Diplomatic Passport set of US Consul John E. Kehl

US Diplomatic Passports Kehl
What you see here is the result of another vivid communication with a reader of my website. I genuinely enjoy interacting with collectors and interested readers, as they are always exciting and often surprising. An American gentleman contacted me and told me about several passports he found during cleaning out his grandmother’s house.

“I discovered six passports cleaning out my grandmother’s house. Three are for my great-grandfather, two of the three are for Germany, and one for Denmark. From 1897 to 1935, he was Consul for the State Dept for nine European countries and Consul General for Stettin, Germany. Two are for his wife, and one for my maternal great-grandmother. I have no idea if these are valuable. If not, I would be happy to donate the passports to you. I have no use for these passports and no offspring to pass on to. I certainly would rather someone take possession of the passports. Thanks, Skip” US Diplomatic Passports Kehl

Now I have eight documents on my desk, and they are fantastic! Six are diplomatic passports, one consular, and one standard—eight documents from American Consul General JOHN E. KEHL and his wife, CORINNE (1874-1950). The standard passport is issued to Corinne’s mother (?) MATTIE LEWIS WORTHAM (1857-1936) -not displayed. US Diplomatic Passports Kehl

Kehl, John Elwin (1870-1936) — also known as John E. Kehl — of Cincinnati, Hamilton County, Ohio; Asheville, Buncombe County, N.C. Born in Cincinnati, Hamilton County, Ohio, October 10, 1870. Bookkeeper; printer; U.S. Consul in Stettin, 1897-1908; Sydney, 1908-11; Salonika, 1911-18; Aarhus, 1918-20; Stuttgart, as of 1926-29; U.S. Consul General in Hamburg, as of 1931-32. German ancestry. Died, at Johns Hopkins University Hospital, Baltimore, Md., April 2, 1936 (age 65 years, 175 days). Interment at Spring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati, Ohio. The passport application records his date and place of birth, and he has been in the Consular Service since 1897. He states that his father, John Kehl, was born in Germany and immigrated from Bremen around 1848. He lived in Cincinnati from 1848 to 1905.

John spends most of his career as Consul/Consul General in Germany (Stettin, Stuttgart, and Hamburg). According to the Register from the State Dept from 1925, his annual salary as U.S. Consul was USD 7000, a value of USD 103.000 in 2020. US Diplomatic Passports Kehl

Attention – The consular passport from the U.S. Embassy in Copenhagen, Denmark, for John’s temporary return to the United States was issued and signed by ambassador Joseph C. Grew -best known as ambassador to Japan between 1932-1941. He opposed American hardliners and recommended negotiation with Tokyo to avoid war. He was the ambassador in Tokyo at the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (December 8, 1941). He was interned until American and Japanese diplomats were formally exchanged in 1942. On return to Washington, he became the number two official in the State Department as Under Secretary and sometimes served as acting Secretary of State. He promoted a soft peace with Japan that would allow the Emperor to maintain his status, which did become policy and facilitated the Emperor’s decision to surrender in 1945. More details… US Diplomatic Passports Kehl


US Diplomatic Passports Kehl
A large folio document with a bold red PASSEPORT DIPLOMATIQUE for Kehl’s wife from 1917.


Kehl’s Diplomatic assignment passport for Denmark was issued on 16th April 1918. WWI was still ongoing, but Denmark was a neutral country, and so were Norway and Sweden, besides four more countries.

In 1920 Kehl returned temporarily to the United States with this ordinary consular passport issued and signed by Ambassador JOHN C. GREW (see above) at the United States legation in Copenhagen, Denmark on 21st Sep 1920. Why no diplomatic passport was issued is unclear to me. However, his travel document states, “…is a Consul of the United States”.

US Diplomatic Passports Kehl

The next diplomatic passport is extensive and comes with plenty of visas and two sealed extension pages. Issued on March 3, 1921. It seems at this point it was not clear for which post he would be designated or if he had temporary assignments.

The original record on his passport is US Consul in BERLIN, Germany. Another document from the US consulate in Berlin states on June 8, 1922, “…designated as American Consul in BRESLAU, Germany“. Further from October 26, 1923, “…as American Consul in KOVNO, Lithuania“. And finally again from the US Consulate Berlin that he is designated as Consul for STUTTGART, Germany. Further (diplomatic) visas are from Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Austria, CSSR, Poland, Lithuania, and France. His wife has her own passport with the same visas (not displayed).

His final diplomatic passport from Sep 1929 states, “…a Consul General assigned to HAMBURG, Germany“. Visas from Czechoslovakia, Germany, France, Austria, and Hungary were included. The last visa is a re-entry permit for Germany (Hamburg, 14 Sep 1933), valid for one year. Page four, the page with his picture, shows a stamp from the US immigration service from Oct 19, 1933, when he finally arrived back in the United States. He couldn’t enjoy his retirement as only 2,5 years later; he died at Johns Hopkins University Hospital, Baltimore, Md.

Without a doubt, this is the most extensive diplomatic passport set I ever saw. A fantastic document lot showing a glimpse of the life of a long-serving American consul (36 years) and his wife. The large diplomatic folio passport is rare, and his last red diplomatic is just in superb condition. This document set is a gem in my collection.


