Ephemera Society UK: Collecting old passports


In collaboration with THE EPHEMERA SOCIETY UK, here is another article on old passports and passport collecting. If you collect Ephemera, then you should take a look at the Society’s new webshop, where you can also sign up for a membership for only £35 a year. The Ephemera Society is excited to welcome new members. Annual membership entitles you to the following benefits: Ephemera Society UK passports

  • Four issues of The Society’s acclaimed quality magazine, The Ephemerist, a colorful illustrated 32pp quarterly journal with a reputation as a source of expert information on all aspects of ephemera. It brings together new writing by academics and collectors offering insights into their specialist areas of expertise.
  • The Ephemera Society Handbook which lists names and contact details of fellow members and their specialized collecting interests, as well as a subject index.
  • Early access to The Society’s two Ephemera Fairs each year, which promote the discovery of fresh collectible material.

By buying a yearly membership, you will be put on the mailing list to receive the next four issues of The Ephemerist. Issues will arrive in Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter.


Passport Collecting – How to Start?

If you want to become a serious collector of passports, then I always recommend beginners to collect quality instead of quantity! Collecting is a leisure activity, but at the same time, you also invest money, and no matter what you collect, quality items are always preferred as they have value – historically and economically.

What to Collect?

I recommend setting a collection focus which you can extend in time. If you start at the beginning with everything, then you will quickly lose your overview. I focus on German including East
German passports of any period. No ID-Cards or other documents – only passports. Other collectors are looking, e.g., just for diplomatic passports or consular passports (issued abroad). In my collection, I still miss a few German Empire passport booklets of the smaller states like Waldeck-Pyrmont, which are very difficult to find!

Where to Find Old Passports?

Your local flea market might be a good start also online auctions offer such old documents. In time, you will be able to build or join a collector’s community, and then you can even swap documents. The classic auction houses are an excellent source too when it comes to medium and high-end collectibles. Ephemera Society UK 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?

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...