Reflections on the passport collectors market

Old passports are an area of Ephemera, which was never in high demand; this topic is a tiny but quite exclusive niche of collecting. Often their collectors are interested in travel, geography, politics, or a specific event in history. Some, obtaining every travel document they can find; others are more focused on a collection topic. In almost two decades, I have experienced many collectors from around the world. One fact is significant – it’s a male domain! From all the hundreds of collectors I have met (not all personally, of course), I have seen only a handful of women collecting old passports. reflections passport collectors market

Each collector sets its price limit for items to collect. Some like to spend only a few bucks per item; others have deeper pockets and spend serious money. In my book, LET PASS OR DIE, I elaborated a guideline for the value of old passports, which shows the level of passion as a collector. Maybe we can call it even “collectors maturity”? reflections passport collectors market.

These are the range of values for old passports I suggested.

Ordinary documents:                       $10 – $100
Rare:                                                  $101 – $300
Very rare:                                         $301 – $1000
Most rare:                                        $1001 – $263.000 (the most expensive passport ever sold)

If you collect just for “fun” without a real purpose, you hardly will spend more than $20-$30, let alone $100 for a document, but if you are ready to pay between $300 and $1000+ for a single passport, then surely you have a passion and a purpose (or just deep pockets to collect still for fun). A collection is also an investment. Collectibles are luxury items. They are unnecessary, but someone has the opportunity to spend extra money on them. reflections passport collectors market

Only a small fraction of all offered items at all the different online platforms get sold. I guess I tell you nothing new. But you might be surprised to read that this share of sold items is often only 5%-10% (at the first listing). From time to time, I do some research on auction platforms. So, it’s, of course, my experience I share here with you. As a mature and long-time collector, you always need to stay informed about the items you collect.

This means 90%-95% of collectible passports will not sell, and this has several different reasons.

  1. Too many ordinary items (some sellers list dozens of the same/similar type and yet don’t sell any of them even at a bottom price)
  2. Too high price (Strategy of some sellers, set an excessively high price but with an offer option). Always know the market value for the items of your desire!
  3. Condition (poor/incomplete item). Acceptable only if a scarce document fills a gap in your collection!
  4. Seller doesn’t have adequate payment method nor ships international (I never understand domestic sellers, its the Internet for god’s sake)

Price versus Value Pricing*

There are always people setting ridiculous high prices on items due to the lack of knowledge or purpose. Seller one did not do proper research and probably doesn’t even know what he’s possessing. His emotions set the price as he thinks he has something unique/rare.

Seller two, the one who sets the price too high by purpose, might be a collector who not really wants to sell (for a fair market price) but only for his own extraordinary high price. He offers a price option as well. Even if your 50% lower price offer is accepted, you still might pay too much (compared to the collector’s market value). reflections passport collectors market

Some seller’s very same items pop up every few days with the same unrealistic high prices. Listing dozens of “treasures” but selling almost nothing, but very few things in the last 3-4 months. I see one guy who lists the same passport for about three years and doesn’t make any adjustments. Maybe some of these sellers are desperate or having just a flat learning curve. Or they think, “Every morning a fool wakes up, I just have to find him (to pay my ridiculous high price).”

Then there is a long-time collector who sets reasonable start prices for his collectibles and lets the market find its collector’s value. His items always sell for a good/fair market price.

Of course, a collector should be able to make a profit when he departs from a collectible he was hunting for years. With a price that is right away 2-3 times higher than the value pricing? Well, then I would be cautious with such a seller!

And finally. Quality before quantity! A fact which I can’t stress enough. Rather spend solid money on one “diamond” than on a few “rocks.” Thank me later.

Cambridge Dictionary definition
*a way of deciding the price of a product, based on what customers collectors think it is worth and what they are willing to pay, rather than on what it costs to producerather than based on what a seller thinks it is worth! (adapted by the author)

Your thoughts?

There are only 5%-10% of “collectible items” available that meet a collector’s needs.
If you are a long-time collector, you are getting picky, and this number is even lower.

Therefore, again! Do your homework on the items you collect and desire. Do your research!
How often was a specific passport type offered on the market in the past? In which condition?
To which price? Market knowledge is critical.




*and a FREE Passport Collecting Guideline!

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  1. Fascinating insights as ever.
    With regard to your earlier query to me regarding Seaman’s cards / passports, I have contacted the Maritime & Coastguard Agency for clarity on the issues you raised and have received a holding response. They tell me that they are prioritising the issue of docs during the current Covid-19 pandemic but will do some research (they don’t know the answers!) and get back to me when time permits. Regards.

    1. Thanks, Robert. Looking forward to the answer. Remember, to send me some of your presentations. We could place it online if you like.

  2. Hello Tom, did you ever hear of a collector in the name of Neil Kaplan? I believe he lives in Israel but all his overpriced items at eBay are listed as New York, USA. How is that possible? He seems to be an unstable character and quite rude. I would appreciate a feedback. Thanks, George.

    1. Hi George, thanks for your input. I do know Kaplan for years and do agree that he is a difficult character. Because of this, I do not deal with him at all anymore. Why he sells from New York is not clear for me, he definitely lives in Israel. Thanks, for following my page and newsletter. Best regards, Tom

  3. I agree with your thoughts Tom – sometimes I shake my head in amazement when I see stupidly high prices being asked or the same items continually reappearing. Yes, the motto for collectors must always be ‘quality before quantity’! Quality items will always sell at the right price, and hopefully that will be at a profit as the family of passport collectors grows globally.

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