Passport Colors: Influence of History and Politics

Passports are more than just a travel document; they are a symbol of national sovereignty and a claim to statehood. While their design and security features have undergone significant changes over the years, one aspect that remains constant is the color of the passport cover. The color of a passport can signify a lot about a country, its culture, and its relationship with other nations. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at passport colors, their significance, and why they matter. passport colors matter

The Influence of History and Politics

Passports have been around for centuries, but the standardization of their design and format is a relatively recent development. The idea of harmonizing passports across countries is a sign of cooperation and can be a slow process. The European Union, for example, took years to settle on the color of its passport cover, which is now burgundy red.

In South Sudan, the national coat of arms resembles the Great Seal of the United States, and its passport cover is blue and eagle-crested, similar to the American travel document. This may be a gesture of gratitude for America’s support during South Sudan’s struggle for independence. Similarly, America’s first passport cover was beige in 1918, but it changed colors several times over the years. It turned blue in 1976, matching the shade in the American flag.

Colors That Reflect Culture and Religion  passport colors matter

Countries often choose passport colors that reflect their culture or religion. Islamic countries typically have green passport covers, although Germany’s passport used to be that color, as are those of members of the Economic Community of West African States. Countries like Japan and Turkey have red passport covers, which are a symbol of good luck and prosperity. Australia’s passport cover is deep blue, which represents its national identity, while New Zealand’s is black, which symbolizes its cultural heritage.


Colors That Show Authority and Dignity

Dark colors are popular for passport covers because they show dirt less, heighten the contrast with the crest, and look more official. Police wear dark uniforms for similar reasons. Some countries also use dark colors to convey their authority and dignity. The Andean Community in South America, for example, favors wine-colored passports, while MERCOSUR and CARICOM prefer an American-style dark blue. passport colors matter

Colors That Are Fun and Unique

Some countries issue fun-colored passports, although they are typically reserved for emergency travel documents or for children. Sweden and the Netherlands, for example, issue pink emergency travel documents for nationals who have lost their passports. Meanwhile, the Republic of Seychelles has a turquoise passport cover that features an image of its native giant tortoise. Other unique passport covers include Norway’s, which features a moose, and Canada’s, which has a holographic maple leaf.

Conclusion passport colors matter

Passport colors may seem like a small detail, but they can carry a lot of meaning and significance. They can be a symbol of a country’s culture, religion, history, or relationship with other nations. They can convey authority and dignity, or they can be fun and unique. As passport designs and security features continue to evolve, it will be interesting to see how passport colors develop and change over time.

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...