Passport Collectors Market Reflections

Old passports are an area of Ephemera which was never in high demand; this topic is a tiny but exclusive collecting niche. Often their collectors are interested in travel, geography, politics, or a specific historical event. Some obtain every travel document (hoarders, not collectors, in my opinion); others focus on a collection topic.

In more than two decades, I have experienced many collectors worldwide. One fact is significant – it’s a male domain! Of all the hundreds of collectors I know or met, I have seen only a very few 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. If you are interested in the guideline – sign up for my newsletter, and you will get it.

If you collect just for “fun” without a real purpose, you will hardly 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 indeed 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 can spend extra money on them. Reflections passport collectors market

Only a tiny fraction of all offered items at all the different online platforms get sold. I guess I have told you nothing new. But you might be surprised to read that this share of sold items is often only 5%-10%. Occasionally, I do some research on auction platforms.

So, it’s of course, my experience I share here with you. As a matured and long-time collector, you always need to stay informed about the items you collect.

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 identical/similar types and yet don’t sell any of them even at a bottom price)
  2. Too high price (The 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. The seller doesn’t have an adequate payment method nor ships internationally (I never understand domestic sellers, it’s the Internet, for god’s sake, and it’s global)

Price versus Value Pricing* Reflections passport collectors market

Numerous individuals establish exorbitant prices for their items because of a lack of understanding. Seller one failed to conduct adequate research and likely lacks awareness of the true value of their possession. The pricing is influenced by their emotions, as they believe they own something unique or rare.

Seller two, intentionally pricing their item too high, could be a collector reluctant to part with it at a fair market value and is solely interested in obtaining an exceptionally high price. They present a pricing option, and even if your offer at 50% less is agreed upon, you could still end up paying more than the collector’s market value. Reflections passport collectors market

Certain sellers consistently showcase identical items every few days, maintaining consistently unrealistic high prices. Despite listing numerous “treasures,” their actual sales remain minimal, with only a few transactions occurring in the last 3–4 months. I’ve noticed one individual who has been listing the same passport for approximately three years without making any adjustments.

Perhaps some of these sellers are in a state of desperation or have a limited learning curve. Alternatively, they may tender to the belief that “every morning, a fool wakes up, and I just have to find him (to pay my ridiculously 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 profit when he departs from a collectible he has been hunting for years. With a price way higher than the value (market) pricing? Well, then, I would be cautious with such a seller!

And finally. Quality Before Quantity! A fact that 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)

Conclusion Reflections passport collectors market

Only 5%-10% of “collectible items” are available to 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.

Your thoughts!


incl. FREE guideline!

FAQ Passport History pasaporte passeport паспорт 护照 パスポート جواز سفر पासपोर्ट

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...

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