Sovereign Military Order of Malta Passport

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The following diplomatic passport was offered on an auction platform and is the rarest passports in general. The Sovereign Military Order of Malta or SMOM. It is reported in 2018 that the order issued only about 500 diplomatic passports. There are more than 13,500 knights, dames, and chaplains in the Order, along with 80,000 volunteers and 25,000 medical employees.

Passports are granted for four-year terms so that passport-holders can carry out diplomatic assignments. As well as passports, the order also issues its own postage stamps and currency. Sovereign military order of Malta

What an unexpected discovery

However, the displayed diplomatic passport is an old version from 1959, and back then, there were most likely even fewer of them issued. Many years ago, I visited a Knight’s House in Bubikon, Switzerland, and was surprised to see that they had a SMOM on display, issued to Paul Rudolf Schnyder von Wartensee. His passport was issued in 1968. Sovereign military order of Malta

sovereign military order of malta

This, 1959 diplomatic passport was issued to Conte Carlo Masalli Rocca Di Cozneliano from Piacenza, Italy. It seems back then, diplomatic passports had a validity of only one year, and his travel document was renewed several times until 1964. The passport comes with a red wax seal with is partly broken and incomplete. There is also a slip case for the passport.

sovereign military order of malta

The Sovereign Military Order of Malta

The Sovereign Military Order of Malta is a Catholic order so exclusive that its passports are granted to only a few hundred people worldwide. The Order was granted in 1994 an observer status at the United Nations, which means they can participate in the work of the United Nations General Assembly, though with limitations.

By the way, the International Olympic Committee was granted such status only in 2006. The International Committee of the Red Cross was the first organization granted such observer status in 1990. The latest organization with this status is the International Chamber of Commerce, granted in 2016.

It’s only the second time I see such a document in over a decade, and the first time ever that such a document was offered to collectors.

Vatican Travel Document for a Noble Guard Member


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...