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Stamps of the Siamese Kings 1876-1948: A Journey Through Three Reigns

Michael A. Jones
Silkworm Books: Chiang Mai, Thailand (2003)
184 pages

 

I’ve been buying a few stamp-related books lately, mostly through eBay and other online vendors.  It is indeed a rare occurrence when I find such a book in my local bookshop.  Even when I do, they are usually priced far above my budget as any book written in English – even when published in Thailand – is deemed a “foreign import” and stickered accordingly.  But I couldn’t resist this tiny volume despite its price of 710 Thai baht (approximately USD $21).

Stamps of the Siamese Kings is a survey of those stamps issued in the Kingdom that became Thailand starting with the early local post stamps used in the Royal Palace and continuing through to the last stamps bearing the name “Siam”, overprints issued in January 1955.  Each stamp is presented in color along with issue dates and other details, presented with anecdotes of what was happening in the country when the particular sets were initially released.

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While not at a level a true specialist might require, the book goes a long way towards clarifying the different issues, particularly the complex provisional overprints of 1889-1899.  Back of the book stamps – airmails and revenues – are included as are the Thai occupation of Malaya issues.  There is even a brief section showing cancellations used on early Siamese stamps; the Malayan states’ offices (Straits Settlements) are to be expected but I was surprised by usages in both Singapore and Hong Kong.

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No catalogue numbers or values are listed but those are easy enough to pencil in if one feels the need.  All in all, it’s a perfect companion to the Scott catalogue as well as those specializing in Thailand such as the catalogue published by International House of Stamps in Bangkok.  Those simply interested in Thai history will find it just as interesting as collectors of the Kingdom’s stamps.

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Happy Reading!

SAM_6522Actually, this covers the past two weeks or so as my mail has been trickling in a piece or so at a time.  In that period, I’ve only added 33 stamps to my collections from six different countries, two of which are new to my A Stamp From Everywhere project – Bermuda and The Roman States.  I did receive two books I’d ordered, The German Occupation of Jersey (1940-1945) and the indispensible reference work that is Stamp Atlas.  Rounding out the recent arrivals were several items for yet another thematic mini-collection based around my family history.

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Let’s start with the A’s:  I’ve become enamored with the engraved issues of Aden Protectorate and have been obtaining a few here and there, with 22mostly used values arriving recently – seven of the 1937 dhows issue (a couple duplicates of which are damaged) and the remainder covering the period between 1938 and 1959.

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Next up are five stamps from Bermuda – beautifully engraved bi-colors which I just love.  It’s going to be difficult to choose one stamp to represent the island in the ASFEW collection.  The final British Commonwealth stamp in this batch is Scott #96 from Gibraltar, issued in 1931.

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My Roman States stamp is a used copy – with a thin at the top – of Scott #4c, 1 bajocchi black on yellow buff paper, issued in 1852.  Next to my Penny Black, I believe this is the oldest stamp currently in my possession.  Catalogue value would be US $50 if the condition was much better than this space-filler for which I paid one cent.

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A trio of stamps from the Straits Settlements also arrived.  I’m really interested in this region with the Straits Settlements and Penang State stamps being particular favorites.

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One of my mini-topical collections revolves around my family history including usages of my surname which was originally spelt Joachim.  Long ago, I became interested in the mining community of Joachimsthal in the mountains of the Bohemian Erzebirge and currently known by its Czech name of Jáchymov.  Czechoslovakia issued a stamp (Scott #1413) in 1966 calling the town the “Cradle of the Atomic Age” due as this was where pitchblende was first discovered.  Marie Curie discovered the element radium in pitchblende ore and Joachimsthal was the world’s only source until the First World War.

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Other items received this month on the Joachim theme include a couple of covers – one posted from Stiedra Stedra in Austria in April 1890 and backstamped Joachimsthal, the other featuring a commemorative cancellation during the German occupation of Bohemia and Moravia during World War II – plus a poster stamp featuring the arms of another town called Joachimsthal that is situated north of Berlin.

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Another area of interest is the German occupation of the Channel Islands during the Second World War and I’ve started purchasing a few non-stamp items including a small booklet published by the Jersey War Museum in the 1950’s.

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I’d been perusing the Stamp Atlas section on the Sandafayre auction site for quite some time and so was positively thrilled when I found a good used copy on eBay for an excellent price and very low shipping cost.  It’s much better than the Sandafayre excerpts and will be a much-treasured part of my slowly-expanding research library.

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Finally, as I was putting the finishing touched on this article, a cover arrived from Eckerö in the Åland Islands.  I’d recently met a collector from Åland in a Facebook group and was thrilled when he offered to correspond via snail mail…

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Happy Collecting!

