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    

Ana All Nippon Airways Convair 440 Airline Issue. Airplane Aviation PostcardTae Douglas Dc-8 Airline Issue. Aviation Airplane PostcardPrestwick Airport - Scotland - Terminal & Pan American Dc-6 - Old Postcard1901 Pan-am Postcard LotCondor, Flight Attendant, 60 Years Anniversary, Airline Issued CardTeal Tasman Empire Airways Dc-6 Airline Issue. Aviation Airplane PostcardTda Toa Domestic Airbus A300 Airline Issue. Aviation Airplane PostcardAir New Zealand Boeing 767 Airline Issue. Aviation Airplane PostcardCondor Dc 10, 60 Years Anniversary, Airline Issued CardReal Transportes Aéreos Dc-3/c-47 Airline Issue. Aviation Airplane PostcardNigeria Airways Airline Issue 727 PostcardAirline Issued Postcards # 64Airline Issued Postcards # 84Condor,flight Attendant,cabin Service, 60 Years Anniversary, Airline Issued CardNorthwest Boeing 747 Airline Issue. Aviation Airplane PostcardSyrian Arab Airline Issue Caravelle PostcardAlaska Airlines 727 At Sitka Ak Airport Cont/l Postcard 1940's Postcard British South American Airways / Bsaa Avro Tudor Iv G-ahnk Airlines - Postcard Unused - Cathay Pacific - Convair 330-22mHong Kong Cathay Pacific Lockheed Electra Ii Vintage Airline PostcardCharleston Afb/international Airport, S.c. ~continental Card~ Photo By Jim DoaneTaca Airways Venezuela In El Salvador Airport Vintage Linen Airline PostcardAircraft Postcards # 68Airline Postcards # 98United Airlines Dc-8 At Honolulu Hi Airport Postcard Germania Switzerland A 321 ,airline Issued CardUnited Air Lines Dc-6 Mainliner 300 Departing Lax, In Flight View Ca1950s RppcNoblespirit No Reserve {l} Beautiful Valentines Postcard LotDr Jim Stamps Airmail Iberia Airplane Spain Oversize PostcardLouisiana La New Orleans Airport Administration Building Postcard Old Vintage Pc Amsterdam - Schiphol Terrace Restaurant.used 1954Airline Issued Postcards # 89Graf Zeppelin Lz-127 German Postcard Book Of 10 UnusedAirline Issued Postcards # 512 Different Norwegian B-737 Airline Issued Promotional Postcards 2 Vintage Old Postcard Beijing Peking China Forbidden City From Plane WellBritish Airways Boeing 777 Airline Issued PostcardBritish Airways Boeing 787 Dreamliner Airline Issued Postcard1926 Zeppelin Over Sesqui-centennial International Expo Postcard - Phila.,paCapital City Airport ~ Lansing, Michigan ~ Dexter Press Continental PostcardAirlines - Postcard Unused - Air France Boeing 707 TranscontinentalMaryland Md Salisbury Chesapeake Airways Transport Plane Postcard Old Vintage PcPennsylvania Pa Pittsburgh Municipal Airport Postcard Old Vintage Card View PostLot Of 3 1929 Graf Zeppelin Hugo Eckener Rppc America Flight PostcardRussia New Airports 1970's,many Airplanes,aeroflot Airlines BrochureAircraft Issued Postcards #65Hawaiian Airlines Dc-9 Company Issued PostcardAirline Postcards # 116Airline Postcards # 118Pan American Airways System Clipper Flying Boat At Miami Vintage Linen PostcardAirline Postcards # 102(9) 1960s Aeronaves De Mexico Postcard Menu 3 Ticket Holders Whispering Giant Rppc Pan American Airways Airport Cars Miami Florida Photo Postcard 1948 (rk)Willard The Human Bird Attica Indiana Single Person Biplane Postcard Pc RppcPba Florida Us Airline Issue Ys-11 Postcard Continental Us Airline Issue Postcard 747 Interior + StewardessSouth Africa Johannesburg Airport Postcard Saa 727 Uta France Dc-8Airline Issue Postcard Air Safaris (new Zealand) Cessna Grand CaravanAirline Issue Postcard - Antilles Air Boats Sunderland Flying BoatKorean Air - Fokker F-28 Fellowship - Airline Issue Postcard