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 1948 American Airlines Ireland Travel Poster Edward Mcknight Kauffer Original Vtg Travel Poster United Air Lines Disneyland 1968 Jebany Tiki RoomOriginal Vtg Travel Poster Alaska Northwest Orient Air Lines 1950s Trad 245 BearOriginal Vtg Travel Poster American Air Lines New York City 1960s Carriage VkVtg Original Travel Poster Pan American World Airways To ScandinaviaOriginal Vtg Travel Poster Philippines Northwest Orient Air Lines 1950sOriginal Vtg Travel Poster Alaska Northwest Orient Air Line 50s Totem Pole Tiki1950s Great Boac Qantas Airplane Poster Travel Australia New Zealand PurpleOriginal Vtg Travel Poster Braniff Airways Air Lines Sao Paulo 1940's 1950'sOriginal Washington Dc Twa PosterC 1960s Original Tourist Travel Poster Swissair World's Greatest Ski Lift SkierOriginal Vtg Travel Poster Twa Jet Airlines 1950s New England William GeechOriginal Vtg Travel Poster Braniff Airways Air Lines Argentina 1940's 1950'sOriginal Vtg Travel Poster North Central Air Lines 1960'sOriginal Vtg Travel Poster United Air Lines Ski Patches Sports Champion 1960/70sC 1960s Original Tourist Travel Poster Air France Skier Ski Roger Perrin PhotoVintage Original Ireland Fly Twa Jets David Klein Litho Poster 40x25"Original Travel Poster American Air Lines New England Fishing Bern Hill 1950'sOriginal Vtg Travel Poster Twa Jet Airlines 1950s Philadelphia Pa #1026Original Vtg Travel Poster United Air Lines Denver Colorado 1968 Jebany CowboyOriginal Vtg Travel Poster United Air Lines San Francisco Ca 1967 Jebany TrolleyVintage Pan American Airlines Poster England1959 Air France Airplane Travel To Germany Poster Nathan Mid-century Modern1968 Original Tourist Travel Poster United Airlines Denver Jebary Art Broncos1950's Trans World Air Twa Chicago Poster Austin Briggs Litho OriginalOriginal Vtg Travel Poster American Air Lines Golf Sailing San Diego Ca 1960s VkOriginal Vtg Travel Poster Braniff Airways Air Lines Panama 1960sC 1970s Original Long Tourist Travel Poster United Airlines 747 Jet Airplane FlyC 1960s Original Tourist Travel Poster Jal Japan Airlines Karachi Pakistan MosquBea Trident G-abea Giant Poster Hawker Siddeley100x75 CmOriginal Vtg Travel Poster Braniff Airways Air Lines Red Metallic Ecuador 1960s1978 Original Tourist Travel Poster Map United Airlines Oahu Hawaii Kim ForrestC 1970s Original Tourist Travel Poster Western Airlines Los Angeles Movie CameraVintage Continental California Surfer PosterRare Vintage 1970 Japan World Exposition Expo '70 Osaka 29 × 41 Travel Poster1950's Mg Tc Austin Texas Vintage Race Poster 11 X 17 Bergstrom Air Force BaseVintage Frontier Airlines PosterC 1970s Original Tourist Travel Poster Sas Airlines Scandinavia Beach CoupleC 1970s Original Tourist Travel Poster United Airlines Hawaii San Fran BikinisOriginal Vtg Travel Poster Braniff Airways Air Lines Metallic Mexico ChapultepecOriginal Vtg Travel Poster North Central Air Lines 1960's/70's Jets!Vintage December 1960 Elal Israel Airline Large Sheet Calendar Poster Jean DavidPan Am Travel Poster Chicago (series 15 - 1963)