When it comes to passport history, Germany and GDR are strong focuses. I have one of the first Federal German passports in my collection. Same for GDR – one of the first and probably the last travel document issued just two days before reunification. Federal German Foreign Representation
I always wondered when the first Federal German passport was possibly issued. The following document is the earliest example issued by the just established Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Federal Republic of Germany).
The passport was issued to Ludwig Carl Vogel, born 1909 and from Stuttgart, working as a salesman. The printed serial no of the passport is 1000194, and the passport number given by the consulate is 190/50, which means in 1950, since June 28, 190 passports were issued in New York. The consular number starts every year again with one. The initial validity of the travel document was two years until 1952. The New York Consulate General renewed then his passport twice until Nov 1955. As all the visas showed, Ludwig frequently traveled to Germany, France, Switzerland, Belgium, and the UK.
The print number from the Bundesdruckerei is 1 10010 50 000 5.50, which is code for 50.000 printed copies in May 1950. This must be the first printing batch from the Federal German printing office. The first 6-digits specify the passport type, I assume, as other passport types have a different number. Federal German Foreign Representation
To find out more, I asked the Political Archive of the Federal Foreign Office, which I also visited personally in Berlin in 2011 – a long time ago. I was pleased to get a swift and solid response. Many thanks to Dr. Simon Hessdoerfer for looking into this topic. Here is the text, translated into English by the author.
“The Petersberg Agreement of November 22, 1949, between the Western Allies and the Federal Republic of Germany allowed the Federal Republic of Germany, among other things, to resume consular relations with other states gradually. This gave the Federal Republic the opportunity, indeed the right, to establish (general) consulates in other states that were responsible for passport and visa matters. Even though the right to hold a passport was not officially transferred to the Federal Republic until February 1, 1951, and the law on passwords was enacted in 1952, this does not mean that a legal vacuum prevailed here in 1950; the given legal situation, i.e., the law of November 8, 1867, applied to consular assistance. Moreover, the issuance of the passport that they had proves that such consular aid was necessary for the passport holder before the password was newly regulated. Federal German Foreign Representation
Another example of legal action without an actual enabling act is the Foreign Service: The new Foreign Office in March 1951, but the Foreign Service Act was not enacted until August 30, 1990. Nevertheless, all the civil service’s rights and regulations were valid for the civil servants and employees of the Foreign Service.
To come back to your question, “Since when are passports available?” There were passports in the Federal Republic of Germany for Germans living abroad as soon as this state could establish missions abroad with consular powers to provide consular assistance to German citizens abroad.
The first consulates were established with the Western Allies: on June 16, 1950, in London, on June 28, 1950, in New York, and on July 7, 1950, in Paris. The official passport forms were certainly produced before that date. They were available to the newly established consulates, hence the print run of May 1950 (Author: the document in my collection). If we want to condense the whole thing to a concrete date, then I would say: the first consulate took up its activities on June 16, 1950. From that date on, it was practically possible to obtain a passport as a German abroad, which means well before February 1, 1951, for passports issued in Germany itself.
As far as the legal situation in Germany is concerned, it must be assumed here, too, that until 1949 and beyond, in addition to the special rights of the Allies (see the Declaration on the Exercise of Executive Power of June 5, 1945, and other rights of reservation) The passport and visa regulations from the time of the North German Confederation of 1867 continued to apply.” Federal German Foreign Representation
The conclusion is that the first Federal German passport might have been issued as early as June 16, 1950, when the Consulate General (CG) in London was established! Only four days later, the CG became a diplomatic representation and an embassy on May 26, 1955.
However, even earlier established was the Permanent Representation of the Federal Republic of Germany to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris, on 1. Nov 1949. As this was an Inter- and supranational organization, I would say it is unlikely that passports have been issued there.
In the meantime, I got a complete list of the 227 German Foreign Representations, including the date when they were established or upgraded, e.g., to embassies.
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...