How to get a passport in 1850?

How to get a passport in 1850?
Let’s do some time travel and get a glimpse of how to get a passport in the mid 19th Century – about 173 years ago. Learn about the cultural aspect which is related to the different attitudes and perceptions towards passports and their significance between English travelers and continental Europeans, particularly Germans.

  • Without a passport, a German person was considered suspicious, akin to criminal or fugitives.
  • Neglecting passports can lead to trouble with the police and delays during a journey.

British Travel To The Continent How to get a passport in 1850?

A 1850s view of St. Paul's from Southwark bridge. Copyright Historic England
A 1850s view of St. Paul’s from Southwark bridge. Copyright Historic England

Of all the penalties at the expense of which the pleasure of traveling abroad is purchased, the most disagreeable and most repugnant to English feelings is that of submitting to the strict regulations of the continental police, and especially to the annoyance of bearing a passport.

It is also often a source of great inconvenience in causing unwished-for delays. As this, however, is a matter of necessity, from which there is no exemption (no one being allowed to travel on the Continent without a passport), it is better to submit with good grace.

By a bit of care and attention to this matter at first, the traveler may spare himself a world of vexation and inconvenience in the end. Englishmen are recommended to have Foreign Office passports if they can obtain a banker’s recommendation; if not, a Consul’s passport for the first country they are about to visit.

A passport for the subjects of continental states-as has been well explained by a writer in the Times-is a legitimation or official certificate of the identity of the individual who carries it. Such a document there is no official machinery in England for issuing.

A significant difference between the continental importance of a passport

It is necessary clearly to understand the significant difference between the continental importance of a ‘pass’, and the value we attach to it.

With us, it is but a more significant kind of turnpike ticket, which proves nothing except that the holder has made his way so far on his journey, and is only thought useful since it may clear him through the next gate.

A German without legitimation is… How to get a passport in 1850?

In Germany, the district police keep a register of every man, and he cannot move without his papers – his legitimation. Granting them is then no part of the duty of the Foreign Minister, unless the person may be on a Government mission.

To a German, the pass is the proof of his existence and the only title he has to live and move unmolested by the police. Without it the law does not recognize him, he falls onto the rubric of vagabonds, thieves, and fugitives from justice, of whom everything dangerous, from arson to regicide, may be expected.

A German without his legitimation in his pocket, therefore, feels like an assassin, who at any moment may feel the gripe of the police on his collar.

The English Understanding

An Englishman believes (erroneously on the continent) that his presence in the shape of five feet nine of respectability on any spot of the earth’s surface is proof enough at least that he must once have been born and had a name, and that nobody has charged him with swindling or theft is equally a proof that the police have nothing to do with him.

He, therefore, cares little for his passport, neglects the official forms, forgets to have it vised, cannot imagine why such a fuss is made about nothing, and does not scruple even to abuse any functionary who may interfere with him in innocent ignorance that even mere unpoliteness to any employee is punishable with fine or imprisonment, as insulting a deputed officer of the Crown in the discharge of his duties.’ How to get a passport in 1850?

A German cannot forget his legitimation,’ and all belonging to it, while it is equally difficult to get an Englishman to remember it.

More than half the embarrassments our countrymen get into are caused by their neglect. Perhaps impressing on their minds the idea that without ‘ papers’ they are, in the eye of the law.’ on the continent, vagabonds thieves. and suspected persons may induce them to pay more attention to those instruments. They too often only get a glimpse of the truth when they come into collision with the police – (Times article.)

As a general rule

the utmost care should be taken with the Passport since the loss of it will subject the stranger to too much trouble and may cause him to be placed under the surveillance of the police.

It should always be carried about the person, as it is liable to be constantly called for; and to preserve it from being worn out, which is likely to be from friction in the pocket, and being thumbed by the horny fingers of so many police agents and gensdarmes at each successive vise, it is convenient to have it bound up in a pocket book*, with blank leaves to receive signatures when the vacant space on the passport itself is covered.

Before leaving England How to get a passport in 1850?

it is necessary to obtain a Passport which is generally procured from the minister of the country in which the traveler intends to land. And it is very advisable to have it also vise, all count assigned by the ministers of those countries through which he proposes afterward to pass.

For instance, if he is going up to the Rhine to Frankfort and intend to land at Rotterdam or any other Dutch port, he may obtain a passport from the Dutch consul. If he goes by Calais, he may get a French passport, if by Ostend or Antwerp, a secretary of state’s passport with vise of the Belgian consul for which a fee of 3s.9d. is paid. Or he may obtain a British consuls passport at any of the foreign towns or seaports where our consuls reside.

Read also – A Map of travel distances…

A foreign office passport

bearing a Prussian consuls signature, procures admittance for the bearer, without delay or difficulty, at any part of the Prussian frontier.

The same rule of obtaining a signature of a minister should also be observed before entering the states of Austria-Russia-Bavaria-France-Holland -Belgium. With many it is indispensable; with all it is advisable. Travelers in the Low Countries, Belgium, and Germany, are not much troubled about their passports, but it is not the less indispensable; the stranger who is found without one will get into trouble. Nobody can take his place in diligence or hire post-horses without one.

The different members of a family can have their names included in one passport, but friends traveling together had better provide themselves with distinct passports. Male servants should also have separate passports, distinct from their masters’. This, however, adds something to the expense of having the passports vise, especially in Italy. How to get a passport in 1850?

