Johann Wolfgang von Goethes’ Passport to Carlsbad

Johann Wolfgang von Goethes’ Passport
A unique document was displayed in the exhibition “Treasures of the Goethe and Schiller Archives” in Weimar: Goethe’s passport, with which the poet took a bathing trip to Carlsbad.

Wolfgang von Goethe's Passport from 1808 to travel to CarlsbadThe Passport Johann Wolfgang von Goethes’ Passport

On May 10, 1808, authorities in Weimar issued Johann Wolfgang von Goethe a passport as he planned to travel to Carlsbad. The poet’s extensive and well-stocked archive has preserved this document.

Depending on the issuing authority, passports were entirely different. In this case, it is a single sheet – an official form in German and French.

Passport Details Johann Wolfgang von Goethes’ Passport

The paper’s dimensions of 34 cm in height and 42 cm in width do not appear to be handy, so someone folded it several times to create a more practical format.

The form filled out with handwritten information on the Privy Councilor bears the signature of the Weimar police chief Carl Wilhelm von Fritsch and the seal of “HERZOGL. S. LANDES POLICEY COLLEGIUM “.

On the obverse of the pass, the entry note of the “KK border post Oberschönbach” dated 14 May 1808 can be seen on the bottom left. From such visibilities in the so-called “sighting” of the passport later developed the visa, as is common today as an entry, transit, or residence permit in some countries. Johann Wolfgang von Goethes’ Passport

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Passport from 1808 to travel to Carlsbad
Front of the passport from 1808, Klassik Stiftung Weimar

Unlike at present, passports had less to do with citizenship at the time, they were more of a travel document and confirmed that the person concerned had the permission of the country of origin for that one trip. The destination and validity period was specified. Above all, they certified the identity of a person.

The evolving modern passport system is exemplified by the present passport because some German and European states then used similar bilingual printed forms based on the French model. Johann Wolfgang von Goethes’ Passport

Goethe’s Description

In two marginal columns, the form provides for a rather detailed description of the person. For instance, we describe the 57-year-old Privy Councilor (who is actually 58 years old at this juncture) as standing at “5 feet 8 inches” tall, which equates to approximately 1.60 meters. It’s important to note that the specialist literature offers varying information about Goethe’s height.

Whether the height given on the passport came about by actual measurement or merely by approximate estimation must remain open. Furthermore, the passport states that Goethe had “brown” hair and a “high” forehead, that his face was “brownish” and “perfect”, and that his mouth and nose were “excellent”.

(Extract from the article of Dr. Gabriele Klunkert, Klassik Stiftung Weimar, translated by the author). German passport history at its finest. Read the full article here:


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...