Vintage Aviation and Airline Posters

Aviation posters date to the mid-19th century, when promoters touted exhibitions of aeronautical feats by balloonists. Early in the 20th century, aviation posters heralded the introduction of new planes at air shows and exhibitions. Some collectors also seek out war posters from World War I, which was the first time airplanes were used on a massive scale by the military, as well as posters from the 1930s, when the first commercial airlines appeared.

Most aviation posters, though, were produced during the 1950s and ’60s, when the advent of commercial air travel prompted airlines to promote the comfort and excitement of flying, as well as the destinations, rather than the airplanes themselves. Collectors often accumulate vintage aviation posters by routes, airlines, or a particular poster designer.

The most desired vintage aviation posters are those for defunct air carriers. For example, ever since TWA (Trans World Airlines) was acquired by American Airlines in 2001, the value of its posters has risen dramatically. One particularly attractive TWA poster advertises the company’s flights to Chicago by showing the Chicago Art Institute and the Magnificent Mile.

While TWA’s departure from the aviation market is relatively recent, some collectors covet posters of long-gone airlines. Pan-Am (Pan American World Airways) is one airline that made many posters that are loved by collectors today. Founded in 1927 to fly just one route—Key West to Havana—Pan-Am became the leading American international airline, a title it would hold until it folded in 1991.

The extent of Pan-Am's service—and posters—was as far reaching as any airline in the world. Not only did the company fly passenger planes, it also had a fleet of cargo planes, which had their own posters. One limited-edition Pan-Am poster from 1938 shows a plane flying over Egypt above a pack of camels in the desert. It reads, “For quick results—ship by Clipper Cargo… There’s no business in slow business.”

Other defunct airlines whose posters are popular with collectors include B.O.A.C. (British Overseas Airways Cooperation), which was the British state airline from 1939-1974, and B.E.A. (British European Airways), a British air provider from 1946-1974 until its merger with B.O.A.C. and Eastern Airlines.

Though not be as widely desirable, there are plenty of posters advertising existing airlines that are aesthetically pleasing and popular among collectors. Swissair, for example, which was founded in 1931 after two Swiss airlines merged, has printed beautiful posters for years—likely in large part due to the beautiful mountain scenery that the landscape of Switzerland affords...

In typical Swiss fashion, Swissair was at the forefront of aviation technology. It used the Lockheed Orion plane to fly a Zurich-to-Munich route as early as 1932, and a Zurich-to-London (via Basel) connection by 1935. It was also one of the first airlines to utilize the DC-2 aircraft, and claims to be the first airline to use stewardesses (also in 1935).

British Airways (which was the result of the merger between B.O.A.C. and B.E.A.), KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines), and Air France have all created stacks of collectible travel posters over the years. One great example from 1963 is a series of abstract images produced by Guy Georget for Air France, advertising flights to Great Britain, Mexico, Greece, and Spain.

When it comes to airline posters in the United States, none rival American Airlines. Although many of its posters advertising domestic routes to, say, New York or Chicago are fairly common and thus not that highly sought, American’s international-route posters are quite rare. An example is the overwhelmingly-green American Airlines poster advertising its routes to Ireland—this emerald gem was designed by avant-garde poster artist Edward McKnight Kauffer in the last years of his life.

Other popular destination-specific posters include the early Jersey Airways posters, which are incredibly collectible despite—or, perhaps, because of—the relative obscurity of this U.K. airline. Jersey Airways offered service to Jersey from London and Southampton, and its posters showed planes landing on the beach amid bikini-clad women. Obscure airlines such as Braniff Airways, Air Afrique, and Imperial Airways also produced memorable designs.

