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About The Aviation Ancestry Collection Of Vintage Aviation Advertisements



The Aviation Ancestry Collection of classic aviation adverts is a free to use database of historic British aviation industry advertisements. Here you will find what is possibly the largest free to use searchable database of vintage aircraft & component adverts dating from the period 1909-1990. Each advert is reproduced online as a low-res image with a record of the source and date of original publication, hi-res copies are available on request from a link below each image. Only items derived from the Aviation Ancestry collection of original source publications are included - there are no third party records in the adverts database. - At the time of writing there are over 92300 classic aviation industry advertisements images in the database.


As an introduction I can`t do better than to quote from this letter of May 3rd 1947 to The Aeroplane written by the late great C.G.Grey and founding editor of The Aeroplane. I hadn't seen this when I conceived the idea of the aircraft adverts database sometime around 2002, but the final paragraph struck a chord with me as one who has an interest in the nuts and bolts of the development of the British aviation industry.
(B) Mr. de Mayer, with whom I agree heartily on the superlative excellence of W.S.Shackleton's humour and Roger
Tennant's brilliant irony, makes one grave error. . He writes of tearing the advertisement pages out of The AEROPLANE.

In its early days we printed the reading matter on the backs of advertisements, so that readers could not tear them out. That was partly in the interests of our advertisers, on whom we depended for a living, but quite as much because of their
historical value.

If Mayer will look through any trade or technical paper of 10 years old or more he will find himself, after 10 minutes (unless he be looking for some specific article) ignoring the reading matter as mere ephemeral journalism, and studying
the advertisements as the milestones, and too often the tombstones of the history of that trade.
How it all began

Sometime in the late 1990s I wandered into my local 'pre-loved' books shop and was browsing the transport section when the owner approached me, told me he was selling up and asked if was interested in looking at some 'old aircraft' magazines in the store room - to my surprise there was shelf upon shelf of them dating from the earliest issues. I then proceeded to make what turned out to be one of my biggest ever errors of judgement. I should have bought the lot at the knockdown price he was asking, I could have easily afforded them at the time. But clever old me decided to select about 100 representative issues from the period 1909 to 1939. A missed opportunity as it turned out, and a minor act of vandalism in breaking up complete 'year sets' of magazines for collectors. (As it turned out I got my 'come uppance' when searching for issues to add to the adverts source material for my archive.)

Safely home, I thumbed through a few issues, put them back into the box and and took them up to the attic. Of course everyday life got it the way and I promptly forgot about them until around 2002 when the internet (and broadband) was becoming universally available, and I was looking for a web based project.

Having a background in aviation, and a particular interest in aviation history, I was looking for an original idea - this was not so easy as all the obvious aviation history topics were already well established online with major contributions from well respected authors and researchers.

I thought the 'magazines' in the attic might be a good source of inspiration, and as it happened they were. - The adverts of course! - What better way of creating a British aviation industry timeline.

As with all the best online resources at the time I decided on a not-for-profit approach.

The Plan

It's all AI, social media and black magic now, but back then the two golden rules for 'website success' were 1. Original or even niche content & 2. Lists.

On the impression that if original and focussed content was out there interested parties would find it, and with luck recommend it to others - with this, and my two golden rules in mind I devised my plan.

1. Catalogue every aviation advert from 1909 - 1970 and make them available online in a searchable database.
2. Using a simple search routine make the results appear in the form of a timeline**

* I doubt I'll ever bag every aviation press advert, but it remains an active goal.
** Thus a search for Avro (for example) will generate images for every Avro advert ever published sorted by year.

Rules of engagement

a) Only material from my own collection of original source publications would be included. (i.e. No third party contributions)
b) Classification would be by year, company and/or product type/name.
c) Each record must credit the source and publication date of the image. (the first example scanned in case of duplicates or identical adverts in other publications)
d) No source material should be damaged during the scanning process.
e) All adverts except classifed lineage ads to be included.
f) Aviation component and services adverts are given equal weight in the aviation industry advertisements database.

