Imperial Korean Passport

1905 Imperial Korean passport

The passport shown here was issued by the Imperial Korean Foreign Office in Seoul on the 27th day of the 3rd month of the 9th year of 光武 (E Kwangmu, F Kwangmon). As a solar date it would be 27 March 1905. As a lunar date it would be a day in April or May.

The “data page” to the right is in Chinese. The “message page” to the left is in English and French.

The name of the issuing country is 大韓帝國, which in the formally printed English and French translations is rendered “the Empire of Korea” and “l’Empire de Corée”.

The name of the bearer was Char Eui Suk, a “gentleman” (紳士) rather than “merchant” (商民), who was traveling to “America” for “travel” (遊歴) rather than “trade” (通商). He is said to have been 15 years of age, which may represent a count of one year at the time he was born.

The English describes the bearer as “a native of [locality] in the Empire of Korea” whereas the French says he is a “Citoyen de l’Empire de Corée et natif de la [locality]”. The corresponding Sinific term for “native / natif” is 居 meaning “residing” or “domiciled” in the noted province, city or district, and village.

The passport was valid for one year.


The 1905 passport appears to be designed in the same manner as Japanese passports at the time, which of course were designed in the manner of passports in many other countries.

The certificate was folded down the center to make a brochure with the right side as the front cover. A photograph was probably attached to back of left side. Visa and other information stamped or written at various points in transit would also have been on the other side.


The passport was issued during the Russo-Japanese War.

In 1904, shortly after the war began, Korea had become a protectorate of Japan. Japan had long been involved in governmental reforms in Korea, and Korea had adopted a number of Japanese administrative methods.

By the end of 1905, within months after the war, Korea had designated Japan as its proxy in foreign affairs, which meant that Japan oversaw matters the issuing of passports to Koreans and visas to aliens coming to Korea.

1905 Imperial Korean passport issued to a “gentleman”


1905 Imperial Korean passport issued on Kwangmu 9-3-27 to 15-year-old gentleman


紳士 / 商民
遊歴 通商



E “the Empire of Korea”, F “l’Empire de Corée”
(SK Dae Han Jeguk, SJ Dai Kan Teikoku) [“great Korea empire”]
gentleman / merchant
Char Eui Suk (SK 차의석 Ch’a Ŭi Sŏk, SJ Sha Gi Shaku
travel trade
E “the Empire of Korea”, F “l’Empire de Corée”
(SK Dae Han Guk, SJ Dai Kan Koku) [“great Korea country”]
E “America”
(SK Dae Mi Guk, SJ Dai Mi Koku) [“great a-Me-rica country”]
Years [age] 15


incl. FREE guideline!

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...