A passport photo was mandatory in German passports from 1915 onwards. In the beginning, there were no photo rules as long as the photo would fit on a passport page. Recently I got this travel document with an awesome passport photo, a great example of a non-existing photo policy. German Empire passport photo
This passport from the Kingdom of Prussia, the most common passport-type within the German Empire, was issued to Margarethe Drescher on 26 August 1916 in the midst of WWI (just two days later, on 28 August, Kaiser Wilhelm appoints Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg as Germany’s new Chief of the General Staff, replacing Erich Falkenhayn following the disappointment at Verdun and recent setbacks on the Eastern Front).
According to the passport entry, 27 years old, Margarethe wanted to travel to Russia with her five-year-old son Herbert. Her travel document was valid for only one year. We can see stamps from the border control at the train station in Skalmierzyce. The town was German from 1908-1920. Skalmierzyce is nowadays Polish and about 100 km away from the south-east of the regional capital Poznań. Furthermore, a stamp of the local chief in Kalisch for traveling (border crossing?), valid for 7/8 October 1916. German Empire passport photo
In August 1914, the town was destroyed by German artillery fire and then rebuilt in a modern style.
In 1918, after 123 years, Kalisz became part of a Polish state again, after its reconstruction. From 1939 to 1945, Kalisch was part of the German Reichsgau Wartheland as a district administrator’s city district and seat for the district of the same name. On January 23, 1945, Kalisch was taken almost undamaged by the Soviet army. From 1975 to 1998, Kalisz was the Kalisz Voivodeship capital, which also included parts of Lower Silesia.
We are looking at the photo and see Margarethe with a large hat, the son in a marine outfit and a cap. But the interesting part is that Margarethe’s husband is also in the photo, in the full uniform of a locomotive driver. However, he is not mentioned in the passport. If I read old German handwriting correctly, then her occupation is written as “locomotive drivers-wife.” German Empire passport photo
The text on page five confirms that the passport holder (Margarethe) is the person shown in the photo, but why is her husband there? This German Empire passport is a fantastic example of how photos were handles in those days due to the lack of clear rules. He should not be on the passport photo—a unique aspect of this passport, which I never saw before.
Passport photos are a most interesting characteristic and I have photos showing their bearer on a horse, with a dog, sitting on a bench, with a guitar, and even with a rifle and hunting dog.
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...