The Art of Airline Ephemera

March 1st, 2008

Interview courtesy of the Ephemera Blog, Marty Weil’s great information resource on ephemera collecting and collectors, and a member of our Hall of Fame.

Daniel Kusrow was born in Bangkok, Thailand, but now resides and works in New York City. Daniel collects airline baggage labels, particularly those issued by airlines during the inter-War period, 1919-1939. We spoke recently about his remarkable collection, how he got started, his favorites, and what it takes to find good labels these days.

Q: When did you become interested in airline baggage labels?

A: I have always been interested in airlines and their history since I was a little boy. My father was a U.S. Diplomatic Courier, which meant he constantly traveled on all of the world’s airlines. He used to bring home all kinds of airline advertising material. Over 15 years ago, I began to acquire my own collection of vintage airline posters. After a while, I was running out of room to display the posters and funds to acquire them. So, I moved into collecting airline baggage labels. Often, the images in the posters were reproduced on the labels as well; the labels took up a lot less room in a small New York City apartment. And they were fairly reasonable in price to acquire. I was hooked by the fact that one could trace the whole history of airlines and graphic design through these vintage labels. By 2004, I began to display my label collection as part of a website devoted to the history of airline and ocean liner timetables.

Vintage label for AB Aerotransport.

Vintage label for AB Aerotransport.

Q. (Weil/ephemera): That a great ‘back story’. What challenges or obstacles do you encounter in collecting?

A. (Kusrow): When I first started collecting airline baggage labels, it was in the early days of the large-scale public Internet. Regularly finding interesting labels meant going to airline collectible shows and ephemera shows and developing a network of contacts with dealers and fellow collectors. Prices were still fairly reasonable, even for rare pieces. As the Internet has evolved, I really began to grow my collection through sites like eBay. The great thing about the Net is that it exposes you to material that never would have gotten to the shows or to specialized dealers. I have also been able to add great material from overseas contacts, that just couldn’t be accessed that easy, if at all, in the pre-Internet days. The bad thing about the Internet is that it has dramatically increased the raw scope of collectors–much more mainstream than specialized– searching for the same early airline labels, and has led to some steep bidding wars. Though, it is really good that the collecting of labels has experienced a renaissance in the last 10 years as a result of all this. Today, I still attend airline collectibles shows, which the World Airline Historical Society encourages and promotes. They are still a great way to learn about the world of airline collectibles, and network with fellow collectors in the flesh.

A label for Royal Netherlands Indies' Airways.

A label for Royal Netherlands Indies’ Airways.

Q. (Weil/ephemera): Yes, the Internet has been a double-edge sword in collection. What are your favorite items in your collection?

A. (Kusrow): My favorite labels are those issued by airlines during the inter-War period, 1919-1939, known as the Golden Age of Commercial Air Transport. During this period label design was wide ranging from the Edwardian (Aeromarine Airways and Western Air Express labels) to high Art Deco (ABA, KNILM, and CNAC labels). Air travel was enjoyed just by the wealthy few, who were transported to exotic locales in luxury and style (Imperial Airways label). Airline baggage labels bedecked travelers’ suitcases and trunks, along with hotel and ocean liner labels, and these small pieces of advertising were considered badges of honor and prestige. The use of labels by airlines fell way down after World War II, as global air travel became much more democratic and commonplace. I really enjoy admiring these early labels, when their design, execution, and use were at its zenith.

Q. (Weil/ephemera): I agree with you; the labels from the Golden Age period are wonderful and so dramatic in their graphic execution. What’s your advice for achieving success as a collector?

A. (Kusrow): My ultimate advice for achieving success as a collector of early airline baggage labels would be to fully enjoy both the thrill of the hunt for and acquisition of the best quality vintage labels at the most reasonable prices. I have found there is a usually a trade-off involved even when I am trying to follow my own advice. There are the times you get the most outstanding labels at great prices (general antique shows, antique shops, yard sales, and ephemera shows), but more often than not, you have to pay high prices for good items (airline collectibles shows and eBay). In the end, please don’t collect to be an investor, but collect for the enjoyment and pleasure of it. Be willing to go that extra mile for items you may never have a chance to acquire again. It is always hard to get over a rare item, even years later, that you should have purchased when you had the chance. Also, know your area of collecting specialization by researching it and studying the history surrounding it.

A label for Handley Page Royal Mail Air Services.

A label for Handley Page Royal Mail Air Services.

Q. (Weil/ephemera): I hadn’t thought of the research value of labels, but clearly they are invaluable in this regard. What resources and tools do you recommend to others interested in collecting labels?

A. (Kusrow): To build my collection, I have relied heavily on the following books: Commercial Aviation Collectibles: An Illustrated Price Guide; En Route: Label Art from the Golden Age of Air Travel; and Air Transport Label Catalog – Volumes I to VI.

My labels are stored in a cool, relatively dry interior bookcase that is not in direct sunlight. I have seen how the bright colors of some rare vintage labels, that were not in my collection, fade really fast in direct sunlight or under bright interior lights. I house my labels in archival photo albums, in a variety of acid free plastic pages to accommodate the myriad of label sizes and shapes. I would also recommend using stamp albums featuring binders and archival plastic stockpages. The collecting of airline baggage labels goes back to the early 1930s, as an outgrowth of aerophilately, and collectors then used traditional stamp albums with wax hinges to affix the labels to the album pages. This is definitely frowned upon today, since you want to strive to keep the labels in the best condition possible, both on their fronts and backs. I have also framed some duplicate labels with archival mats and glass, and they look very attractive displayed on my walls–my old poster collecting persona reasserting itself.

Q. (Weil/ephemera): These are beautiful labels, Daniel. Thank you for sharing examples from your collection for your thoughtful commentary on how to assemble a collection of airline baggage labels.

Do you have an article you’d like us to publish as a guest column in The Collectors Weekly? Let us know.

4 comments so far

  1. Bonnie Werlinich Says:

    Where can I find out how much my small collection is worth? I have a Panagra timetable March 15, 1951, excellent condition, a United Airlines system timetable May 1951, an American Airlines system map circa 1950’s, and a United Hawaiian Mainliner Stratocruiser passenger list dated September 21, 1953.
    Thank you for your help.

  2. Mona Frazier Says:

    I recently acquired a set of 4 metal wall sculptures each depicting an art deco style man representing a destination that BOAC flew. These came from one of the Administrative offices of BOAC. I was told by the elderly woman I purchased them from that her husband was an executive with BOAC and these came from one of offices and that all of the offices had them. They really great art and I would like to find out who the artist was. CAN ANYONE HELP ME?? I don’t even know where to start. I believe they are from the 60’s.

  3. Shirley H. Cole, Esq. Says:

    I have many sets of Western Airlines Fiesta sets (café ole) still in the boxes with a complimentary minature bottle of Kalua still inside.

  4. Dax Johnson Says:

    I am looking to acquire copies of the Dan Thomas Air Transport Label Catalog (6 volumes). Does anyone have an idea about how to get a copy?

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