United States Passport 1902 issued at the Embassy in London

United States Passport 1902 issued at the Embassy in London

Joseph H. Choate (1832-1917), a diplomat and lawyer

Here comes another fantastic United States passport issued at the US Embassy in London in 1902. The document has the original signature of Ambassador Joseph Hodges Choate and comes also with the original envelope of the embassy. The passport is in excellent and fresh condition and the envelope is in very good condition. Rarely you find such documents with their envelope, office receipt or bill.

Joseph H. Choate (1832-1917), a diplomat and lawyer, was considered the quintessential New Englander, though much of his life was spent in New York City at the apogee of America’s Gilded Age. As a partner in a successful law practice there, Choate was involved in some of the country’s most publicized legal cases during the latter decades of the nineteenth century. President William McKinley named him U.S. ambassador to Great Britain in 1899, where he proved himself a skilled diplomat.

Served Six Years as Ambassador

In 1899 Choate was appointed Ambassador to the Court of St. James, one of the most coveted of all diplomatic postings, by President McKinley. The appointment aroused an outcry from some Irish-Americans, and one journal termed it “a cruel insult” on the part of McKinley. Choate met both Queen Victoria and her successor, Edward VII. His six years in London were marked by several notable diplomatic achievements, including the settling of a boundary dispute between the United States and Canada over the Alaska Territory. The contested area was near to the gold discoveries of the Klondike in the mid-1890s, and a Joint High Commission in 1898 had failed to reach agreement. A new tribunal was called, consisting of three English jurists and three American counterparts, and Canada was initially confident that Britain would support its claims. Thanks to Choate’s work, however, Britain decided that maintaining good relations with the United States was paramount, and the 1903 ruling decided in favor of the American claims.

Choate was also a vital part of settling preliminary negotiations over a planned Panama Canal. The United States desired full control, but the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty of 1850, between United States and Great Britain, specified that any canal built through the Central American isthmus would be jointly controlled by both nations. U.S. Secretary of State John Hay directed Choate to nullify the terms of that treaty by securing Britain’s acquiescence to the American promise that the canal would give ships of all nations free and open passage. Choate also helped with Hay’s “Open Door” policy regarding freedom of trade in China. Some European powers were against it, since they had made their own agreements with the Chinese government, but the American ambassador secured Great Britain’s acceptance of the free trade agreement.

The Library of Congress keeps Joseph Hodges Choate papers.

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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...