Monday, April 16, 2012

On the Wings of Memories

QUESTION: My father traveled a lot by plane for his business. He got in the habit of keeping a souvenir from each flight. I now have his collection of decks of playing cards, postcards, timetables, flight wings, dishes, silverware, and flight bags. Do people collect these items?

ANSWER: When commercial airline flights became more available to the general public in the late 1940s and 1950s, it was still a big deal to fly. Passengers dressed in their Sunday best for even the shortest flights. Because it was a treat, airlines served meals on china plates, often with silver flatware in First Class, handed out playing cards to keep their passengers busy in the days before movies aloft, and gave little mementos and games to children.

This practice continued well into the 1980s when airlines began phasing out some items, started using stainless steel instead of silver for flatware and plastic instead of china for plates. But for at least four decades, and even before that, they promoted themselves by placing their logos on ashtrays, dishes, flatware, napkins, baggage tags, flight bags, blankets, eye shades, games, toys, menus, pins, and posters—to name just a few items.

There are lots of collectors of airline memorabilia. Propelled by personal memories of a first flight or perhaps a first transAtlantic flight, passengers began taking home all sorts of airline items. Add to that, the up-in-the-air status of particular airlines from time to time and the demise of so many of the original carriers has caused much speculation in the airline collectibles market.

Searching for the term "airlines" on eBay results in over 71,000 ongoing auctions. This general
also includes offerings such as current flight vouchers, tickets, and luggage.

Some of the hottest items sought by collectors are dishes and silverware featuring an airline’s name or logo. It became fashionable for airlines to have these types of items used in First Class produced  by top-name designers and manufacturers such as Lenox and Royal Doulton. That was in the day when chic stewardesses placed linen tablecloths over First Class seat-back trays and served wine in fine crystal goblets. Nothing was too good for their passengers, especially wealthy ones who were used to the best.

Also, the older the memento, the more valuable. Likewise, the more owned, or conversely, the more limited the airline's history, the more significant the interest. If an airline was short-lived, it’s items are particularly popular.

Another item that isn’t around much anymore are flight bags. In the early days of jet travel in the 1960s, every participant of a group tour that flew to their destination received a flight bag with the airline or tour operator’s logo on it. One from Pan Am from the 1960s is now up for auction on eBay for a starting bid of $69. One used by a Pan Am flight attendant is going for $80.

For many people, a flight on the Concorde was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. A rare lady’s compact with the Concorde logo is going for nearly $100 on eBay. And a pair of British Airways Concorde salt and pepper shakers, made by Royal Doulton, has a starting bid of $35.

First Class menus are also popular airline collectibles. A United Airlines menu from 1964-65, featuring the tag line “Official airline of the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair,” is going for $20 on ebay. And four B.O.A.C. menus from the 1960s are going for $100.

The great thing about collecting most of these items is that they’re relatively inexpensive. While rarer airline items can sell for double and triple figures, most sell for prices in the single or low double-digit range.

For more information, read Up, Up and Away at

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