The Fascinating World of Collecting Old Passports

The passport is a document that has served as a means of identification and travel for centuries. For many, passports are nothing more than a necessary evil, a document to be carried along on travels abroad, but for others, they have become a fascinating and valuable collectible item. In this article, we explore the world of collecting beautiful old passports, and what it takes to start your own collection.

US consular passport Paris
US consular passport head, Legation in Paris

What Makes Old Passports So Attractive to Collectors?

Old passports are considered attractive to collectors for several reasons. First, they offer a window into the past, showcasing the design, technology, and cultural values of a time gone by. Second, they often feature intricate engravings, embossing, watermarks, stamps, visas, or seals making them aesthetically pleasing and unique. Finally, their rarity and historical significance make them highly sought after by collectors. I often aquire an document only because of a curious passport photo in it.

How to Start Collecting Old Passports? Collecting Beautiful Old Passports

Collecting old passports can be a rewarding and fulfilling hobby, but it does require a certain level of knowledge, patience, and dedication. To start your collection, you will need to do some research and learn about the different types of passports and their history. You should also consider your budget and determine how much you are willing to spend on your collection.

German Empire passport 1917 with an unusual photo
German Empire passport 1917 with an unusual photo

Where to Find Old Passports?

Old passports can be found in a variety of places, from flea markets and antique shops to online auction sites and specialized collector’s forums. It is important to do your research and find reliable sources.

Evaluating the Quality of Old Passports

When evaluating the quality of an old passport, there are several factors to consider. First, check the condition of the passport, including any tears, stains, or water damage. Second, examine the stamps and visas. Do research on the bearer and issuer of the travel document. Finally, consider the historical significance of the passport, including its rarity and the cultural context in which it was issued. Collecting Beautiful Old Passports

Building Your Collection of Old Passports

Once you have done your research and acquired some knowledge about old passports, you can start building your collection. Focus on finding unique and high-quality passports, and try to obtain examples from different time periods and countries. Don’t be afraid to invest in a more expensive piece if it will significantly enhance your collection. “Quality Before Quantity”.

Old Russian passport photo of a General's widow
Old Russian passport photo of a General’s widow

Displaying and Storing Your Collection of Old Passports

Once you have built your collection of old passports, it is important to display and store them properly. Consider protective measures, especially for fragile and valuable documents, and store them in a cool, dry place to prevent damage from light and moisture. You can also organize your collection by country, time period, or design, making it easy to view and appreciate.



A Final Word on Collecting Old Passports Collecting Beautiful Old Passports

Collecting old passports is a fascinating hobby that offers the opportunity to travel back in time and explore the cultural and historical significance of these unique documents. Whether you are an experienced collector or just starting out, there is always something new to discover and appreciate in the world of old passports.

So, why not start your collection today and become a part of this fascinating world? I will support you, just drop me a line!



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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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