German Empire Passport Collection finally completed

Passport Reuss younger line 1870
Passport North German Confederation, Reuss younger line 1870

How might one articulate the sensation of such a moment? After two decades of relentless pursuit, there it is—what has eluded you for so long, now revealed in all its glory. The German Empire passport booklets include 29 types and this displayed type is by far the most rare one.

The passport was issued in April 1870, still under the North German Confederation (which makes this document even more special and rare). Therefore, it is not, in fact, a German Empire passport, as this entity was expected to be established only in January 1871.

However, the type will remain the same design, without the wording NORDDEUTSCHER BUND. My collection is now completed after 20+ years.

The Principality of Reuss Gera

The House of Reuss began their rule circa 1010. Heinrich XLII became Count of Reuss-Schleiz in 1784, and then also became Count of Reuss-Gera in 1802. In 1806, the united county was raised to the Principality of Reuss-Gera or Reuss Younger Line.

The last two Princes Reuss of Gera, Heinrich XIV, 4th Prince Reuss of Gera and his son Heinrich XXVII, 5th Prince of Reuss-Gera, served successively as the Regents for Heinrich XXIV, the 6th and last Prince Reuss of Greiz who was unable to rule because of his physical and mental disabilities as a result of an accident in his childhood.

On November 11, 1918, Heinrich XXVII abdicated his position as 5th Prince Reuss of Gera and as Regent abdicated for the disabled Heinrich XXIV, 6th Prince Reuss of Greiz. The new government of Reuss-Gera made an agreement with Heinrich XXVII and granted him some castles and land. The territory encompassing the Principality of Reuss-Gera is now located within the German state of Thuringia.

All males belonging to the House of Reuss were given the name Heinrich followed by a numeral. In the Reuss-Greiz (Older Line), the numbering encompassed all male offspring and continued ascending until reaching 100, at which point it restarted from 1. Similarly, in the Reuss-Gera (Younger Line), the system was akin, with numbers increasing until the end of each century before resetting.

This practice served as a tribute to Holy Roman Emperor Heinrich VI (reigned 1191 – 1197), who had been instrumental in the family’s fortunes. Therefore, the Roman numerals appended to names do not signify regnal numbers.

The Federal German passport of Prince Reuss – Heinrich XXXVII


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...