When do YOU start collecting beautiful old passports? Take a closer look at this article to learn more about the topic.

My name is Tom Topol and I research and collect old passports. What is a passport collector? Well, that’s someone who collects old historical travel documents, commonly known as passports. I began my collection after leafing through some old passports at a flea market in Kyoto, Japan, and since I have visited many flea markets in search of travel documents. My collection/archive contains more than 800 passports and is always growing.

I am a member of the Ephemera Society in the U.K. and the U.S. and in the meantime I am a well-recognized expert on passports and their history with several publications, often for security printing industry. I do consult collectors, foundations, museums, and news agencies on the topic, but also cover current news on passports and visas, border security and security printing.

My core focus is on German passports. But history’s wars, shifting borders and evolving political systems have left behind passports from places that are now known by different names or defunct at all. Such documents tell the story of an ever-changing world.

One of the most interesting specimens of my collection shows how different travel and security may have been within the German Empire in 1916. A document issued from Duchy Saxe Coburg-Gotha features a photo of a young woman with her dog. Clearly, rules about passport photos were less strict than they are today. My website explains that passport pictures were introduced in Germany in 1915, and any picture, so long as they fit on the document, could be used at the time.

passport picture - woman with dog

Fast forward 43 years and a passport from East Germany issued in Berlin shows a stricter organization. The passport featured in the slideshow was issued to a dancer, who traveled quite frequently. One of her trips was to Iraq, which was unusual in 1959.

Another interesting travel document, a passport from the Free State of Fiume, an 11-square mile Italian territory that only existed between 1920 and 1924. The area was renamed Rijeka after World War II and is located in what is now Croatia.

Old passports are ‘artworks,’ as I describe it. Why? Because no passport looks the same at that time, as they were issued manually and not automatically like today. Back then you had beautiful hand-writing, colorful border stamps, and the passport picture was always a highlight,”. “Today you are not even allowed to smile on your picture. In the U.S., you are now not even allowed to wear your eyeglasses.”

Passport Of German Ambassador von Wangenheim
Count Hans von Wangenheim

Studying passports for 15+ years has given me a sense of if the bearer of the document was someone special. The type of passport, family name, and stamps all give the collector clues as to whether I should begin digging deeper to find an interesting story. The huge passport from 1915 for example, belonged to a German ambassador in former Constantinople, Count Hans von Wangenheim. The photograph alone is nearly the size of a postcard. Wangenheim witnessed the Armenian genocide and passed away days after returning to Constantinople with exactly this passport. I also own passports that were issued to Elton John, Robin Williams, Glenn Ford, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate and British Secretary of State Arthur Henderson. Henderson’s passport has a stamp from Sweden from when he traveled to Stockholm to receive the Nobel Prize.

As you can see passport collecting is a broad topic. If you want to start your own collection, then I can support you. My strict advice is always “Collect QUALITY before QUANTITY”. No matter what you collect, a collection is always also an investment and you want to gain value with your collection over time – not lose value.

“Define a collection focus”. This is really important as otherwise you get lost in buying everything and that costs money. Educate yourself on the things you collect. Knowledge is as important as a precious collectible itself. Check your local flea market, garage sale, etc. Online auction platforms are a great source. Explore my website as you will find amazing stories and great collectibles. See these old passports by yourself and you will understand why I am so passionate about old travel documents.


“Tom’s website, Passport-collector.com, is a goldmine of information on historic and important travel documents.”
– Businessinsider UK  –

 Drop me a line if you have further questions.

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