Vintage British Airways posters celebrate 100 years of aviation

Sure, aviation can still be a lavish affair -- but it'll never be the same as when you could slide your window open a...

Posted: May 17, 2018 9:59 AM
Updated: May 17, 2018 9:59 AM

Sure, aviation can still be a lavish affair -- but it'll never be the same as when you could slide your window open and throw your French cigarette out the window.

Vintage travel posters evoke this golden age of air travel, an era when aviation meant glamor, escapism and luxury.

In celebration of 100 years of daily international air service, British Airways (BA) has taken a look back at its 1,200-strong collection of eye-catching vintage posters.

This historic hoard has been compiled in a book, "British Airways: 100 Years of Aviation Posters," published by Amberley Books in association with BA and charting changing travel and advertising trends over the past century.

Hundreds of posters

The book is the brainchild of 70-year-old Paul Jarvis, former assistant company secretary at British Airways and now curator of the BA Heritage Collection.

Jarvis lives and breathes BA history -- not least because he's part of it, having worked at the company since the 1960s.

In recent years, his aim has been to promote and celebrate the company's past -- starting with its amazing poster collection.

"The posters have always been particular interest of mine," Jarvis tells CNN Travel.

Jarvis felt there was a public appetite for these striking posters and decided to put them together in a book.

"There are so many evocative, gorgeous posters," he adds.

Charting history

The posters steal the spotlight in the book, but there's also plenty of history and factual information to complement the artwork.

"What people want to see is the images," says Jarvis. "And what they also like to, I think, understand is what's the context of the image."

He points to the early posters that stress the comfort and convenience afforded by air travel.

"The very early days it was very much just about persuading people to fly at all," Jarvis says. "There were quite a lot of people who thought flying [...] was just a passing fad."

Later the aim was promoting particular destinations: sun-kissed beaches in Australia or the rooftop glamor of Manhattan.

Jarvis says he struggles to pick a favorite poster or era, although the 1960s speaks to him from a personal level.

"But from a purely [...] archival perspective it has to be the 1930s," he adds. "Because all the explanatory work that was [being done], new aircraft coming in."

Other highlights include tie-in posters related to the 1948 London Olympic Games. BA predecessor the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) used Walter Herz's original Olympic artwork to promote traveling to London for the games.

In the mid-century, cross-continental flights were more and more common.

"An explosion of air services from 1946 when we started operating to New York because aircraft now had the range to reach it," says Jarvis.

Trips to previously far-flung locations like Africa and Australia were suddenly possible -- and posters depicted the stunning landscapes of these destinations.

By the 1960s, posters were becoming more photo-led thanks to the popularity of TV advertising.

The adverts seized on the cultural phenomenon of "Swinging London" in their promotions, using images of fun-loving youths enjoying their modish lifestyle.

New era

Many of the posters in the book are creations of British Airways predecessors -- such as Imperial Airlines, BOAC and BEA.

British Airways, the company we know today, began operating in the 1970s when BOAC and BEA merged.

Early advertising promoted the company as a new and improved version of these two popular airlines. A couple of years later it was all about the Concorde. By 2000, posters heralded the first fully flat bed for business-class passengers.

Today, posters are digitally led -- and online and television commercials are where the money's at.

"It's so expensive to get print media out there, now, in any meaningful quantitative way, that reaches a wide audience," Jarvis says.

"I suspect [the posters'] heyday from the '30s,'40s, '50s, even the '60s are probably long past and never will be repeated."

But, even if he's nostalgic for the Golden Age, Jarvis is quick to dismiss the idea that posters today are less artistic.

He points to the British Airways London 2012 Olympics creations, in which sports stars are superimposed on airplanes.

"No one can say they're not creative -- they're very simple, digitized images of athletes and aircraft. I think they're beautifully done," he says.

"There's no question that innovation is probably as strong as it ever was, it's just that now we have artists and designers with skills in Photoshop as opposed to hand skills and sheer artistic abilities."

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