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Collecting old passports

This website displays my collection of old passports, each with passport page images, biography, ancestry, genealogy and family history. Old passport collecting is a growing hobby for those interested in ephemera, travel, stamps, family history and genealogy.

I started with my own passport, collecting airport and border crossing passport stamps, during my extensive travels. Passport Land has an alphabetical list (sorted by surname) of my collection of over 500 passports, and a list of the passports of famous people - those notable enough to have their own page on Wikipedia.

Why collect old passports?

Each passport is a unique document, giving an insight into the past and someone's life. Today, most overseas travel is for holiday and leisure; yet in the past, migration was often the only occasion when someone would ever leave their country of birth. Later, they might return "home" and visit friends and family. As well as the passport photo, passports can contain home and foreign addresses, full and maiden names of the passport holder and family members, and even the names of their ancestors.

If you have ever been interested in history, travel, genealogy, stamp collecting or postal history, old passport collecting might appeal to you.

Family history and genealogy

Old passports are important to people researching their family history and genealogy - I wish I had more passports for my ancestors. Should you have any interest in any of the people or passports, or if you can provide any additonal information or corrections, then please do get in touch via the contact page.

Signed memorabilia

Sadly, the majority of so-called signed memorabilia offered for sale have faked or facsimile signatures - this is never the case with a passport holder's signature. However, at least for US and UK passports, the "signature" of the Secretary of State (US) or Foreign Secretary (UK), even as early as the 1860s, will be a printed facsimile. From 1877-1909, the US issued 369,844 passports, an average of 11,500 a year, and it would clearly have been impractical for one person to sign them by hand. In 2007, the US issued 18.4 million passports. Only in very exceptional cases, or on some official/diplomatic passports, will there be a hand signed original signature.

Forged or tampered with (for example, to change the photo) passports do exist, but they are rare. For famous people, passports are perhaps the only documents where there can be no doubt as to the authenticity of the signature.

Passports of the future

Biometric passports with an embedded microchip containing personal data are already standard in the European Union and many developed countries. These will become more widespread. It is also possible that due to concerns about privacy and protecting personal electronic data, such passports might have to be returned to be scrapped once out-of-date and obsolete. Not good news for passport collectors!

In recent decades, the real cost of air travel has fallen dramatically, making it accessible to most people in the wealthier countries. Alas, it has lost most of its charm. Even worse, many border crossing posts, especially those within the European Union, have disappeared, with a corresponding fall in the opportunities to have one's passport stamped. This trend will continue globally.

As technology improves and costs fall, and if security concerns can be addressed, inked passport stamps and visas may slowly disappear, one day leaving us with just a laminated identity card with an embedded RFID chip. Hopefully, there will still be a role for ink and paper, as a back up for when technology fails, a quick visual control check, and for poorer countries and out of the way border crossings. Eventually, such a microchip might be physically implanted in the human body - this is already being done with animals - but the balance between security benefits and incursions into personal liberty and privacy would need to be very carefully considered.

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