The passport started off as a simple handwritten document which showed our right to travel. Over the years it has evolved into a high tech security document, become one of our most valuable personal items, and is used to prove our identity in a variety of situations. Though we’d rather keep it safe at home, we show it to bouncers to get into nightclubs and bars, we use it when collecting parcels, and we send it to employers to show our right to work. But how much do you know about the passport?
The first ‘travel document’
The very first mention of a document which allowed a person to travel was around 450BC. During this time, Nehemiah a royal cupbearer was granted letters from King Artaxerxes of Persia requesting the governors of the lands beyond his protection and ruling grant safe passage to Nehemiah.
The first British passport
In the UK, the first reference to a ‘safe conduct’ document appears during the reign of King Henry V. During this time, the King could issue such documents to anyone, typically granting them to his subjects to help them prove their identity when travelling. The King did not need a document to travel himself, and this still stands today – because passports are issued in the name of Her Majesty, the Queen does not need to carry a passport to travel, yet all other members of the royal family do. In 1794, the Office of the Secretary of State took over issuing passports and the Home Office completes this job today.
The UK passport used to be dark blue, known as “old blue”, but it was replaced with the European burgundy-coloured one in 1988. Passports are routinely redesigned every five years to guard against counterfeiting, and it looks like the UK could be going back to its dark blue roots.
Handwritten personal details
In the early 20th century, the British passport consisted of a single page folded into eight, held together with a cardboard cover. These passports were only valid for two years and included handwritten personal details such as height, eye colour and hair colour. Any changes to these details were rewritten and accompanied by a stamp to confirm the changes. If you need to update any details in your passport today, you need to fork out £72.50 for a brand new one (it will last you ten years though, unless you need to update it again!)
The restrictions and guidelines on taking a passport photo were not always as strict as they are today. There were no rules or restrictions on how to pose or where to take the photo – on the beach was just fine! You were allowed to smile and whole families could even be included in the photo – the only guideline was that everyone’s face was clearly visible. Now there’s a whole list of do’s and don’ts – the photo has to be a certain size (45mm high by 35mm wide), you have to have a neutral expression (smiling was banned in 2004), you can’t have hair covering your eyes, and it must be taken within the last month.
The introduction of ePassports
ePassports were launched on 6 March 2006, which included additional security features such as a chip with the holder’s facial biometric. This chip is in the back cover of the passport and also includes the same details printed on the personal information page, such as name and nationality. The Scandinavian passport also includes a distinct security feature – if you shine the pages under a UV light, the Northern Lights will appear as luminous trails on the paper.
The cost of buying a passport vary significantly from country to country. In the UK, it costs £72.50, with a replacement one setting you back a further £72.50. If you thought that was bad, the world’s most expensive passport comes from Turkey and costs a whopping $251!
The German passport has been ranked the most powerful passport, with the British one now in eighth place alongside Austria, Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway and Singapore. The ranking is based on the level of travel freedom citizens of a particular country have – for example someone with a German passport could visit 176 countries without a visa, whereas Brits can visit 173 countries.
Thrown away with the rubbish
More than 360,000 Brits reported their passport as missing last year, and more than 10,000 people accidentally throw theirs away with the rubbish! Around 40% of passports being replaced are by people in their twenties, with approximately 10,000 lost on nights out in a bar or club. Costly night out indeed!
The Finnish passport has a drawing of a moose in every right-hand corner of the page. If you flick through the pages it looks like the moose is going for a walk.
If you have any other interesting passport facts, share them with us.