History of the NPS Passport Stamps

Eastern National's National Park Passport ExplorerTwenty years ago Eastern National, the largest cooperating association within Park Service, introduced not only a new item to their bookshelves but also a collecting phenomenon that has grown larger than I'm sure anyone ever predicted. The product is known plainly as the "Passport To Your National Parks". These little blue books, designed to mimic the look of an actual US Passport, lets visitors collect cancellation stamps at park units across the entire system. There are probably few other folks that know this program as well as Nancy Bandley. She is the vice president of the National Park Travelers Club, frequent contributor to the Passport Cancellation Stamp Group on MSN, editor of the most comprehensive list of stamper locations called the "Master List", and most amazing, she has visited all 390 Park units. I had asked Nancy if she would be willing to write a quick piece about the program. I have been overwhelmed with her response! She has produced an engaging history of the Passport program, complete with great detail of her own experience. I think you'll enjoy the story. Thanks Nancy!

This is Nancy's second contribution to Park Remark. In March, she provided the trip report for Aniakchak National Monument, the nation's least visited park unit.

It began in 1986, just after visiting a World Expo in Canada. When you attend a world expo, the first thing they do is give you a passport type book, so you can visit "around the world" each of the nation's pavilions and to remember the trip, each has a passport stamp exotically carved to represent their individual countries. It was in one of our favorite parks, Yosemite, that my husband discovered they, too, had a passport program. It was August 18. 1986 and Eastern National had just put a new product in their bookstores. At the time, I had no idea who Eastern National was, nor exactly how many national park sites there were. And my husband surely had no idea to what lengths we would be going to obtain those little 1.25 inch circles of ink. Now 20 years later, about $400,000.00 later and over 1800 stamps later, we know!

After 20 years, we have completed all 390 of the current National Park sites- it was not that large a number when we started, but like everything associated with this stamping project, it continued to grow. After our first stamp, we planned our next trip carefully, to visit the sites with the stamps. Now I mark stamp sites on maps and then plot the route and then figure the break points for things like sleeping and eating. Sort of a backwards way, but the best way to include as many stamping sites as possible.

During that first trip, we got to search "more ranger's drawers than rangers" as they had received those red and white boxes and ink pad and ink, of some kind of funny color. However, into the drawer, desk or cupboard they went. Once we found the stamper, it was set the date, explain that the country is divided into geographic sections and each section has a different color, which, Voila, is the color ink you received. Now ink the pad, check the date and stamp! Now show the other stamps you have gotten so far. I felt like an explorer, finding the stamp and accessories, and then a teacher, explaining the whole stamping program to each ranger or staff. Each park had one stamp, they were all in upper case and between the name at top and the place name at bottom were 2 large dots. The first passport was hard bound, not spiral and had preprinted years at the top of the pages and was designed to last 5 years. Prior to this time, no other product had successfully lasted longer than 2-3 years. No one, not even Eastern National, had a clue to the longevity of this little book.

The first passport had 142 stamps in it over that first 5 years, which was almost half of those available and represented all 9 of the geographic regions. In 1989, I got a taste of what was coming. The stamp for Brices Cross Roads was lost and replaced with one that was mixed case and no dots between names.In 1990, San Antonio Missions did the same thing. Although the stamp for Scotts Bluff in 1987 was different than the rest, it had a wagon and mountains on it, plus was about 30% bigger, I actually chalked that off as a one time aberration.

1991 started off innocently enough, it was time to purchase a new passport, as the five years was up. Changes had occurred, it was now spiral bound and no years at the top of pages, one for each of five years for this book. So I wrote them in. Now most of the stamps are mixed case, rather than upper. However, the real change was a lot of the parks no longer had just one stamp, but many within their boundaries, depending upon the number of visitor centers and ranger stations. And not everyone working at these locations was aware of that fact. And these stamps differed from one location to another, primarily in the place name at the bottom. Now acquiring information was absolutely imperative before going on a stamping trip as it was really easy to "miss" one of the stamps. Enter the internet- in combing the pages for stamp references, I discovered the "Ironbutts" a group of long distance motorcycle riders, who, as one of their requirements for membership had a stamp rally- visit 25 different parks within a 12 months period and obtain 50 different stamps. In corresponding with several of the members over the years, I complied two lists of stamps, one listing in alphabetical order and the other in order by states. Several of their members started web sites, most notably Daniel Cohen. Daniel and I became quite competitive in finding a "new" stamp and kept up continuous correspondence. The challenge, over the next five year period, was to just locate where all the stampers were residing. To that extent, I contacted Eastern National, who had issued the stamps, but found out, to my dismay, did not keep an accurate list of same. I worked with a couple of persons there, providing my lists and trying to bring their list into some semblance of order. In the meantime, the hobby was growing and several people began a web site with lists of stamps, most notably Rudi Nuissl, with the Master List. He contacted others, like Daniel, who referred him to me. In helping to shape the master, Rudi came to realize that not only did I have really complete lists, but I also had been to most of them. So when work overwhelmed him, he asked me to take on the duties of updating the Master List. It was around 100 pages then. It has now grown to over 225 pages. See everything associated with this stamping project keeps growing and growing and growing!

Now with so many different stampers out there, the passport pages simply could not accommodate all the stamps. Ok, buy another one, unspiral them, add pages from number 2 to number 1, respiral and now more room. Repeat again before years end. Too many stamps out there and growing! For the next 5 year period, my passport grew to accommodate about 5 in one to give me room for stamps. By the 4th set of five years, the spiral couldn't hold enough extra pages- so I divided the geographic areas in 4 sections , added about 10 passports in all for the extra pages and had a set of 4 books for the whole country.

This program has impelled me to travel to Guam, Saipan, American Samoa, as well as multiple trips to each of the 50 states. I have boated, hiked, flew, helicoptered and lately, bush planed to all 390 sites. And I have grown! so much exposure to nature, knowledge, history. what an experience!

The program has about 1,800 plus active stamps, but I have documented a total of 2,462 different stamps since the programs inception. Many have been lost, stolen, broken or retired. A couple went down to ashes in fires, like a heiau in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park when lava covered the old Visitor Center, and Father Marquette , when lightning set the Visitor Center and museum on fire. A few got washed out to sea during hurricanes, like Ship Island and Dry Tortugas. Gulf Islands lost a ton during last years hurricanes. The stamps keep growing and changing and members of our club - yes we now have a stamping club- help update information for the growing Master List.

Nancy Bandley
Vice President NPTC
(Keeper of the Master List)


What a fabulous post! Its great to hear the history of the stamp program. I wonder if that first batch of stampers also included the Affiliated Areas, Heritage Areas, and Trails, or if those came later. Adding all those in, there are now some 453 Parks with stamps, with around 1,013 different place-specific stamps between them!