Garry Davis is a U.S. soldier during World War II and considers how a future peace can be permanently maintained. His idea is that nation-states must be abolished, and people must become world citizens. But not everyone likes that. World Citizen Garry Davis
In the summer of 1957, the U.S. American Garry Davis enters the Federal Republic illegally via France. In Helmstedt, he wants to cross the GDR border in the direction of Berlin. But the GDR police officers take him off the train and send him back. The only passport he can show he has issued himself is the “Weltbürger-Passport Number One.” World Citizen Garry Davis
The West German authorities also reacted allergically to this. On August 9, 1957, Davis received a penalty order for traveling without valid papers. Because he cannot pay the fine of 100 marks, Davis has to spend a few days in the court prison in Hanover as a substitute.
Shot down over Peenemünde
Backstory: During World War II, Davis, a bomber pilot, is shot down over Peenemünde. He rescues himself from the plane, makes his way to Sweden, and is interned until the war’s end. Trained as an actor, he has plenty of time on his hands and ponders the question, “Why wait until war breaks out to fight for peace?” World Citizen Garry Davis
For him, the competing nation states are the cause of all evil. Instead, he wants to establish a world government. Everyone should receive the same passport as the “world citizen passport. For Davis, the national passport is an appropriation document to make citizens state property.
Camped out on UN grounds
In 1948, Davis took action when the UN debated the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” and threatened to fail. He travels to Paris, where the United Nations is meeting. He hands in his passport at the U.S. consulate. In front of running cameras, he burns his just-issued replacement passport and declares himself a stateless world citizen.
A stateless man, Davis sets up a small tent on the extraterritorial grounds of the United Nations and writes press releases with his travel typewriter. Eventually, he hijacks a UN meeting and delivers a speech from the visitors’ balcony. The police intervene. But the imprisoned Davis is supported by Albert Camus, Albert Einstein, and Albert Schweitzer and is soon released. World Citizen Garry Davis
Midwife of human rights
Davis events now draw up to 20,000 people. Crowds besiege the railing of the UN. On December 10, 1948, the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” was adopted. Without Davis, things would probably have turned out differently.
Garry Davis continues to rely on individual actions, such as founding the “World Citizens Passport Agency,” where around 750,000 people register. Davis, who lived alternately in France and the U.S., repeatedly clashed with the authorities. In 1984, for example, he was expelled from Japan. He also issued his “world citizen passports” to Julian Assange and Edward Snowdon – before he died in South Burlington in 2013 at 91. World Citizen Garry Davis
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?
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 😉
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...