Passports have come a long way. In 1855, when the first official travel documents were issued to British nationals, they were a single sheet of paper without even a picture of the bearer on it.
Today, they’re filled with microprocessing chips, antenna, and holograms, helping safeguard our identities and national security.
But if we want to look at the history of the passport, we have to look much further into the past than 1855.
Below is the oldest known passport in existence, dating back to 1636.
The document is signed by Charles. R – commonly known as King Charles I – licensing Sir Thomas Littleton “to passe out of this our realme into the part beyond the Seas, there to remayne the space of three yeres.”
The passport sold at auction in 2016 for £1,375 ($1,750) in Knightsbridge in London in an auction held by Bonhams.
According to the text, Littleton was travelling with four servants, fifty pounds and “his trunckes and necessaries,” and was forbidden from venturing into the realm of any “foraine Prince or Potentate not being with us in league or amitie.”
Passport history expert and author of the Passport Collector blog, Tom Topol, said: “Early 17th century passports, especially issued and signed by a king are extremely rare to find.”
“The British Empire and its territories are always a fascinating collection field. No other country is so rich with passport diversity.”