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Airline ads today mostly boast about on-time performance or legroom that doesn’t violate the Geneva Convention. But back in the heady Mad Men days of air travel (think: the 1960s) airline posters were an art form, conjuring up faraway destinations with elegant drawings and witty type treatments. Today, these vintage flyers provide a window into a bygone era, one that was less corporate and more eccentric with fiercely proud national airlines.
Because the posters were considered disposable, relatively few originals survive. If you look at auction results, you’ll see prices for vintage airline posters soaring into the five-figure range; if you’ve ever considered collecting, sites like AbeBooks, which features 100 vintage visuals for sale, are a great place to start. Find covetable commercial art from a groovy 1960s Europe poster from TWA (remember them?) as well as a wacky 1956 ad for the late, great British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) that seems to feature a raccoon on acid. Here’s a look at some of our favorites from the site’s vivid illustrated online catalog along with insights from AbeBooks’ head of content, Richard Davies, on the history of aviation marketing.
Africa – BOAC
A simple but striking image by Dick Negus and Philip Sharland of zebras at a watering hole for the BOAC from the early 1960s. As airline routes expanded, going on safari was finally possible for more and more people. Find the poster for sale here.
China – CAAC
This poster from 1984 for the CAAC — which stands for the Civil Aviation Administration of China — shows a 747-200 airplane flying over a bird’s eye view landscape of the Great Wall of China. A world globe highlights air routes from the country; even designers in communist China could not ignore the appeal of the Great Wall. Find the poster for sale here.
France – TWA
There’s a lot going on in this TWA poster from the early 1960s. Style, architecture, wine, mountains and cafe culture are portrayed in this eye-catching design intended to attract Americans across the Atlantic. Find the poster for sale here.
Norway – SAS
Scandinavian Airlines, usually shortened to SAS, is the flag carrier of Sweden, Norway and Denmark, as seen in this poster from 1958. Northern sections of Norway become the Land of the Midnight Sun during the summer months when the sun never sets. Find the poster for sale here.
Mexico – Pan Am
A poster from the early 1950s. Oaxaca is the subject of this poster from the early-1950s, one of Mexico’s 31 states and known for its indigenous peoples and historic monuments — the temple in the background could be Monte Albán. Dancing women in traditional dress became a staple for poster designers in the 1950s and 1960s. Find the poster for sale here.
Corsica – Air France
A beauty from 1952, Air France has a long history of commissioning stunning posters from artists famous and unknown. The warmth of the blue sea, turquoise sky and red cliffs makes the Mediterranean island of Corsica irresistible. Find the poster for sale here.
Grand Rapids – Lake Central
Collecting vintage airline posters doesn’t mean you have to focus on the major airlines. Lake Central Airlines, based in Indianapolis, served the midwestern United States from 1950 to 1968 before merging with Allegheny Airlines. Grand Rapids in Michigan is depicted as a relaxing destination in this poster from 1960. Find the poster for sale here.
Amsterdam – BEA
This striking poster from 1954 features a colorful artistic rendering by Peter Collins of a street and canal scene. Remove the word “Amsterdam” and you’d still be able to identify the destination in an instant. BEA (British European Airways) was an airline that existed from 1946 until 1974. Find the poster for sale here.
USA & Canada – BOAC
Maurice Laban was an English freelance illustrator who worked for many companies, including BOAC and Qantas, in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. This Laban poster of a raccoon with stars in his eyes predates the psychedelic sixties by four years. Laban created a very similar poster for Australia and New Zealand, which naturally featured a kangaroo. Find the poster for sale here.
Washington, DC – United
This 1960s poster from United has Mad Men written all over it even though the slim, stylish figures are dwarfed by the Lincoln Monument. This poster is a little unusual as it places emphasis on a building rather than people, animals or scenery. Find the poster for sale here.
Which of these are your favorites?
Featured image courtesy of AbeBooks via Flickr.
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