The earliest physical evidence of a passport, or, a document issued to protect a person's rights while traveling through a foreign land, dates back as far as the 1400's. The hard to read calligraphy makes it look like any other piece of correspondence from this time period. However, there's something about the evolution of the passport from verbose letter to the colorful blank booklets we all now know that I find really interesting. As printing technology and application processing times continue improve around the world, I can't help but wonder: what's next?
THE PAST: JAPAN
This was one of the first passports issued in Japan in the late 1800's. Notice how they had begun to use unique stamps in combination with handwritten characters. It's also interesting to consider how different cultures dealt with identification documents before the inclusion of photographs and other biometric data became standardized. In the U.S., it's fairly common to identify someone by their first and last name, and even the members of their family by a common last name. But, what about Middle Eastern cultures, where names like Mohammed and Abdul are ubiquitous, and cultures where women don't assume their husband's name upon marriage? For these reasons, many old Emirati passports were issued with duplicate names. In 2011, the introduction of biometric passports, when a microchip containing more data on the bearer is embedded within the cover, resolved the issue.
THE PRESENT: AUSTRALIA, CANADA & NICARAGUA
Australia's ‘P Series’ passport is printed using the same technology as their polymer banknotes, a method many countries use to reduce attempts at forgery. Besides having an awesome platypus illustration, the Australian passport is the first in the world of it’s kind to have color floating images (five pairs of kangaroos and emus).
Similar in style to the Australian passport, the hidden holograms and illustrations embedded within the pages of the Canadian passport come to life when held under a UV light.
According to this article, the Nicaraguan passport is one of the least forgeable documents in the world because of its bidimensional barcodes, holograms, and watermarks.
THE FUTURE: THE PHILIPPINES
The number of passports issued in the Philippines in 2014 topped the 3 million mark, prompting the Department of Foreign Affairs to launch an overhaul of the system in order to handle the increased demand. Among the colorful pages, the new passport booklet also contains improved security features, like tamper-proof electronic microchip technology, see-through image, and embossed effect similar to that in bank notes. The new e-passports have a targeted launch date of January 2016 and processing time will range between three and five days.
For more passport fun, check out the Passport Index's list of passports sorted by color and power. Fascinating!