Vintage posters present a time when air travel was new, exciting and glamorous – and they can make a desirable collectors' piece

Long before the days of easyJet and Ryanair, air travel had a feel of glamour about it. Getting on a flight was exciting, decadent, impressive – you were flying through the air in a giant metal bird and it was one small step away from witchcraft.

Airline posters of the time were works of art. Brands often commissioned well-known artists to design stunning graphic images depicting destinations that were a world away from everyday life, from chic Paris to vibrant Mexico.

These vintage posters are nothing like many of today’s lacklustre equivalents, and they can go for upwards of £1,000 at auction. “Poster values depend on how many people share the same taste,” Elisabeth Burdon, a professional seller of posters, ephemera and antique prints at Old Imprints, tells The Independent. “Factors in poster popularity also include the location the poster celebrates, artist, iconic subject matter of the image and scarcity.”

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The trendiness of airline prints doesn’t look set to diminish either. “Airline and aviation posters have consistently been popular,” says Burdon. “For a long time – maybe not now! – the concept of flying was itself a source of amazement; also significant was the technology involved and the fact that it was restricted to the few and had glamorous connotations.” 

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Retro + cutesy = travel gold dust (Abebooks)

To celebrate the rise of airline posters as art, AbeBooks has put together a catalogue of the best in show from 1940 to 1984. These vintage advertisements range in price from $125 (£97) to $1,797 (£1,400).

But, according to Burdon, there’s little point trying to guess which vintage posters will increase in value. She says: “I always recommend buying what you like and are interested in; like all investments there is no way to have certain knowledge that current value is going to hold or increase. I would encourage people to collect images that speak to them, for the visual and intellectual pleasure that they bring. 

“In purely monetary terms, airline posters of the 1930s to mid-20th century encapsulate a high point in our relationship to aviation and travel with their sense of the glamour of the experience and the mystique of places now much changed. For this reason they are particularly sought after, as are images of artists such as Joseph Binder, Joseph Feher, Stan Galli, David Klein, and Edward McKnight Kauffer.”

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Vintage airline posters are valuable things (Abebooks)

So should you hang onto a contemporary BA poster in the hope it will be worth thousands one day? Age doesn’t guarantee value, according to Burdon. “Supply and demand is the ultimate arbitrator of resale value, so unfortunately it isn’t a simple question of holding on to an item, whether recent or antique, hoping it will go up in value over time. Fashions change so that even an item which is rare is likely to have fluctuations in value. 

“My specialty is ‘ephemeral’ paper material, items which, unlike books, were not intended to be carefully preserved for future use, but instead were to be used and then discarded, such as posters, travel brochures, train and plane timetables. I find myself equally indebted to those people in previous generations who carefully kept these items as well as to those who did what was expected and threw them away, because the law of supply and demand ensures that even the most beautiful or fascinating item will have less value if it is widely available.”

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