Flight 4x6 PostcardNorth Central Airlines,convair Cv-340-54 Aircraft,airport,oshkosh,wisconsin American Airlines,douglas Dc-3 Flagship Aircraft,airliner,airplane25 Airport Postcard LotTwa Moonliner Rocket In Launch Pad Spaceport Concept 4x6 PostcardRocket To The Moon. Twa Moonliner. 4x6 PostcardCalifornia Ca Los Angeles International Airport Postcard Old Vintage Card ViewScadta Colombia Barranquilla Airport Rppc Post Card Unused 1930's1911 Zittau Germany Air Show Early Plane Taking Off Rppc Rare Image!Airline Memorabilia / Airline-issued Postcard Set / Air FranceNo. 1607 Aircraft Carriers Lexington, Ranger, Yorktown, Enterprise , Etc. Singapore Beautiful Young Woman Vintage 1960's Cathay Pacific Airlines PostcardAirport Postcard: Austin Straubel Field, Green Bay, Wi WisconsinIllinois Rantoul Chanute Air Force Base Boeing Bomarc Interceptor Missile Pc OldRp - Early Aviator Glenn Curtis, Laurel Sea Plane, Hammondsport NyMixed Carriers Airlines Issued Lot Of 3 Caravelle Postcards Swissair/luxair1916 Ernie Hall Flying School Exposition Park, Pa Postcard Warren, Oh Aviator1950's Muncipal Airport Aircraft Albuquerque, New Mexico Old Trail Postcard 7114Sageta Airlines Se.2010 Aircraft/aeroplane/aviation At Bordeaux Airport (france)Lockheed P2v Neptune In Flight (640623) 4x6 PostcardJapan Air Lines - Douglas Dc-8 - Airline Issue Postcard2 Postcards Bahrain International Airport Circa 1960s Aircraft Cars Helicopter3 Military Postcards~misc.greeting Series~flag Shield, Bamforth & Biplane~1910sPan Am Boeing 377 Stratocruiser Over The Empire State Building Nyc 4x6 PostcardPan Am Sikorsky S-40 American Clipper Flying Boat Over New York 4x6 PostcardPostcard - Airport - Carolina Beach, N.c.Ohio Oh Cleveland Burke Lakefront Airport Postcard Old Vintage Card View Post PcArizona Az Tucson International Airport Gateway Mexico Postcard Old Vintage Card1907-1915 Postcard; Birds Eye View Lake Elsinore Ca W Airplane, Riverside CountyAirline Memorablia / Airline-issued Postcard / Air France / Paris-mexicoVintage Air France Issued Postcard UrssMixed Carriers Airlines Issued Lot Of 3 Caravelle Postcards Ltu/alitalia/sam1917 Rppc German Wwi Airplane Captured In FranceAirline Issue Postcard Pan Am Dc6Rancho Boyeros International Airport Havana Cuba Postcard StampGerman Wwii Luftwaffe Aircraft Henschel Hs 126 D-oaav Photo Pcd Used 1940Airline Memorabilia / Airline-issued Postcard Set / Mcdonnell-douglas Md-83Germany Hindenburg Lz129 Zeppelin Original Photo, Post CardShip-u. S. S. Ranger-aircraft Carrier-navyNac National Airways Airlines B-737 Airlines Issue Card Hqts Nz Airport #3President Eisenhower's Plane At Palm Springs Airport Postcard 1960H.m.s. Furious Airplane Ship , Real PhotoReal Photo Postcard Illinois Chicago Municipal Airport Terminal Japan Young Woman In Field Vintage 1960's Cathay Pacific Airlines PostcardNo. 1601 The Aircraft Carriers Saratoga And Lexington , Etc. North Central Airlines Jet At Green Bay, Wi AirportAircraft Boac Rolls Royce Jetliner Postcard Old Vintage Card View Standard PostHawaii Hi Beauties United Air Lines Postcard Old Vintage Card View Standard PostItaly Napoli Ischia View & Aragonian Castle Seen From The Airplane Postcard 1970Airline Issue Postcard Nigeria Comet In Boac C/sVintage Air France Issued Postcard IndeVintage Air France Issued Postcard ParisVintage Air France Issued Postcard AfriqueVintage Air France Issued Postcard Amerique Du SudVintage 1943 Pc Pt-19a Training Plane Wwii Pine Bluff. Ark. School Of AviationMixed Carriers Airlines Issued Lot Of 3 Cont/l 747b Postcards Sas/iberia/meaTca Trans Canada Airlines Issued Super Constellation Aloft Cont/l Postcard Twa Airlines 727 At Cleveland Oh Airport Postcard