Passport colors and what they mean

South Sudan owes a great deal to America. Its national coat of arms (chosen in a public competition) resembles the great seal, perhaps as a gesture of gratitude. Its current passports, which are blue and eagle-crested, are strikingly similar to America’s travel document. Those who condemn imitation should think about history. The new American passport, which was then just a single sheet of paper, was modeled after the French passport. passport colors

Just as a passport represents national sovereignty—it is one of the defining categories of a claim to statehood—so harmonizing passports is a sign of co-operation. That can be a slow process. It took the nine members of the then European Community (now the 27-strong European Union) years to settle on the color of the passport cover that its member states now share (though other features differ: Germany’s document still has stiff card covers, not the floppy ones used by the rest).

In 1976, a year after a uniform passport was first proposed, Britain shuddered at the suggested shade of delicate lilac. Diplomats then spent four years dismissing maroon (“too mundane,” according to a report at the time) and then purple before reaching a wine-colored consensus in 1981.

Even that met only grudging acceptance. Britons sniffed at presumed French influence in the choice of burgundy red, and many also mourned their larger Navy-blue passports, almost unchanged since the League of Nations set the standards at the International Conference on Passports in 1920. Reconvened in 1926, it hailed the British version as “perfection itself.” passport colors

Britain’s constancy in color was unusual. America’s first passport cover, in 1918, was beige, going green three years later. It changed to various shades of red in 1926 and back to green in 1941. Only on the bicentenary in 1976 did it turn blue, matching the shade in the American flag.