Interestingly enough, posters that simply show beautiful panoramas of a faraway destination are not desired for their own sake. Instead, the most sought-after aviation posters tend to be those that show the plane itself in the image, and not just the plane’s exterior but its interior, as well.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

London Transport Museum Posters

London Transport Museum Posters

A must-see collection of 5,000 vivid, colorful British posters from the early 1900s onward. Browse by artist (over … [read review or visit site]

Fillmore and Avalon Collection

Fillmore and Avalon Collection

Wish you'd visited San Francisco in the late 1960s? Get a quick hit with this comprehensive collection of psychedel… [read review or visit site]

USSR Posters

USSR Posters

Ben Perry's Flickr photoset showcasing almost 1500 Soviet propaganda, advertising, theatre and movie posters from 1… [read review or visit site]

New York Public Library

New York Public Library

The New York Public Library's impressive Digital Gallery offers free access to over 500,000 historical images inclu… [read review or visit site]

The American Memory Project

The American Memory Project

This amazing Library of Congress site includes about a hundred photo and document collections (see complete list) o… [read review or visit site]

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Original Vintage Twa Disneyland David Klein 1950's..moonliner 15 X 251960s Vintage American Airlines Travel Poster Royal Coachman Jets Walter BowmarOriginal Vintage Twa 707 David Klein 1950's.. 15" X 25"United Airlines Washington D.c. Cool Long Columns 60's Vintage PosterOriginal Vintage India Fly Twa Poster By David Klein 1960’s 25"x 40"1950s Original Amspoker Pan Am Washington Dc Silk Screen Travel Poster As FoundVintage Authentic Boac British Airways Rolls Royce 707 Jet Travel PosterDelta Airlines New Orleans Jack Laycox 60's Vintage PosterBraniff Airways Alexander Calder Flying Colors 1973 Vintage PosterDelta Airlines Dallas/ft.worth Jack Laycox 60's Vintage PosterDelta Airlines Atlanta Jack Laycox 60's Vintage PosterUnited Airlines Maui Hawaii Outrigger Hollenbeck 70's Vintage PosterSwiss Tourist Montreux Hot Lady In Swimsuit By Tunut?? 60's Vintage PosterUnited Airlines ''more Comfort To Hawaii ''5'' Across 70's Vintage PosterUnited Airlines Washington Jefferson Memorial 70's Vintage PosterSabena Beligian Airlines Old Gal 60's Vintage PosterOriginal 1979 Hawaiian Air Large Travel Poster Hawaii 50 Yr Anniversary HistoryUnited Airlines Denver By Hagel 70's Vintage PosterOriginal 1960s Africa Travel Poster Alitalia African Head Carving Brown BlackTessin Southern Switzerland 60's Vintage PosterOriginal Vintage United Airlines Airplane 727 Jet Mainliner Poster 40" X 25"Original 1960s United Airlines Hawaii Travel Poster Hawaiian Beauty Jets OrchidsUhaul Salute America PosterOriginal 1980 Jet America Travel Poster Mcdonnell Douglas Md-80 Boeing AirplaneUnited Air Lines - United's California - Original Poster - 1980's1984 Saskatchewan Canada Air Show Air Race Program With PosterPoster- United Airlines London PosterBoeing 777-300er Always Outperforming Poster 11 1/2" X 32" NewOriginal 1960s Mexicana Airlines Mexico Travel Poster Puerta Vallarta PalapasVintage United Airlines Hawaii Travel Poster Jebray 1967 Tiki Fish 25 X 40British Caledonian Travel Agents Poster - Britain2- Vintage Velvet Black Light Posters-air Jester 1997 / Cypress Hill 1995Vintage Native American Western Airlines Poster - "the West" 24" X 37" Original1960's-70's Northwest Orient Airlines Poster For Hong KongOriginal United Airlines Poster To ZurichEgypt North Africa Pyramids Air Travel Airplane Cairo Vintage Poster Repro LargeRaaf Avro Lancaster Bomber Poster 20 X 30 Inch Delta Airline Poster Central Florida Original LaycoxWestern Airlines 2 Lot Champagne Airline Posters Rare!Delta Air Lines Vintage Airline Poster Dublin Ireland1952 Braathens Klm Twa Pia Boac Pan Am Capital Airline Poster Art Lockheed AdNew Large Lufthansa German Airlines Poster Airbus A380-800