N.B.-The signature which the bearer of a passport must attach to it when it is delivered to him ought to be written as clearly and distinctly as possible, that it may be easily read by the numerous functionaries through whose hands it is destined to pass, who are sometimes half an hour in deciphering an ill-written name, while the owner is wasting his patience at the length of the scrutiny. By this slight precaution, the loss of many a quarter of an hour may be saved.

Besides the ambassadors, the consuls of the different foreign powers issue or sign passports at their offices in the city, for which a charge of 5, 6, or 7 shillings is made. The consuls deliver their passports at once, without requiring that the application should be made the day before; their offices are also open earlier than the ambassadors’, usually from 10 or 11 to 4; thus much time is saved, which with many will be more than an equivalent for the payment.

French and Belgian Passport

French passports are issued immediately, for the sum of 5s. at the General Consulate office only, No. 47, King William Street, London Bridge; Belgian, at the Belg. Consul’s office, 52, Gracechurch Street. The fee is 6s. 6d. Such pocketbooks are made by Lee, 440, West Strand, and kept in readiness by him.

The Belgian consul’s vise to a Foreign Office passport, which will answer still better the English traveler’s purpose, may be had at the office, fee 3s. 9d.

As a general rule, all passports ought to be countersigned by the minister of the countries through which the traveler is about to pass. English travelers about to enter Austria had better exchange French or Belgian passports (if they have them) for that of a British minister residing at any foreign court. How to get a passport in 1850?

Prussian Passport How to get a passport in 1850?

The Prussian minister, residing in London, will not give passports to Englishmen unless personally known, or especially recommended to him. Passports delivered to Englishmen must be vised by some Prussian consular agent, either in Great Britain or on the Continent, previously to entering the Prussian dominions. Passports are still required for traveling in Prussia. The Prussian Consul-general in London no longer issues passports to British subjects, but will vise those of the British Secretary of State at his office, 106, Fenchurch Street, every day from 10 to 4, for which a fee of 4s. is charged.

Austrian Passport

The Austrian ambassador in London will neither give a passport to an Englishman nor countersign any, except that issued by the British Secretary of State.

For the traveler bound to any part of the Austrian dominions, or Italy, the Austrian signature is indispensable, and it is, therefore, a matter of necessity to obtain it, if not in London, at one of the great capitals on the Continent-at Paris, Brussels, the Hague, Frankfurt, Carlsruhe, Berlin, Dresden, Berne in Switzerland, or Munich-where an Austrian minister resides.

The traveler must even go out of his way to secure it, or else when he arrives at the Austrian frontier he will either be compelled to retrace his steps or will be kept under the surveillance of the police until his passport is sent to the nearest place where an English and Austrian ambassador reside, to be authenticated by the one and signed by the other.

An Englishman’s passport ought also to be signed by his minister at the first English Embassy.

British Secretary of State’s Passport How to get a passport in 1850?

The British Secretary of State’s passport may be obtained at the Foreign Office in London (since February 1851) by British subjects properly recommended by a Banker, an M.P., or Peer, on payment of 7s. 6d, and is the best certificate of nationality that an Englishman can carry abroad: indeed no Englishman at present should travel without it.

Continental tourists are recommended to procure a Foreign Office passport and have it countersigned, before leaving London, by the authorities of the various countries they intend to visit. * They will thus save much time and avoid inconvenience, the Foreign Secretary’s passport being readily admitted all over the Continent.

* Mr. Lee, bookseller, of 440, West Strand, will procure passports and vises at a moderate remuneration for his trouble, and have them mounted in a case.

British passport 1850s by Lee & Carter, London
Lee & Carter customized passport, mid 19th Century, London. Also showing ads.

Read more about customized passports…

Application for Foreign Office passports must be made in writing; and addressed to Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, with the word ‘passport’ written upon the corner. Foreign Office passports are granted only to British subjects, including in that description foreigners who have been naturalized.

Passports are granted between the hours of 12 and 4, on the day following that on which the application for the passport has been received, to persons who are either known to the Secretary of State or recommended to him by some person who is known to him; or upon the written application of any banking firm established in London or any other part of the United Kingdom.

Passports cannot be sent by the Foreign Office to persons already abroad. Such persons should apply to the nearest British mission or consulate. Foreign Office passports must be countersigned at the mission, or some consulate in England, of the Government of the country which the bearer intends to visit.

A Foreign Office passport granted for one journey may be used for any subsequent journey if countersigned afresh by the ministers or consuls of the countries which the bearer intends to visit.

Passport of Consuls at British Seaports and Foreign Seaports

Her Britannic Majesty’s consuls abroad, at Calais, Boulogne, Ostend, Antwerp, Rotterdam, Hamburg, &c., can give a passport to a British subject (charge 5 fr. 50 c.); so also can the consuls of France residing at Dover, Brighton, Southampton, and other British seaports; but it is prudent to provide one in London before setting out.

The writer** has been thus minute and precise in his details respecting the passport, because he knows how essential it is to the traveler to have this precious document en règle, and he has experienced the serious inconvenience to which those who are not aware of the necessary formalities are constantly exposed. How to get a passport in 1850?

Watch this – The worldwide travel of a young British Gentlemen…

**Murray’s Handbook for Belgium and the Rhine. London 1852


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FAQ Passport History pasaporte passeport паспорт 护照 パスポート جواز سفر पासपोर्ट

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...

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