Air Liners of the 1930s on trading cards
George Arents Collection/ New York Public Library

See the "Air Liners" of the 1930s on These Rare Vintage Trading Cards

In the 1920s and '30s, all eyes turned skyward. Aviators were the heroes of the day, courageously testing the elements and wobbly technology alike as they pushed newfangled aircraft to new extremes and navigated from airfield to airfield by sight alone—radar and GPS were years in the future.

Yet despite the risks of the nascent flying industry, commercial air travel made giant strides, and the world knew that whenever an airplane flew overhead, those on the ground were looking up at the future. 

Many people learned the art of planespotting from a cigarette company, of all sources. Nottingham-based John Player & Sons was the top tobacco company in England, and to stimulate sales (and hook customers on nicotine), the company inserted themed trading cards into each packet of smokes. Collectible topics included football stars, daredevil motorists, derby winners, military uniforms, and, to capitalize on the public excitement for aviation, an exclusive set dedicated to cutting-edge "International Air Liners." Collectors could stick the cards in a special album that could be purchased from a tobacconist for a penny.

Some of these rare trading cards were recently digitized by the New York Public Library. Come fly along with the top stars of the skies during the Great Depression, when your flight might have wooden wings, bunk beds, or seating in compartments.

The inscription on the back of each card is displayed below the image on the front.

Air Liners of the 1930s on trading cards: United Airlines: Douglas D.C. 3 (U.S.A.)
George Arents Collection/ New York Public Library
United Airlines: Douglas D.C. 3 (U.S.A.)
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Air Liners of the 1930s on trading cards: Northwest Airlines: Lockheed "Electra" (U.S.A.)
George Arents Collection/ New York Public Library
Northwest Airlines: Lockheed "Electra" (U.S.A.)
Air Liners of the 1930s on trading cards: Delta Airlines: Lockheed "Electra"
George Arents Collection/ New York Public Library
Delta Airlines: Lockheed "Electra" (U.S.A.)
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Air Liners of the 1930s on trading cards: KLM Douglas D.C. 2
George Arents Collection/ New York Public Library
KLM: Douglas D.C. 2 (Holland)
Air Liners of the 1930s on trading cards: Central Airlines, Stinson "A"
George Arents Collection/ New York Public Library
Central Airlines: Stinson "A" (U.S.A.)
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Air Liners of the 1930s on trading cards: Players Cigarette Card, circa 1936: KLM Fokker F. XXII (Holland)
George Arents Collection/ New York Public Library
KLM: Fokker F. XXII (Holland)
Air Liners of the 1930s on trading cards: Eastern Airlines: Lockheed "Electra"
George Arents Collection/ New York Public Library
Eastern Airlines: Lockheed "Electra" (U.S.A.)
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Air Liners of the 1930s on trading cards: Pennsylvania Airlines: Boeing 247D
George Arents Collection/ New York Public Library
Pennsylvania Airlines: Boeing 247D
Air Liners of the 1930s on trading cards: American Airlines: Douglas D.S.T. (U.S.A.)
George Arents Collection/ New York Public Library
American Airlines: Douglas D.S.T. (U.S.A.)
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Air Liners of the 1930s on trading cards: KLM: Fokker F XX (Holland)
George Arents Collection/ New York Public Library
KLM: Fokker F XX (Holland)
Air Liners of the 1930s on trading cards: United Airlines: Douglas D.C. 3 (U.S.A.)
George Arents Collection/ New York Public Library
United Airlines: Douglas D.C. 3 (U.S.A.)
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Air Liners of the 1930s on trading cards: Eastern Airlines: Douglas D.C. 2
George Arents Collection/ New York Public Library
Eastern Airlines: Douglas D.C. 2 (U.S.A.)
air Liners of the 1930s on trading cards: Imperial Airways Empire Flying-Boat "Caledonia" (Great Britain)
George Arents Collection/ New York Public Library
Imperial Airways Empire Flying-Boat "Caledonia" (Great Britain)
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Air Liners of the 1930s on trading cards: Pan American Airways: Glenn Martin 130 Flying-Boat "China Clipper.
George Arents Collection/ New York Public Library
Pan American Airways: Glenn Martin 130 Flying-Boat "China Clipper"
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