At Stettin, in Pomerania, where there are excellent ship-building establishments, ironworks, and many other manufacturies, a carpenter in the ship-yards, will receive about ninety cents a day for eleven hours’ work. As Mr. John E. Kehl, United States Consul, informed me, In America, a carpenter commonly expects $2.50 to $3 a day for eight hours’ work, and sometimes more. A blacksmith in the German city earns less than the carpenter, a molder more, or about one dollar a day; a painter receives about seventy-five cents, while a laborer is doing well to get fifty-five to sixty cents a day. Carpenters, and other workers not employed regularly, commonly earn more per day or do piecework, which brings them more substantial returns. In some parts of Germany, notably in the Rhine districts, wages range higher than those here given, while in other regions which I visited, they are lower. (Great insight on costs and wages at the time). US Diplomatic Passports Kehl

GRAF ZEPPELIN (LZ 127) ATLANTIC FLIGHT, October 11, 1928 US Diplomatic Passports Kehl

One of the most exciting passengers is Col. Emil Herrera, himself both an airplane and airship pilot, head, and leading spirit of military and civil aviation in Spain. “I am going on this trip,” he stated, “to make a thorough investigation connected with the proposed airship line from Seville to Buenos Aires.  The Spanish government will subsidize this line.  We are building what will be the two largest hangars in the world for the type of airship we expect to start for America.  One will be in Seville and the other in Buenos Aires.

Herrera is going without an American visa and hopes that government officials will understand the circumstances that prevented him from getting his visa on his arrival at Lakehurst. This fact also caused some criticism of American Consul, John E. Kehl, at Stuttgart.

Col Herrera’s decision to go with the Graf Zeppelin came unexpectedly and suddenly, and he said he had no time to get a visa in Madrid. When he arrived here, he said he hoped that the American Consul would give him the visa when that official came here to fix up the Zeppelin officers and crew.

Consul Kehl declined and insisted that Col. Herrera goes to Stuttgart, a journey for which there was not time enough because of the possibility that the Graf Zeppelin expected to get away Wednesday. Consul Kehl, who is here, is undoubtedly within his formal rights but thus exposed himself to unpleasant criticism from those who say he might have extended the courtesy to the Spanish official going to Buenos Aires from New York. US Diplomatic Passports Kehl

When Col. Herrera could not travel because he lacked the visa, Dr. Eckener said he would take him and satisfy the immigration department and accept the responsibility that the Spanish official would not remain in America in violation of the immigration act.

As an American Consul-General in Hamburg, he detailed a significant clash between the two forces at a National Socialist meeting. He titled his dispatch: ―Communist Terrorism in Hamburg.*


US Diplomatic Passports Kehl
The American Foreign Service Journal 1933

Before the departure from Hamburg of Consul General and Mrs. John E. Kehl, who voluntarily requested to be retired on September 30, they have been widely entertained by their many friends and official associates. The Hamburg Consular Corps, said to be the largest in the world, is giving a testimonial dinner on September 22. The accompanying picture shows Consul General Kehl with the autographed portrait of the eight Presidents under whom his 36 years of service were spent.

Recent notable visitors in Hamburg have included Consul General and Mrs. Frank C. Lee, Prague, and their daughter, en route to the United States on leave; Consul Walter A. Leonard, Bremen; Consul Sydney B. Redecker, Frankfort-on-Main, who also visited friends in Copenhagen before sailing on the SS Washington for home leave; Mrs. Ralph C. Busser, wife of consul Busser, Leipzig, and Capt. and Mrs. James C. Crockett and daughter, en route to Berlin where Capt. Crockett is an Assistant Military Attache.

On September 23, 1933, a formal dinner was given in honor of Consul General John E. Kehl, upon his retirement from the American Foreign Service, by the Consular Corps of Hamburg, consisting of representatives from 50 countries with the local American business community. The affair was a remarkable and striking attestation of the esteem and affection held for Consul General Kehl by his colleagues and fellow citizens residing in the old Hanseatic port. Over 60 guests assembled at the famous Uhlenhorster Fahrhaus, one of Hamburg’s most notable landmarks where Ambassadors, world flyers, prominent army officers, and other distinguished citizens have, since the war, been received and honored by the Hamburg community.

Consul General Moulaert, a doyen of the Hamburg Consular Corps, expressed the great regret with which his colleagues witnessed Consul General Kehl’s departure. The prominent position he had held in the community during his tour of service in Hamburg particularly mentioned the unusual fact of Mr. Kehl’s 36 years as a diplomat. US Diplomatic Passports Kehl

Many thanks to Skip, the American gentleman who contacted me and made it possible to get this fantastic travel document set into my collection.

*John E. Kehl, American Consul General, Hamburg to Secretary of State, June 10, 1930, 862.00B/174, Records of the Department of State Central Files, Germany: Internal Affairs, 1930-1941, Record Group 59, National Archives, Washington, D.C.


FAQ Passport History
Passport collection, passport renewal, old passports for sale, vintage passport, emergency passport renewal, same day passport, passport application, 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...