Market Flash – Historical Passports

For a passport collector, it’s crucial to watch the market for documents, and I do so for many years. First of all, you want to know what documents are available, then how frequently are they available and at what price level. This gives you an excellent standpoint to estimate your passport collection and its value. However, looking nowadays into the different sources like online auctions, classic auctions, collectors and flea markets, etc., we can easily see there is not much available anymore when it comes to quality collectibles of the significance of passport history.

What you find nowadays is plenty of biometric passports, sometimes not even expired! But the early travel documents of historical value are indeed vanishing and are significantly less offered. Once in a while, you are lucky, and you can find a rare document, e.g., this German Empire passport of Duchy of Anhalt, which is a rare find.

Anhalt, Duchy, Germany 1903

I am not interested in recently expired passports around the world, but hey, every collector defines his field of collection. And that is just fine. I am interested in truly historical documents that are significant for passport history or telling an exciting story related to a significant event. Like the passport of Count of Wangenheim, German Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, and whiteness of the Armenian Genocide. Or the passport of Honorable Arthur Henderson and wife, who was awarded the Peace Nobel Prize in 1934, and it is precisely this very passport he traveled with to receive his award.

These are historical passport treasures that you don’t find anymore today. I am still aiming to complete all types of German Empire passports, and I am only missing seven types, but of course, these are the rarest ones. Some types I even never saw in the last 15 years, and I could doubt if they even existed, but surely they did. They are just incredibly rare to find.

Don’t forget any collection is also an investment and as I always pray “Collect quality instead of quantity,” you will find out the value of your collection when you stop collecting and probably want to sell your entire collection. At that point, you will see how well you invested in quality documents. Such documents will always be on-demand with serious collectors and always fetch a decent value.

May the next historical passport treasure find its way into your collection, but be ready to pay a decent price. Market Flash – Historical Passports For Collectors

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...