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.
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.
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.
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!
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.)
One 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.