This August, Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio is excited to hold another thrilling Asian numismatic and paper currency auction in Hong Kong. This week we showcase another extremely rare and highly important item. Thailand (or the Kingdom of Siam as it was known at the time) provides the largest denomination from the “Pot Duang” coinage type, the 80 Baht (20 Tamlung) or “Chang” silver piece. Thailand is the only Southeast Asian nation that can claim to have never been colonized by a Western power, a feat mostly attributed to their capable and reform-minded monarchs, the Chakri Dynasty. The offered piece was produced to commemorate the 60th birthday of Rama IV, or King Mongkut as he was known in foreign countries. Mongkut is one of the most revered Thai monarchs, and is also well known outside Thailand as the titular ruler in the classic play and film, The King and I, based on Anna Leonowens’ years in Mongkut’s court. Mongkut ascended the monarchy at 47, after spending most of his adult life as a Buddhist Monk. Once in power he faced immense pressure from British and French colonial powers. The most important influence came in the form of the Bowring Treaty, which opened up Siam to free trade. The treaty proved to be a double edged sword; it greatly reduced the tax revenue of the government but allowed for a dramatic improvement in the agricultural infrastructure.
King Mongkut also achieved great success in modernizing Siam in the fields of technology, science, and culture. Some scholars claim that Mongkut’s modernization successes were a strong case against imperialist claims that Siam was uncivilized. This assertion created a buffer protecting Siam from colonization attempts. One final story concerning King Mongkut is his proposed gift of a herd of war elephants to the U.S. president during the months before the outbreak of the U.S. Civil War in 1861. King Mongkut offered to send domesticated elephants to President Buchanan, but the letter arrived after Lincoln had assumed the presidency. Lincoln respectfully refused the offer, and made a joke that the elephants could be used to “stamp out the rebellion.” King Mongkut later clarified that he proposed they be used as transportation and beasts of burden, not war machines.
This presentation piece was created to honor King Mongkut’s 60th birthday, and they were presented to the Royal family of Thailand. This massive silver piece is roughly the size of a tennis ball, weighs approximately 1.2 Kilograms, and is the largest and also the rarest of Thai coinage. For Mongkut and his successor (King Rama V) there are only eight pieces known of this immense denomination, and three of which are housed in museums. When viewed from the top, this piece appears to be a spherical, but from a front view there are two flat angles forming a valley in the center. This “pinched” look is indicative of the Pot Duang or “bullet money.” Two engraved seals or symbols appear on this piece, the top legend is a chakra with seven blades turning clockwise. The chakra is one of two symbols representing the Chakri dynasty. The second symbol is the Mongkut symbol and is the central part of the Royal Seal for Rama IV (King Mongkut). Engraved on the front face of the piece, this symbol represents the Pali word for ‘crown.’ There is minor evidence of light cleaning from long ago, but it is starting to re-tone. This piece is extremely fine, with nice luster. This incredibly significant item is not only in excellent condition, is highly collectible and also is of paramount rarity.
Look for this and other Asian numismatic rarities in our upcoming August Hong Kong Sale. Preview this impressive coin along with the rest of our auction this August at the Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio office located in Irvine, California. For details please refer to the Auction Schedule/Details link under Current Auctions at www.StacksBowers.com. To schedule an appointment, please call 800.566.2580.