For this week’s December Macau Showcase Auction preview we have an exciting gold presentation piece from Thailand, known as the Kingdom of Siam when this piece was minted. Thailand is the only Southeast Asian nation that can claim to have never been colonized by a Western power, attributable in most regards to their capable and reform-minded monarchs, the Chakri Dynasty. King Mongkut is one of the most revered Thai sovereigns, and 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 the age of 47, after spending most of his adult life as a Buddhist Monk. When Mongkut’s father Rama II died, Mongkut (a legitimate son from the king and queen) was passed up in favor of an older brother (King Rama III) from a concubine, which was unusual. However, after 27 years, Rama III died before naming a successor and Mongkut (as the previous king’s brother) was proclaimed king of Siam. Once king he faced immense pressure from the British and the French colonial powers. The most important influence came in the form of the Bowring Treaty, which opened up Siam to free trade. The treaty’s results 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 modernized Siam in the fields of technology, science, and culture. Some scholars claim that Mongkut’s modernization success was a strong case against the imperialist’s claim that Siam was uncivilized. This assertion created a buffer protecting Siam from colonization attempts. King Mongkut is also credited with initiating coinage reform. He proposed that the standard shift from “Pot Duang” or bullet money, to round coins bearing arms and inscriptions. Mongkut did keep the denomination system of Baht in place, and on most coins an image of an Asian elephant can be found. One final amusing 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. But the image of the blue coated Union Army charging through the Confederate lines atop massive war elephants is an impressive visual.
The elephant of Siam makes an appearance as the obverse design for this rare and lovely piece. The elephant is standing left, within the center of an ornate nine bladed chakra symbol. Sixteen stars surround the chakra, representing the denomination of 2 Baht. An intricate patterned border surrounds the main elephant and chakra motif. It seems likely that these pieces were to be used as presentation pieces to be handed out by the King to the social elite. The fact that they were struck off-metal in gold (instead of silver) provides them a marked increase in rarity.
This design is very similar to the regular coinage of the time. The reverse design features the symbol for King Mongkut, an ornate crown (the symbol is named Mongkut as well). Flanking the crown are two elaborate umbrellas which are also royal symbols in Thailand. An intricate pattern of leaves and branches surround the three predominant symbols, and at the apex of the crown rays of light shine down. Sixteen six-sided stars appear around the main design, surrounded by a detailed border. This example is the finest certified example and is remarkably well preserved with a single contact mark on the elephant keeping it from a higher grade. This spectacular coin features great eye appeal, exceptionally choice surfaces and full mint luster.
Look for this and other Asian and world numismatic rarities in our upcoming December Macau Showcase Auction and Sale. Preview this impressive coin along with the rest of our auction this November at the Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio office located in Irvine, California. For details please refer to the Events Calendar link at www.StacksBowers.com. To schedule an appointment, please call 800.458.4646. While our Stack’s Bowers Galleries December Macau Showcase Auction is no longer open for consignments, we are currently taking consignments of Asian and world coins for our April 2015 Hong Kong Showcase Auction of Asian Coins and our January 2015 New York International Auction. Time is running short, so if you are interested in consigning your coins and paper currency (whether a whole collection or a single rarity) be sure to contact one of our consignment directors.