Do you remember where you were when the wall was falling? Instantly I wanted to travel to Berlin from my city in South Germany to join this historical event of my generation – but I couldn’t. It took me till May 1990 when I entered East Germany (DDR) for the very first time. My family didn’t have any relatives in the DDR, but I had a pen pal for years as we shared the same hobby – collecting coins. The wall was down, but the East German borders were still in place. I keep my Federal German passport safe with this DDR border stamp. It’s history, it’s German history, and it’s MY history. TODAY, Nov 9, 2014, GERMANY is celebrating 25 years of the FALL OF THE BERLIN WALL! fall of the wall
Besides early DDR passports, which you can find online at my website, I like to share this unique DDR passport. One of a kind indeed! Why? Because it was still used for traveling after the reunification in Oct 1990. Impossible? Possible because the German Reunification Treaty stated that DDR passports are valid latest until Dec 31, 1995. Yes, you read right! They remained valid for another five years AFTER reunification. fall of the wall
Look at the document. Issued in Berlin on March 3th, 1990, and officially expired ten years later in 2000 at the same date. The passport was given to a man from KARL-MARX-STADT (today Chemnitz). We can see stamps from Hungary in 1993 + 1994; in 1994, he moved to the city of Nürmberg (see stamp). He had frequent travels to Hungary to the border town of Hegyeshalom, which is close to the Austrian border and less than 15km away from the Slovak border. fall of the wall
The last stamp in his passport from Hungary was stamped Nov 18, 1994. So it’s indeed ONE OF A KIND! I believe you will not find such documents frequently as usually everybody was keen to get a German passport after the reunification. fall of the wall
FAQ Passport History
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1. What are the earliest known examples of passports, and how have they evolved?
The word "passport" came up only in the mid 15th Century. Before that, such documents were safe conducts, recommendations or protection letters. On a practical aspect, the earliest passport I have seen was from the mid 16th Century. Read more...
2. Are there any notable historical figures or personalities whose passports are highly sought after by collectors?
Every collector is doing well to define his collection focus, and yes, there are collectors looking for Celebrity passports and travel documents of historical figures like Winston Churchill, Brothers Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Read more...
3. How did passport designs and security features change throughout different periods in history, and what impact did these changes have on forgery prevention?
"Passports" before the 18th Century had a pure functional character. Security features were, in the best case, a watermark and a wax seal. Forgery, back then, was not an issue like it is nowadays. Only from the 1980s on, security features became a thing. A state-of-the-art passport nowadays has dozens of security features - visible and invisible. Some are known only by the security document printer itself. Read more...
4. What are some of the rarest and most valuable historical passports that have ever been sold or auctioned?
Lou Gehrig, Victor Tsoi, Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce, and Albert Einstein when it comes to the most expensive ones. Read more...
5. How do diplomatic passports differ from regular passports, and what makes them significant to collectors?
Such documents were often held by officials in high ranks, like ambassadors, consuls or special envoys. Furthermore, these travel documents are often frequently traveled. Hence, they hold a tapestry of stamps or visas. Partly from unusual places.
6. Can you provide insights into the stories behind specific historical passports that offer unique insights into past travel and migration trends?
7. What role did passports play during significant historical events, such as wartime travel restrictions or international treaties?
During war, a passport could have been a matter of life or death. Especially, when we are looking into WWII and the Holocaust. And yes, during that time, passports and similar documents were often forged to escape and save lives. Example...
8. How has the emergence of digital passports and biometric identification impacted the world of passport collecting?
Current modern passports having now often a sparkling, flashy design. This has mainly two reasons. 1. Improved security and 2. Displaying a countries' heritage, icons, and important figures or achievements. I can fully understand that those modern documents are wanted, especially by younger collectors.
9. Are there any specialized collections of passports, such as those from a specific country, era, or distinguished individuals?
Yes, the University of Western Sidney Library has e.g. a passport collection of the former prime minister Hon Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret. They are all diplomatic passports and I had the pleasure to apprise them. I hold e.g. a collection of almost all types of the German Empire passports (only 2 types are still missing). Also, my East German passport collection is quite extensive with pretty rare passport types.
10. Where can passport collectors find reliable resources and reputable sellers to expand their collection and learn more about passport history?
A good start is eBay, Delcampe, flea markets, garage or estate sales. The more significant travel documents you probably find at the classic auction houses. Sometimes I also offer documents from my archive/collection. See offers... As you are already here, you surely found a great source on the topic 😉
11. Is vintage passport collecting legal? What are the regulations and considerations collectors should know when acquiring historical passports?
First, it's important to stress that each country has its own laws when it comes to passports. Collecting old vintage passports for historical or educational reasons is safe and legal, or at least tolerated. More details on the legal aspects are here...
Does this article spark your curiosity about passport collecting and the history of passports? With this valuable information, you have a good basis to start your own passport collection.
Question? Contact me...