Scan_20150117 (13)Because I prefer the classics, Thailand is the only country that I actively collect new issues of.  I find that most of the stamps are attractively designed, feature interesting subjects, and the face value is pretty darn low – usually 3 baht which translates to 10 U.S. cents per stamp.  While there are occasional sets of three or four in an issue, most are singles.  These usually come in sheets of ten so I usually buy them in full sheets as well as the singles and first day covers.  Thailand Post has been averaging about thirty-five issues per year which isn’t that many.

Scan_20141226 (51)While some issues do seem to be geared solely towards the collector’s market – digital TV, owls and frogs, for example – the majority honor royal anniversaries such as our monarchs’ various birthdays, Buddhist religious days, and the Red Cross (of which the eldest princess is the head).  National Children’s Day is always a popular issue and lately have seen designs featuring not only kids but trying to promote awareness of the ASEAN community’s ten member nations.  One forthcoming issue clearly motivated (likely ordered) by last year’s military coup is a pane re-iterating the 12 values for Thai youths to follow.  Hopefully, the English translation on the stamps themselves will be better than the flyers distributed to schools and portrayed on billboards last year, translations that had all of us English teachers rolling on the floor laughing at the unintended hilarity.  Lost in translation, indeed.

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In fact, I frequently puzzle over the stamp descriptions as published in the Thailand Post new issue bulletins.  On my other blog, I’d taken to transcribing them as printed in order to give my readers a chuckle.

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As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I do prefer the classics.  For Thailand (or Siam, as the nation was called until the 1940’s), that starts a bit earlier than the August 1883 solot issue.  The post office in the British consulate in Bangkok provided a mail service for foreigners (farang), initially using stamps from India and Hong Hong but finally began overprinting Straits Settlements stamps (Penang, Malacca and Singapore) with a large B.  These are quite popular amongst collectors in this region and thus far I haven’t been successful in obtaining one. I do have a rather poorly-executed counterfeit of the most expensive issue – Scott #22 which is priced at US $45,000 unused in my 2009 edition of the Scott catalogue.

As far as catalogues go, there are several options for the collector of Thai stamps.  Scott does cover the issues quite well, although I prefer Stanley Gibbons for the British Post Office in Bangkok postal history.  There are several different catalogues published here in Thailand, most are in the Thai language of course, but a couple are semi-bilingual.  The problem with these is that there always seems to be a lot more of the foreign language than the English equivalent; I just know they aren’t translating everything!

Scan_20141226 (47)The language barrier does create some problems, particularly at the post office.  I do have adequate Thai language skills that serve me well for basic conversation or when attempting to purchase food in the market but they don’t extend to philatelic terms.  Luckily, Phuket is in possession of a philatelic museum and I make almost all of my stamp purchases at their sales counter due to the slightly more than rudimentary English skills of the main sales lady.  She really tries to be helpful, even passing me the ancient and well-worn Phuket circular datestamp on those rare occasions when I want to make a commemorative cover of some sort.  (The handstamp probably dates from the 1920’s and I have never gotten a passable impression from this device.)

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Thailand021-rsOne of the most frustrating things is that issues of new definitive stamps never seem to be announced in Thailand and it can be difficult to find out details once they are released.  Also, an increasing number of commemoratives are issued in special limited edition mini-sheets of four the majority of which are NOT available in post offices.  They are usually distributed in souvenir folders at events associated with the subject matter and can be found on eBay at huge markups usually without the original folders.  Other back-of-the-book items and booklets add to the mix of annual issues (unannounced) and there are multiple pictorial postmarks for every new issue and many local events.  Some are announced in Thai language publications after the fact.  Thus, it seems to be virtually impossible to stay on top of things and form complete annual collections of Thai new issues.  At least that’s my take on things.

There are a few other mild irritations, including the complete lack of physical stamp shops on Phuket.  There are a few that remain in Bangkok so I need to spend some time in the capital at some point doing nothing but checking these shops out.  Also, there are always several issues each year that either are never supplied to post offices on Phuket or sell-out before I have a chance to get there.  The shelf life for many issues seems abnormally short.

On the plus side, there’s at least one major show each year in Bangkok but I have yet to attend one due to it being held during the school year.  If I had the time, there are also active philatelic communities in both Malaysia and Singapore.  The last time I visited the latter place, I spent an enjoyable couple of hours in the philatelic museum there.

I simply enjoy collecting what I can of the country, sticking with the items that I can find at the Phuket Philatelic Museum sales counter and if one of the harder-to-find items appears on eBay at a reasonable price, I will snatch it up.  I’m certain it would improve my collecting of the nation if I were able to read the Thai language but I’ve more or less given up on more than a rudimentary understanding of the language.  At least I’m having fun and that’s the most important aspect of any hobby.

Happy Collecting.