A Readers Story – Charles Castle (1813-1886) And His Passports
I have the contents of the writing desk of my great great great uncle Charles Castle, passed down to me by my uncle John Salter. It’s a treasure trove of correspondence from the mid-nineteenth century. Uncle Charles was active in Bristol politics and business, and the letters are peppered with details which build a rich picture of the times. Tucked in among all the letters and business papers is the greatest jewel in the box, his passport. The document and its associated visas provide some great snapshots of Charles’ life. The main passport is a simple printed form folded up and pasted into a red leather wallet on which is stamped in gold “CAPTAIN CASTLE. Passeport”. It’s beautifully tooled and inside is the maker’s name: J.LEE 440.WEST STRAND LONDON.
Also stuck into the wallet is a book of blank pages, and on the last Charles has written in pencil, “+Austria, +Bavaria, +Prussia.” Sure enough, elsewhere in the book or on the passport sheet itself are stamped Visas from the London consulates of each of those states, all dated 1st August 1861. The passport itself was issued two weeks earlier on 18th July and signed, as was the custom, by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Lord John Russell.
It’s a wonderful artifact – everything about it is of historical interest. John Russell, a liberal, served two terms a prime minister. In the 1850s his government was brought down by his own foreign secretary Lord Palmerston, who joined a vote of no confidence in him after a long-running personal feud. In 1861 the tables were turned and Palmerston was the PM, Russell the foreign sec. It was Palmerston’s sudden death in 1865 that raised Russell once again to the top spot. In the year this passport was issued, he stopped being Lord John Russell when he was elevated to the peerage as Earl Russell.
The separate visas for Prussia, Bavaria and Austria tell the story of the Deutsche Bund (German Federation), formed in 1815 and about to disintegrate under tension between Prussia and Austria. Bavaria had been an independent kingdom since 1806. It sided with Austria, who lost the Austro-Prussian War of 1866; it then backed Prussia in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and remained independent even after it joined the Bund’s replacement, the Deutsches Reich (German Empire) in 1871. But the chief joys of this passport and its visas are their dates of issue. Two days after Charles had rushed round the consulates of London getting his stamps in order, he was off to Melton Constable in Norfolk – to get married! The passport was made out to “Captain Charles Castle (British Subject) accompanied by his wife, travelling on the Continent with a maid Servant.” It was for their honeymoon!
Castle, who was 48, had led a fairly carefree dilettante life up to this point, and perhaps felt he needed to settle down at last. His new wife Ada Crickland, born like Charles in the Clifton area of Bristol, was half his age, and he may have watched her grow up. The marriage was, as far as I can tell, a success, although touched with sadness; three of their four children (all girls) died before their father, all under the age of 20. Only Charles and Ada’s second daughter Mary lived to spinster old age, and it was from her that my uncle John inherited her father’s papers and passport. I wonder who I’ll leave them to!
A Readers Story – Charles Castle (1813-1886) And His Passports
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.
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