Rare Siam Royal Pre-Stamp Entire Discovered
22nd November 2023
A rare and historically significant 1860 pre-stamp entire featuring a letter from King Mongkut (Rama IV) of Siam (1804-68) has recently been discovered by Warwick & Warwick and will be offered as Lot 237 in the upcoming December Philatelic Auction on 6th December 2023 with an estimate of £3000.
Rare Postal History
The letter is addressed to British diplomat Thomas George Knox (1824-87), who served as the official translator for the British Consulate in Siam, and later as consul-general and an influential figure in the Thai royal court. Knox is mistakenly addressed as ‘George Thomas Knox’, but the intended recipient is clear. It bears two clear hand stamps in rose-coloured ink, including King Mongkut’s Privy Seal. There is also a matching dark-green wax seal.
The location is listed at the top of the letter as ‘Betchapoong’. This is likely a non-standardised romanisation of ‘Phetchabun’, the King's summer palace, which had been completed that same year. The letter is signed ‘SPM Mongkut’. SPM is an abbreviation of ‘Somdet Phra Menthora’, the King’s title.
This pre-stamp entire from Siam is a rare find. Domestic mail in the pre-stamp period was limited, mostly confined to the royal correspondence carried by messengers. It was only in 1880, 20 years after this letter was sent, that a formal Siamese postal system and postage stamps were adopted.
King and Diplomat
King Mongkut is regarded as one of the most significant of the Siamese kings. His reign, immortalised in ‘Anna and the King of Siam’ and the ‘The King and I’, saw an embrace of modernisation and opening-up to Western commerce, whilst also managing Western imperial pressure by concluding treaties with Great Britain, France and other foreign powers. A cosmopolitan figure, King Mongkut closely corresponded with foreign rulers and governments, famously offering a herd of elephants to US President James Buchanan in 1861, this letter being one such example.
In his letter to Knox, King Mongkut requests to visit representatives of the British Government. Among those listed in the letter are Viscount Palmerston (the Prime Minister), Lord Russell (the Foreign Secretary), Lord Clarendon (former Foreign Secretary), Sir John Bowring (former Governor of Hong Kong), Sir George Bonham (former Governor of Hong Kong and the Straits Settlements), and members of the Royal Navy and Admiralty. He also mentions important civic figures, such as the Presidents of the Hydrographic Society and Royal Asiatic Society, and two involved in Siam commerce.
Sir John Bowring, whom King Mongkut describes as “familiar with me in person and correspondence”, had visited King Mongkut in 1855 as part of an official British mission to Siam. The mission resulted in the signing of the Bowring Treaty, liberalising trade between Siam and Great Britain.
This rare and historically significant entire will be offered as Lot 237 in Warwick & Warwick’s December Philatelic Auction on 6th December 2023 with an estimate of £3000. This auction will also feature an interesting and valuable collection of Thai postal history.
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