A Benjamin Franklin passport in my mailbox

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Benjamin Franklin passport mailbox
It is still surprising which emails I get via my website after being online for 10+ years now. Readers often ask questions about documents from relatives. “Do you know where I can get a passport copy from my grandmother’s passport?” I should establish a FAQ section (like suggested by a fellow collector).

One of the most curious questions came from a man some years ago. “Sir, I need passports for me, my wife, and my two kids. Can you help?” I told him that he completely misunderstood the purpose of my website. And believe it or not. I even had a British senior citizen who wanted to become a Queen’s Messenger at age 68. I could write another book on these stories alone.

But then there are the emails from readers holding different documents. Some want to gain knowledge about the document they possess, and others even want to depart from the papers. Here are some impressions of old passports offered to me in the past. Benjamin Franklin passport mailbox

  • Elton John passport 1972
  • Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma 1932
  • Idi Amin 1963
  • Anwar el-Sadat 1979
  • Enrico Caruso 1919
  • Joe Frazier’s last passport

The latest email came from a US reader writing he owns a BENJAMIN FRANKLIN passport from 23 May 1780. At first, I had my doubts as it could have been a reproduction as a “Passy” passport is not what often comes to daylight. Well, going into a more in-depth discussion with this gentleman, it indeed turned out to be a genuine passport from BF personal press in Paris. I got a photo of the passport and also got explained that Yale University had verified the document. Yale did even a publication about the passport. Based on these facts, I did some further research and found an online source of the BF papers, where I executed some queries.

Benjamin Franklin passport, Paris 1780

The passport was issued to four persons. Joseph Plummer, Charles Herbert, Benjamin Carr, and Benjamin Taylor. These men were crew members of the USS Alliance, the ship which sailed on the direction of BF to France. The American Philosophical Society and Yale University are going more into deep about the different versions of Franklin’s passports printed in Passy. I will not go into further details yet, but maybe in a separate article.

Passy was the home of Benjamin Franklin during the nine years that he lived in France during the American Revolutionary War. For much of this time, he was a lodger in the home of Monsieur de Chaumont.

Franklin established a small printing press in his lodgings to print pamphlets and other material as part of his mandate to maintain French support for the revolution. He called it the Passy Press. Among his printing projects, he produced comics he called Bagatelles and passports. He developed a typeface known as “le Franklin.” He also printed a 1782 treatise by Pierre-André Gargaz titled A Project of Universal and Perpetual Peace, which laid out a vision for maintaining a permanent peace in Europe. It proposed a central governing council composed of representatives of all the nations of Europe to arbitrate international disputes. And he also printed passport forms.

When Franklin returned to America, the new American Ambassador to France, Thomas Jefferson, wrote: “When he left Passy, it seemed as if the village had lost its patriarch.” To this day, a street in Passy bears the name Rue Benjamin Franklin.

I am delighted that the American gentlemen shared this document with me and granted permission to display this outstanding travel document on my website. As I understood, he inherited the document from his father in law. This passport is real American history, one of the earliest US passports a collector can find -issued only four years after independence.

You can download the article as pdf-book.

FAQ Passport History
Passport collection, passport renewal, old passports for sale, vintage passport, emergency passport renewal, same day passport, passport application, pasaporte passeport паспорт 护照 パスポート جواز سفر पासपोर्ट

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?

A passport tells the story of its bearer and these stories can be everything - surprising, sad, vivid. Isabella Bird and her travels (1831-1904) or Mary Kingsley, a fearless Lady explorer.

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 😉

Other great sources are: Scottish Passports, The Nansen passport, The secret lives of diplomatic couriers

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...