An unusual Czechoslovak passport for a courier

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An unusual passport for a Czechoslovak military courier for travel from Prague to Kyiv in March 1919

unusual Czechoslovak passport courier

Many thanks to Zbyšek Šustek, Slovak Numismatic Society at Slovak Academy of Sciences

The first Czechoslovak passports were issued shortly after the proclamation of independence on 28 October 1918. The first type might be hypothetically prepared, even in secrecy, still before the independence proclamation. However, in every case, it was projected before 14 November 1918, when it was not still sure what would be the juridical form of the young state. As late as on this date, the National Assembly declared the provisional constitution of Czechoslovakia and decided that it would be a republic, with a president in front. Therefore the first type of passports was issued in a little juridical nude form: “The Czechoslovak lands / Government of Czechoslovak Lands in the Name of Czechoslovak Nation” (Fig. 1). Obviously, this was a paraphrase of the formulation “In the Name of His Majesty…” in the Austro-Hungarian passports. This type of passports was drawn out in a minimal number by 1918 and 1919. The second type was externally almost identical, but was issued in the name of Czechoslovak Republic / Government of the Czechoslovak Republic in the Name of Czechoslovak Republic” (Fig. 2). It also had rearranged sites, with a special place for the bearer’s photograph. Most of these passports were drawn on from January to May 1919, but there are know exemplars issued still in 1920. Both types were used for traveling until 1924. In summer 1919, a new type of passports in a deed form was issued and frequently drawn out until autumn 1921, when new passports of the international format were introduced. unusual Czechoslovak passport courier

unusual Czechoslovak passport courier
Fig. 1. The title and second page of the first type of Czechoslovak passports issued in late 1918
unusual Czechoslovak passport courier
Fig. 2. The modified title and second page of Czechoslovak passports issued in January 1919

Despite the availability of regular Czechoslovak passports, in February 1919, the Defense Ministry, the Superior Headquarters´ Administration of Couriers provided its courier, Jiří Řivnáč, sent to Kyiv with 50 kg of documents with a fully improvised passport. He had to absolve a really complex journey by train via Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Mukachevo (in Hungarian Munkács, but the passport incorrectly written as Mohács, a town in South Hungary), Lawoczne, Stryi, Tarnopol, Pidvolchinska, Kyiv, and back (Fig. 3). This journey evaded Slovakia, the eastern integral part of Czechoslovakia, through two neighboring states, Austria and Hungary, obviously due to not functioning railway transport.

unusual Czechoslovak passport courier
Fig. 3. The planed journey of the special courier J. Řivnáč to Kyiv (red – the stations given in the passport, blue – other big station on the railway to Kyiv)

They used for this purpose a regular blank (four pages, 330 x 210 mm) for service travel for military persons, called “Otevřený rozkaz” (open command). It was arranged exactly according to the earlier Austro-Hungarian open command (Offener Befehl), primarily domestic documents. Still, during WW, they could also be used to travel through allied Germany (Fig. 5). Unlike them, the Czechoslovak document was explicitly just a domestic document and, of course, in the Czech language. unusual Czechoslovak passport courier

On its first page of the “Otevřený rozkaz” (open command), the issued authority’s personal data and data are given (Fig. 4a). The passport was issued on 20 February 1919, originally with validity to 15 March, but additionally prolonged (on page 2 bellow) to 30 April (Fig. 4b). On the empty second page, the title of the Government of Czechoslovak Republic in French, German, Hungarian, and Russian was placed in the head. Below is the classical clause” “All civil and military authorities are asked…” French, German and Hungarian. On the third page (Fig. 4c), the same clause in Polish and Russian (written by hand) is given. The bearer’s photograph and the Ukrainian embassy’s visa in Prague are placed on its right in the center. In the left bottom corner, we see the note of the Austrian military authority in Vienna “to make no difficulties and to not confiscate the bearer’s luggage.”

unusual Czechoslovak passport courier
Fig. 4a – The improvised passport for the special military courier J. Řivnáč (a – page 1 with personal data, journey description, and issuing authority

Interesting is the last page (Fig. 4d). There is the Hungarian transit visa for travel to Kyiv and back and before all the visa of the then both Ukrainian states – the small West Ukrainian Peoples Republic in wider surroundings of the capital Lviv, northerly of Carpathians (a lion in its coat-of-arms, right upper corner) the Ukrainian Peoples Republic with Kyiv as capital (a stylized trident in the coat-of-arms), on the major part of the Ukrainian territory. From the fourth page, it also follows that J. Řivnáč left from Prague on 24 February and arrived in Vienna the next day, where he presented at the Czechoslovak military representation. He stayed in Vienna up 17 March, when he crossed the then Hungarian border at Királyhída (now Bruck a der Leitha in Austria). This date is important. Only four days later, on 21 March, a state coup took place in Hungary, and the country falls in chaos and persecutions. unusual Czechoslovak passport courier


unusual Czechoslovak passport courier
Fig 4b – page 2 with clauses in four languages
unusual Czechoslovak passport courier
Fig 4c – page 3 with clauses in two languages and a part of visas
unusual Czechoslovak passport courier
Fig 4d – page 4 with Hungarian and Ukrainian visas and stamps confirming his stay in Vienna and crossing the border to Hungary)

It is unclear from the passport whether J. Řivnáč could continue, under such conditions, his travel, and to fulfill his task or how he could return to Czechoslovakia. It is not also excluded that his destiny could be dramatic. However, the situation was not hopeless. Even during the Czechoslovak military intervention against the Hungarian Soviet Republic, after 2 May 1919, the Czechoslovak interests were represented by the Norway Royal Embassy in Budapest that provided the Czechoslovak citizens with special repatriation passports. Besides, his improvised passport was purchased in a Bohemian antiquarian bookshop, indicates that J. Řivnáč returned luckily home. In any case, this passport is an interesting witness of the turbulent period by the end of WW I. unusual Czechoslovak passport courier


unusual Czechoslovak passport courier
Fig. 5. The Austro-Hungarian military travel “Open Command” – the model for the analogous Czechoslovak travel document
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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...

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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...

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"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...

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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...

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