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Thailand - Part One

Thailand used to be called Siam; the name change happened in 1939. It has an interesting history, having never been colonised by a European nation, which, as we know, is the political way of describing a country from whence no profit can be efficiently extracted over and above basic occupying expenditure. Small profits and quick returns might have been acceptable for the Romans, but European powers would have needed a strategic reason, and none was found.

From what we know of those acquisitive nations in the early Colonial days, one must presume that there was a lack of gold, silver, porcelain, tea, coffee, rubber trees and the like. The Portuguese were almost certainly the first to investigate Siam and, as they have had a close tie with England for seven hundred years, these two European powers had enough contact and intelligence skills to see the “game was not worth the candle”.

The Spanish, Dutch and the French seemed to come to the same conclusion. Indeed, it was not until 1974 that American and Thai archaeologists found early artefacts in Thailand (bronze bracelets, a bronze spearhead and anklet) in a grave, which were carbon-dated to 3,600 BC. This indicated that the Bronze Age was at least several hundred years older than previously known and that Mesopotamia was no longer considered the earliest known civilisation as had been previously supposed.

The modern Thais are noted for both kindness and genuine smiles; they are generally devoted to their King and, equally, to Buddhism and its deeply philosophical teachings.

We shall start at the World Paper Money catalogue number 16 (Series two: 1928 to – 1938) because earlier notes (denominated in ticals) are rarely seen on the market except for those with ‘deep pockets and long arms’, and even they must wait a long time.

Thai 16, a one baht note, carries a Garuda bird at the left and a three-headed elephant at the right (presumably rare in Thailand?) On the reverse, there is a ceremonial procession, a fairly regular event. The note, dominated by blue and yellow, is framed in the Western style, printed by Thomas de la Rue. The higher denominations in this series, ergo the 5, 10, 20, 100 and 1,000 baht, ALL repeat the design, although the paper size increases each time. The ink colours used for each note vary, as one would expect.

Then things change. The third series begins in 1934, starting with the Thai 22 & 23, 1 and 5 baht, (the first purple, the second blue) in April 1934, which first carried signature pairings 13 and then 14. These feature King Rama VII, and the Royal barge; they retain the elephant and the Garuda bird. They also introduce the Royal Barge. The frame is dark blue with a mix of background colours. The brown 10 baht notes were also released in the same year with similar style, signature pairing and design. Next, 20 baht notes dated 1936 were circulated, but no new higher denomination was issued, the previous design still being in good supply.

In 1939, Thomas de la Rue sent series 4A; this looks more modern with sharper printing on a tougher paper, with the King’s portrait favouring the left side of his face. During the same year, the name of Siam was changed to Thailand, and another issue was produced to reflect this somewhat major change. This made the first 1939 series harder to find than the second, especially in grades above Fine condition, but neither is considered ‘easy’, as one might guess!

We now enter the Second World War, which features the previous series but is now printed by the Royal Army Map Department. Unsurprisingly, the quality was inferior, but there was no other way. As a means of maintaining commerce, these notes were essential; the populace supported them because they must. The first three “Map” notes (series 4B in 1942) were the 1, 5 and 10 baht denominations (signature 17) and the watermark was the Thai Constitution on a tray.

Then issues came thick and fast, partly due to the short life of the second rate notes, no doubt. Of particular interest is the 10 baht (Catalogue types #40c signature 21 and 40f signature 20), which are presumed counterfeit by most authorities; numbers and signatures were added to genuine ‘blanks’, appropriated by the “issuers” either for their own benefit or to make difficulties for the Japanese but such activities could cause immense hardship to the weakest at this time, of course. Paper money can sadly be used as a destructive tool and has killed many.

The 1, 10 and 20 baht were similar to Thai fist issues, but there was a 100 baht note now, sporting a blue temple with appropriate mythological statues, and the 2008 catalogue says one can buy it for $100 in uncirculated grade (Wishful thinking?).

The Japanese continued to “intervene,” as the catalogue puts it, and the 1942 to 1945 Series Five issues were one result of the intervention. The notes portray the young king facing squarely forward and were printed by the good offices of the Mitsui Trading Company and, as such, are of extra interest to Japanese collectors than previous issues; the catalogue prices reflect this interest, believe me.

With catalogue number 43, the 50 satang is affordable and in good condition as well, which is good news, although the remaining 50 satang without signature and block number is more costly. There are two types of Specimen notes which are rarely seen on the market these days, so the catalogue avoids a valuation and, regretfully, so will I! Catalogue numbers 44 and 45, the 1and 5 baht 1942/44 and also the 5 baht 1945 (cat: 45) are a little more difficult to obtain and, as many collectors expect them to be cheap, dealers tend not to stock them. Similarly, there are two 10, 20 and 100 baht notes and a 1,000 baht note, which I have never seen yet. Well, we have traced Thailand from possibly being contenders for the origins of the Bronze Age to their nadir in the Second World War; “May you live in interesting times!” as the Chinese curse goes, things can only get better.

View some notes from Thailand on the site here:


Kate Gibson

Last updated 06/09/2023