About Your Passport, from Past to Future

The number of US passports in circulation continues rising steadily, which makes sense, as the population is rising steadily, too. In 2011, there were over 109 million valid passports, putting the percentage of US citizens with passports at about 35%. But while the overall number is growing, the number of passports issued last year dropped by over 2 million from 2010. And last year’s total of 12.6 million (including passport cards) is well below the record year of 2007, when more than 18 million passports were issued as new laws were enacted that began requiring passports for travel to and from Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, and Bermuda.

Passports of the Stars

If you’d like to see some passports from days gone by, go to Tom Topol’s site at Passport-Collector.com, where he has a gallery of celebrity passports, including those belonging to the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Muhammad Ali, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Ernest Hemingway. Topol also has a page showing the prices paid for celebrity passports at auction, the top three being Monroe ($115,000), James Joyce ($98,696), and Albert Einstein ($93,000).

And Indiana Jones, Too

Film and theater prop maker, Anthony “Indy” Magnoli, has his own gallery of vintage passports. But his aren’t of celebrities, they’re of fictional characters, such as Charlie Chan, MacGyver, and, of course, Henry “Indiana” Jones (young and old). Each replica is complete with stamps and details corresponding to the character’s time period and global travels.

Future Tech

While all that gives a glimpse at where passports have been, where are they going? One possibility comes from the German company Bundesdruckerei, which two years ago rolled out an e-passport containing an AMOLED display. The thin, flexible display, showing a rotating headshot, does not need batteries, but instead the image begins moving when the card is placed close to an RF power source.

This does look cool, and I’m sure it provides increased security, but if (when?) something like this goes into effect, I’ll miss the look and feel of the “old” passports: the visa stamps, the weathered pages, the memories.

(“Passport Statistics,” U.S. Department of State; Juniper Foo, “E-Passport Gets AMOLED Screen,” CNET News: Crave, March 11, 2010)

[photo: “Passport User’s Manual,” by Cowtools, used under a Creative Commons license; chart courtesy of U.S. Department of State, public domain]


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