The process

Finding, acquiring and storing the source material wasn`t quite as easy as I'd imagined, but over the course of time I found enough helpful book dealers, enthusiasts and reputable auction houses to get the spread of material I need for a credible resource. I probably paid over the odds for some material but completing year sets provided me with the justification, but in the early days of the project  most issues were only a couple of pounds or even pence for some of the later material, a bit more today though.. Finding and acquiring is one thing, shipping them to home proved to be one of the biggest expenses. At the time of writing I have many full sets of a good number of titles from 1909-1990. (You'll note I extended the planned collection period by twenty years!)

I'm often asked if I have bound volumes of aviation magazines in my collection. The answer is no - they look great on a bookshelf, but after being stripped of their covers and adverts they're not like the original article and are too cumbersome to read.The destruction of the original magazines during this process has contributed to the scarcity of complete magazines from some years - the 1920s in particular.

I have over 3000 publications and if you're contemplating starting a magazine collection take it from me that they take up a lot of wall space and weigh a ton if you keep them in boxes! On the plus side and on top of creating the database it's the thrill of the chase and the pleasure I get from reading them that keeps me happy.
Do you read all the magazines before collating the adverts?

Yes, but not every page. I always read the editorials and letters pages and any articles that catch my eye me at the time of scanning.Furthermore, in the course of the project I've helped many individuals and organisations locate source material for their research projects thus putting the collection to good use.

Scanning, processing and cataloguing.

When I started this process I only had a basic A4 scanner which for the most part was fine, except that many pre-1939 magazines were produced in a larger format. Generally I could scan most pages except the covers. Sheet feeding was a risky business as some of the early magazines such as The Aero
were quite delicate and manually scanning both sides of the pages was very time consuming.

In due course I purchased a decent (pre-loved) A3 duplex scanner which not only improved the quality of the scans, but speeded up the process considerably - still no sheet feeding to avoid the risk of damage.

I mentioned earlier in this ramble that one of the rules of engagement was that I would preserve the source material intact and this remains the case. Many of the pre 1950 magazines were bound with iron staples which are prone to rusting with the associated damage caused to the pages - they will be replaced after scanning. Some 'special issues' were stapled and cloth bound from the publishers and too bulky to scan perfectly with the result that some images are discoloured around the centre fold areas. This can`t be helped, but I have boxes full of previously mangled magazines which I can 'rob' where necessary. (who hasn`t cut pictures out of magazines for scrap books?)

The custom software suite.

Each issue might generate as many as 100 individual adverts from their pages. These pages have to be loaded into my image processing software, adverts extracted, cropped and 'cleaned' before being placed into their appropriately named folders. This process has always been manual and is time consuming especially removing duplicate items from the mix.

Once processed they are loaded into my custom software suite where I can import them and at the press of a button incorporate them into the database including the generation of the necessary meta data and sql records for both online and offline use. Only the description of each item requires manual intervention, in fact much of this is actually automated in its raw form. (The Hi-resolution scans are stored into their appropriate directories on the computer as well as archived versions)

The process of generating the lower resolution images for the website is also automated. Then it's just a case of FTP'ing the images and importing the new records using PHPMyadmin in the usual manner.

In truth the automation process could be further streamlined, but that's for another day I think.


If you're interested in a particular manufacturer you may find it more convenient to study the advertising timeline at your leisure in printed book form. All the company adverts from the database are included in the relevant compilation.

Aviation Ancestry has produced over 20 Company Themed advertisement compilations. The adverts are reproduced at one per page and annotated with the periodical title and date of publication.

In some cases such as de Havilland, Rolls-Royce and Bristol as many as three volumes have been published to accomodate the output.

These are designed as reference publications without further narrative - put simply they're just books of the advert images printed in chronological order.
British Aircraft industry adverts referece books
Where can I find these compilations?

    At Amazon:  Aviation Ancestry Compilations