A letter 1854 from the first US Consul in Montreal

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A letter 1854 from the first US Consul in Montreal

A handwritten letter on blue paper with the US Consulate letterhead, Eagle and seal. The paper has also two watermarks, the year 1854 and the large logo of the paper mill. The first U.S. Consular agency in Montreal was opened on May 29, 1854, by consular agent Canfield Dorwin of Vermont. Exactly this man wrote this letter, only six months later, on 14 October 1854!

A 1854 letter from the first US Consul in Montreal

The office was raised to Consulate General status in July of 1857, when American officials transferred the office of the U.S. Consul General to the British North American Provinces from Quebec City to Montreal, in recognition of Montreal’s growing commercial importance. Nearly half of the trade between Canada and the U.S. at the time transited the Port of Montreal. Quebec province previously hosted numerous U.S. consular offices and commercial agencies – including posts in Coaticook, Gaspé, Rimouski, St. Hyacinthe, Sherbrooke, and Trois Rivières – but most of these establishments had been consolidated by 1915. Today, the U.S. government is ably represented in Quebec by Consulate Generals in Montreal and Quebec City.

Signature of Dorwin

The first female U.S. Consul General to be appointed to Montreal was Elizabeth Harper in 1973. The first African American to hold the post was Bernadette Allen, appointed in 2002. The Consulate General in Montreal has changed location several times in the course of its history. The Consulate moved from buildings it had occupied since the 1950s on rue du Docteur-Penfield to Complexe Desjardins in 1976, where the Consulate remained for 14 years. Since 1990, it has been located in the SNC-Lavalin building, on the corner of René-Lévesque Boulevard and Saint-Alexandre Street.

The letter is addressed to “The Honourable Justices of her Majesty’s  Court of Queens Bench in Montreal”, where DORWIN is communicating that he is appointed by US Secretary of State MARCY and the President of the United States AS CONSUL FOR THE PORT OF MONTREAL and the dependencies here of…which is also confirmed by Her Majesty Queen Victoria and by the Majestys Secretary of State. A highly interesting document of early diplomatic relations between the USA and Canada. The document is a double folio and just in excellent condition.

Watermarks in the consular paper

This is US/Canada diplomatic history!

And then I found this on Consul Dorwin…

On a Saturday in 1869, Canfield Dorwin, brother of Jedediah Hubbell Dorwin, onetime American Consul General in Montreal and a partner of C. Dorwin & Company, brokers, disappeared mysteriouslyHis company was found to be missing $8,000 and it was presumed that he had taken it.

News of the alleged embezzlement reached Toronto and was reported in the local paper:

There is also a good deal of talk in the city about the disappearance of Canfield Dorwin, one of the partners in the firm of C. Dorwin & Co., brokers, who, it is said, left the city on Saturday, and that his whereabouts cannot be discovered.  It seems to be a fact that this old house has also suspended, and it is stated that Mr. Dorwin has taken $8,000 with him.  The extent of liabilities not ascertained.  Mr. Dorwin’s partner, Mr. Gault, is still here (The Globe. Toronto, Tuesday, March 16, 1869).

A letter 1854 from the first US Consul in Montreal

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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?

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...