ephemera: How did you start collecting passports and related ephemera?
Moore: I began collecting various things as a kid in the 1970s. By the late 1980s--having traveled a bit to Europe on my own passport--I turned to passports and related international travel documents. I found one or two at various antique stores and flea markets, and inherited a few from relatives, but the collection really took off when I bought the collection of a distinguished ephemera collector, Charles Richard Gordon Stuart--whose collection of railway tickets in displayed in a museum in the UK-- and when I discovered eBay in 1997.
ephemera: Great story! What challenges or obstacles do you encounter in finding new items for your collection?
Moore: As you've noted in your blog, Marty, many people have the instinct that items like passports should be discarded and/or destroyed. That's very frustrating. In some cases, some people are curious about my motives. I obviously avoid recent passports--I am not trying to acquire other identities or citizenship--and frankly, prefer older, well-traveled passports anyway.
Before eBay finding passports was extremely difficult, although many items that appear to be passports are not; if a collector doesn't do their homework--and have a knowledge of at least some basic terms in various languages, especially French--the hobby could be very intimidating. Crossover collecting can be a complication at times; many 19th century passports were signed by important officials whose autographs command high prices. Also, revenue stamps were used for about 100 years from the mid-19th Century on and are of course collected on their own. Seeing revenue stamps cut or lifted from a passport is painful!
ephemera: I didn't realize how complex this area of collecting could be. It's fascinating. And I certainly understand your frustration when it comes to attaining new items for the reasons you mentioned. What are your favorite items?
Moore: Out of the more than 2,200 passports in my collection, I have some that amaze me by their scarcity and very survival through the ages to the modern day: a passport issued by the British mini-colony of Heligoland in 1864; an Austrian passport issued to Queen Victoria's cousin, HRH the Duke of Cambridge, to transit Europe en route to the Crimean War in 1854; and, a pair of passports issued by Hesse-Cassel and Hesse-Darmstadt to the same traveler in 1698. I also enjoy the passports issued by U.S. cities and states before that was made illegal by the federal government in 1856. However, a special favorite is a U.S. passport issued to my grandmother in the late 1950s, who used it to travel all the way around the world in 1957--through Japan, Thailand, Ceylon [Sri Lanka], India, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, etc.--and then published a book about her trip, which I also have of course.
ephemera: What’s your advice to achieving success as a collector?
Moore: My advice is about the same as it would be for any collector. Research as much as possible, track the market, primarily eBay, and the occasional auction house, pay close attention to condition--does the passport have its original cover, pages, photo, revenue stamps--be prepared to recognize rarities when they appear.
ephemera: Excellent advice, Jonathan. What resources and tools do you recommend?
Moore: Passports are in their infancy as a field for collectors. That's not a bad thing for me; I have noticed the competition grow on eBay over the past 9+ years a bit. It does mean though that there isn't a comprehensive, well-illustrated book on passports; a few have been written but tend to be either academic or more focused on the stories behind passports than on passports themselves. The U.S. State Department published a book on U.S. passports for the Bicentennial in 1976 which is a fairly solid resource--The United States Passport: Past, Present, Future, that sells for $50 and more on eBay --where else! ...but my collecting has helped to understand that there are many errors and inaccuracies in that book.
Documenting Individual Identity: The Development of State Practices in the Modern World and by John Torpey are very academic but are "required reading" for any passport collector. For storage, booklet-type passports fit rather well in first-day cover albums--about 40 passports in albums made for 104 covers. Older, larger passports seem to work well with acid-free rigid document holders.
ephemera: The passports you collect are such wonderful and important documents, Jonathan. Thanks for sharing your collection with us. Good luck in your quest for additional items. And congratulations on assembling such a great collection.
Search Abebooks for the books listed in this interview.