Passports In Art – Yanko Tihov – Passports Are Art!

Passports In Art – Yanko Tihov – Passports Are Art, especially when it comes to old travel documents with their colorful stamps, seals, revenues, handwriting and of course the passport picture. I already introduced other artists involving passports in their artwork today I like to introduce Yanko Thiov.

Yanko Tihov is a painter and print maker who trained in Sofia and works in London. His work is broadly autobiographical, characterized by his willingness to explore human nature through different series of figurative and surreal urban work as well his newer series of works inspired by history, immigration and changes to the world map. In his passport series the design is determined by the colors and motifs of each country’s passport, which the artist carefully matches and re-creates within the correct national borders. Tihov has hand-painted the texts, seals and coats of arms which adorn the covers with real 24 carat gold, successfully capturing their individual details. The paint adds a unique layer to each work which beautifully reflects the light and enlivens the surface. Overall his passport series serves as both a reminder of the laws and jurisdictions which bind individuals, and offers unique examples of contemporary cartography which beautifully captures the borders of today’s world.

Look at these three art samples which are somehow my favorite of his passport series.

British Empire Passport Map by Yanko Tihov

I love the British Empire passport map as it shows how huge the British Empire truly was as it spanned the whole globe. Collecting passport from the British Empire is one of the most exciting collection fields a passport collector can choose. Many of these states are extinct nowadays and it´s sometimes pretty difficult to find passports from these former British territories. I give you an example. NORTH BORNEO was one British territory and so the had this classic blue passport. I only saw ONCE such a document in more than 13 years of passport research and collecting. I know where this super rare passport is located and I hope in future I can convince its bearer to give it to my archive. However I know its a family document belonged once to his grandfather so I fully understand when it remains within the family.

By the way, Yanko did you included NORTH BORNEO into your map? I know it´s maybe too tiny to be visible.

Europe 1930 Passport Map by Yanko Tihov


This Europe 1930 passport map is also very interesting to see as it shows the nice old covers of the passports. Also during this time we can find some countries with attractive passport design. The Danish passport for example was quite a huge passport even it was already in booklet form.

Denmark 1933. The size was more than twice as big as our passports nowadays.


The last passport map shows Europe during the cold war (1960s). Look at Germany divided in East and West. The West German passport cover as displayed here was actually not anymore in use in 1960s.

Cold War 1960s Passport Map by Yanko Tihov


Please visit Yanko´s website at to get even a better impression of his artworks. I enjoyed reading about his passport series and seeing the maps which are at sale in limited edition. I am sure you will enjoy another perspective on passports as well.


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...