Royal French Passport 1785 for US Envoy John Lamb

Who was John Lamb*?

John Lamb was a resident of Norwich, Connecticut, a ship’s captain, and a merchant. On January 10, 1785, Samuel Huntington wrote from Norwich to John Jay, Secretary for Foreign Affairs: “Capt. John Lamb of this Place will have the honor of delivering this Letter. He hath formed the Design of going to the Coast of Barbary where he is well acquainted, having made several Voyages to those Parts before the late War, and resided considerable Time in that Country. He is desirous to obtain some aid from Congress as a Protection, and willing to do any national Service for us in his Power. Capt. Lamb is a Gentleman of Fidelity and mercantile Knowledge, especially in the Marine Department, of an enterprising Genius and intrepid Spirit”.

Lamb submitted a petition (“…to form some treaty of amity and Commerce with the States of Barbary”) which was read before Congress on February 9, 1785, and on February 15 Congress appointed him United States representative to the Barbary States. Lamb was instructed to report in Europe to Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, both of whom had unwittingly named Thomas Barclay for the same position. A compromise was arranged by which Barclay was assigned the mission to Morocco and Lamb the mission to Algiers.

Both missions were unsuccessful. Lamb arrived in Algiers on March 25, 1786, with instructions to try to ransom twenty-one Americans who had been captured by the Algerians in June, 1785. He was unable to negotiate a treaty of peace, and in September, 1786, he was ordered to return to the United States. Lamb arrived in New York in April, 1788.

Read more… >>> Instructions to John Lamb to treat with Algiers for the release of 21 Americans held as prisoners and to secure safe passage of American vessels in the Mediterranean
(1 October 1785 by John Adams)

French royal passport documenting the very early relationships from the just founded United States with Europe. Lamb was one of the first US envoys to the “old continent”.

Document Signed “Louis, Fontainebleau, October 23, 1785, one page with verso docketing, includes translation which states, in part: “…let safely and freely pass Mr. Jean Lamb, deputy from the United States of North America to the Dey of Algeirs…We request and require all governing officers, military, of the law, and civil, to accord to him also in case of need all their favor and protection….” Retains wax seal with the royal arms. 14.25 x 9.25 in. folded. Condition: A few small splits the the folds; light foxing, else very good condition.

France Louis 1785 James Lamb

France Louis 1785 James Lamb-001

* John Lamb should not be confused with John Lamb of New York City, who had been one of the leaders of the Sons of Liberty in that city and had had a distinguished military career during the American Revolution. When the document printed above was written, John Lamb of New York was collector of customs in New York City for the State of New York.

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...