Vintage Airline Posters

While TWA is gone, its posters are still popular

To find ourselves, we have to lose ourselves.

Art and Air travel are both meant to free human beings. One mentally, one physically. In best case of each form, we lose ourselves from the mundane reality. An 18th Dynasty Egyptian limestone statue may transform our mind of being into a remote ancient civilization; and an exotic place, with its unique smells, colors, and customs, invigorates our sense and sensibility. When the two comes together, we find the pleasure in the artistic quality of vintage airline posters.

If travel posters have seen a great surge in demand because of their sensual beauty of natural or urban scenes, airline posters, still affordable in the vintage poster market, may call for a more determined mindset which sees that the virtue of these pictures also resides in old-fashioned loyalty. Surely you won’t want a United Airline posters if you are the victim of a broken guitar.

Today, Swann Galleries had its vintage poster sale. Among them, there are quite a few interesting airline posters.

Interestingly, some higher-end posters tend to come from those airlines that are gone. Lot 197 is a vintage poster of TWA featuring Art Institute of Chicago and the Magnificent Mile. It’s illustrative simplicity and usage of familiar pulse-quickening urban scenes can easily win one’s heart. A similar post (with B+ instead of A condition) was sold in the same gallery for 900 dollars in 2005. Now ten years after TWA-American merger, this poster has doubled its value to $1800.

Lot 324 is a pair of American Airlines posters made for the international market. In a conversation with an American Airlines poster collector, I learned such posters are rarer because of the targeted market. Unlike posters for Chicago, NYC or Washington DC (lot 248), “they belong to those hard-to-find ones for dedicated collectors.” Although he did not particularly like the design (geometric contour with near-abstract colors), he pointed out that these two were designed and signed by one artist (Edward Mcknight Kauffer), which helped in their value as a collectible.

Rare international market with artist’s signature helped collectibility

The most intriguing lot is  No. 242, a group of seven posters. Six of them are vintage American Airline Posters with the remaining from Royal Dutch Airlines. “Royal Coachman Jet” service was introduced in the late 1950’s by American Airlines, which brought up the concept of stewardesses with affordable fares to the airline business.

The one with the Texas Longhorn has more artistic design than a commercial advertisement. Texas is not known for its picturesque landscapes. A mysterious group of four Texas Longhorns, not unlike Warhol’s non-representational colors, pop out of the dark ground.

Although not signed, the poster is designed by Joseph Charles Parker in 1953.  The same poster is now in the collection of MOMA. has a more detailed description:

At first glance, it’s the primary-colored longhorns that dominate this American Airlines’ promotion, but upon closer inspection, the viewer can clearly see that Parker has included-in unassuming relief-all the elements that set Texas apart from the rest of the “Lower 48”-oil rigs, refineries, the Dallas skyline, the “Yellow Rose,” the tall pines and plenty of room to grow. Parker graduated from the Manhattan School of Aviation Trades before entering the Navy. After his discharge from the military, he worked on a cattle ranch in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, as well as designing window displays in the late-1940s for Franklin Simon on 5th Avenue in New York City. As a part of the G.I. Bill, Parker traveled to Paris and studied graphic design with Fernand Leger and Paul Colin. When he returned to the United States in 1951, he opened a commercial art firm called Glanzman-Parker Studio in New York. In 1969, he left the city with his family to relocate to Hadley, New York, where he would devote himself full-time to sculpture.

Texas Longhorn, the one that MOMA collects

Now, American Airlines still serves DFW area with its hub moved from Love Field; the airport used when the poster was designed. The CEO of American Airlines, Gerard Arpey wrote in the April issue of American Way magazine,  “like a great work of art,  air travel expands our horizons, fuels our imagination and deepens our understanding of our fellow man and ourselves.” In the form of airline posters, when more and more mundane photos are used to depict the immediate accessibility of destinations, it is that peculiar lack of immediate winning scenery in northern Texas that allow artists to find an inner voice and raise it up, up in the air.

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