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    

British Airways Issued 787 PostcardIcelandair Airlines Issued Viscount Cont/l Postcard Northwest Airlines Sky Zephyr World's Fastest Airplane Postcard #4 InteriorAircraft Postcard: Italian Airlines Lai Super Star Constellation In Flight 1950Northwest Airlines Sky Zephyr World's Fastest Airplane Postcard #2 Loading BoxesNorthwest Airlines Sky Zephyr World's Fastest Airplane Postcard #3 Loading BagsReal Photo Postcard George Schmitt 1913 With Passenger Rutland, VtRppc Postcard, Airplane, Biplane, Gaspe, QuebecMea Middle East Airlines Issued Cont/l Postcard Comet 4c/caravelle 6r At BeirutCww2 R A F North American Mustang Iva- Km110 In Italy ?- Real Photo PostcardVintage North Central Airlines Prop Brown County Airport Green Bay WisconsinRppc Postcard The Airport At Northport Michigan Mi Leelanau CountyReal Photo Postcard George Schmitt 1913 Crash At Rutland, VtAl-birmingham-municipal Airport-airplane-mailed 1941-h7715Real Photo Postcard Rppc Jet Oklahoma Women Out Picking Grapes Orchard Farm Northwest Airlines Constellation At Tokyo Airport PostcardVintage Southern Airlines Airways Prop At Birmingham Airport Alabama UnusedEastern Airlines Advertising Pc - 21 Passenger "silverliner" In Flight - Ca1930s1950s Postcard In Flight With Twa Super-g Constellation AirplaneRppc Rare Glenn Curtiss/aviator/pilot/early Bi Plane/making Speed Record/1910North Korean Issued Il62 Postcard Rppc Real Photo Post Card 1918 Dewey Oklahoma Okla Ok Airplane AircraftVintage Item B&w Photo Aircraft Inman Bros Flying Circus Boeing Clipper Cr1930sReal Photo Postcard Rppc Jet Oklahoma Man Sleeping In Doctors Room Bottles MedsAircraft Postcard: Swissair Douglas Dc-6b In Flight 1958 Real Photo PpcVarig B707 Issue PostcardAl-mobile-u.s.s. Alabama-battleship Commission-kingfisher-aircraft-h7467China Airlines Adv Issue O/s PostcardReal Photo Postcard Rppc Jet Oklahoma Early Air Plane Design Aeronautical FlyingScandinavian Airlines Sys Fly Over Statue Of Liberty Rppc Maximum Postcard 1954Sas Scandinavian Airlines Dc-9s At Oslo Norway Fornebu Airport Cont/l PostcardAviation Cecil Grace Airplane Folkstone Uk Race Sep 1910 Rppc PostcardAir France Airlines Issued Poster Type Cont/l Postcard Espagne 1961Klm Airlines Dc3 @curacao Airport B/w Postcard Netherlands Antilles RegistrationReal Photo Postcard Rppc Jet Oklahoma People On Tower Odd Weird Unique StrangeTurkey,1931,istanbul,airplane ,ship,military,photo Atelier,bulgaria GuyWw1 Photo Postcard - German Bomber Plane - Fokker Biplane - Rppc Air Force1940s Early War Aircraft Carriers, Uss Lexington, Uss Yotrktown & Uss WaspTwa Airline 1945 Linen Postcard Signed By Famous Pin-up Artist Petty- Petty GirlAdvertising Art Postcard T.w.a. Airlines Stratoliner Interior Fashion Men WomenReal Photo Postcard Rppc Jet Oklahoma 4 Women Climbing An Electrical Tower Odd Airline Issue Postcard - Sas Scandinavian Airlines Boeing 737-500 Csa Czech Airlines 5 Airline Issued Historical Postcards, Plus One Afc PostcardVintage Allegheny Airlines Prop At Hazelton Pa Airport UnusedKenmore Air Issued Beaver Postcard Antique Post Card Tampa Florida Skyline Old Plane 1920sNca Issued 747 Postcard Reno Air Mcdonnell -douglas Md-80 Series Twin Jet Airline Issue Post Card 1990sAal-american Airlines Dc-10 Astrojet PostcardRaf Display Buccaneer 6x4 Unused Mint Postcard.Concorde Pilot Mike Bannister Hand Signed Official 7"x5" Colour Postcard Colour (6x4"")postcard Of European Air Transport Cv580:(oo-vgh)Qantas Airlines B767-338er Issue O/s PostcardRppc Biplane Divided Back Unposted C1907-1915 Planes Aerodrome Vg TransportationReal Photo Postcard Rppc Jet Oklahoma Local Butcher W Carving Tools OccupationalReal Photo Postcard Rppc Jet Oklahoma Old Western Cowboy Riding Horse By Coal CoReal Photo Postcard Rppc Jet Oklahoma Street Scene Main St? Business Old WestReal Photo Postcard Rppc Jet Oklahoma Wirt And Lyons Grain And Coal Company Real Photo Postcard Rppc Jet Oklahoma Old Western Cowboy Smoking W/ Boots Up HatMilitary Postcard Fort Bragg, North Carolina Nc Linen Paratrooper C-82 Plane