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Exceptional Thailand ½ Baht Struck in Gold

Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio is extremely eager to present this week’s Asian numismatic rarity for our Hong Kong Showcase Auction which is just a month away. This coin hails from Thailand, though at the time the nation was known as the Kingdom of Siam. Thailand is the only Southeast Asian nation that was never colonized by a Western power, a feat made possible mostly by their capable and reform-minded monarchs, the Chakri Dynasty. King Mongkut is one of the most revered Thai sovereigns, and is also well known outside Thailand as the ruler portrayed 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 passed, Rama III died before naming a successor and Mongkut (as the previous king’s brother) was proclaimed king of Siam. 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’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 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 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 a shift in the standard 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 intricate design of this remarkable coin deserves a detailed description. Though it is uncertain if these pieces were minted to be used as presentation pieces, the fact that they were struck off-metal in gold (instead of silver) increases their rarity. The obverse of this interesting piece contains a similar design to the regular coinage of the time markedly. In the center of the coin is the featured 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. Four six-sided stars (representing the denomination of ½ Baht) appear in the upper and lower corners of the main design, surrounded by a detailed border.

The reverse design features the aforementioned elephant of Siam. The elephant is standing left, within the center of an ornate nine bladed chakra symbol. Four stars surround the chakra, again representing the denomination of 2 Salu’ng (1/2 Baht). The same outer border design that is found on the obverse is present here on the reverse as well.

Look for this and other Asian numismatic rarities in our upcoming April Hong Kong Showcase Auction and Sale. Preview this impressive coin along with the rest of our auction this March 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 and Ponterio April Hong Kong Showcase Auction is closed for further consignments, we are currently taking consignments of world and ancient coins for our 2014 August Hong Kong and August ANA sales. 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.

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