Today is celebrated by posties here in the Land of Smiles as Thailand Post Day, marking the date in 2003 that the government-owned company — Communications Authority of Thailand (CAT) — separated into two companies, CAT Telecom and Thailand Post Company Limited. They come under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT), which itself was only formed in October 2002 and will actually be dissolved next month (September 2016). MICT will be dissolved and replaced by a new ministry, tentatively named the “Digital Economy and Society Ministry”. The original CAT had been established in 1977, replacing the Department of Mail and Telegraph which was formed when the Telegraph Department and the Department of Mail merged in 1898. The latter had been established in 1883 by King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) with its first post office located in a large building by the Chao Phraya River, on the north side of Ong-Ang Canal in Bangkok.
The earliest recorded mail from Bangkok dates back only to 1836 when American missionary Dan Beach Bradley sent a letter to his father in a stampless cover. Prior to the establishment of an organized postal service, internal messages were divided into two classes: ordinary and urgent. An ordinary message was delivered by a regular, but slow, service from province to province. A special courier conveyed urgent messages as fast as possible. Changes were implemented in the message and letter delivery system. Initially, major cities and towns were staffed with regular couriers, meaning, for example, that a Bangkok courier need only go as far as Saraburi where he handed his mail on. The message would then continue to each major city or town by regular courier until it reached its destination, a very slow and laborious process.
Ordinary correspondence destined for overseas was entrusted to traders who were going in the direction of the letters or messages in question. This was hardly a regular or even efficient method of maintaining contact with the outside world. If no traders could be found, special messengers had to be employed for the task. Important correspondence was necessarily handled by specially employed couriers. All foreign mail destined for Thailand arrived under an arrangement with the British-controlled Straits Settlements in Singapore and Hong Kong. The British Consulate in Bangkok acted as the intermediary.
The British Consular Post Office in Bangkok was established in 1858 as a consequence of a treaty signed between Great Britain and Siam on 18 April 1855, and in response to a demand by expatriate merchants and missionaries. Initially, postage stamps of India were used in Bangkok and throughout the Straits Settlements. This lasted until 1867 when Straits Settlements stamps were first produced. When Honorary Postmaster Gardner complained in 1881 that he should be compensated for the increasing amount of work that was required of him it was agreed that a portion of the revenue for stamp sales would be retained. This led to the overprinting during 1882 of Straits Settlements stamps with the letter B, representing Bangkok, for use there. The Bangkok 30mm diameter circular date stamp postmark was also introduced during this period.
Most outbound mail from Bangkok was was sent by diplomatic pouch to enter the postal system at Singapore (for European destinations). Thus most such mail has a Singapore cancel. Some Hong Kong stamps continued to be used throughout this time for mail forwarded through Hong Kong to Chinese, Japanese, and United States destinations. A few British stamps are also known to have been used in Bangkok. Inbound mail from steamboats were kept at the post office for people to come and pick up. The British Post Office in Bangkok ceased to provide service on 1 July 1885, the day Siam joined the Universal Postal Union and started its own international postal service. After the closure of the post office, the B overprinted stamps were seen used elsewhere. An example is a cover sent from Singapore in December 1887 bearing postage stamps from Straits Settlements both with and without the overprint. In my own collection, I have an off-cover single bearing a Kuala Lumpur postmark with the late date of 13 March 1902.
There was also a limited mail local mail service during this time, mainly for the royal family. In 1875, the government decided to begin the distribution of the royal newspaper Court to citizens in Bangkok, rather than require them to come to an office in the Grand Palace and pick it up. Crudely=printed local stamps were attached to the wrapper of the newspaper and couriers were hired to deliver Court to subscribers. This marked the beginning of a postal service. For deliveries within Bangkok, the price was one att, anywhere outside the city it doubled to two att. The newspaper failed soon after and with its demise, stamps and postmen also became redundant.
In 1881 King Chulalongkorn noted that “…the introduction of modern postal and telegraphic systems for using in the country would greatly help to develop trade and commerce as well as to ensure and accelerate the dispatch of official and individual correspondence…” The monarch appointed one prince and one high-ranking official to oversee “…the organisation of a Local Letter Post for the City of Bangkok as an experiment with a view to expanding same throughout the country.”
The first major hurdle to overcome was house numbering. Previously unknown in Bangkok, residences had to be numbered or identified in some unique way to simplify the delivery of mail. There was also a problem of public resistance to house numbering, as many people were afraid that they would be compelled to contribute funds to the fledgling postal service. Others were worried that they would be taxed more. The public acquiesced after the government issued a statement clarifying the aims of the new postal system, outlining the reasons for its inception, and assuring the public that they would not be subject to new or increased taxes.
The Department of Postal Mail was established in 1883 with Prince Bhanarungsi as director-general. A number of Europeans were employed as officials in the initial stages to oversee the service. Thais gradually replaced them. The main post office was located on the Chao Phrya River, near the mouth of the Ong Ang Canal, with a series of postage stamp shops dotted about the city and countryside serving as postal branches. In the early years there were no postal boxes and people wanting to post a letter had to go to their nearest postage stamp shop. Shopkeepers were paid four baht per month to take care of the postal box in their shop. The postal service proved very popular and within a short time an average of 127 letters a day was being posted.
The first postage stamps issued for Siam proper were released on 4 August 1883, the Solot (โสฬส) series printed by Waterlow & Sons Ltd. of London. It consisted of six face values — one solot (โสฬส, equal to one sixteenth of a fueang), one att (อัฐ, one eighth of a fueang), one siao (เสี้ยว, one quarter of a fueang), one sik (ซีก, half of a fueang), one fueang (เฟื้อง, one eighth of a baht), and one salueng (สลึง, one quarter of a baht). These were the currency units — based on weight — prior to the 1897 decimalization of the baht (บาท) in which one baht equaled 100 satang (สตางค์). Coins denominated in these old units were issued until 1910, and the amount of 25 satang is still commonly referred to as a salueng, as is the 25-satang coin. The baht was originally known to foreigners by the term tical, which was used in English language text on banknotes until 1925. Until 27 November 1902, the baht was fixed on a purely silver basis, with 15 grams of silver to the baht.
The stamps in the Solot series depicted King Chulalongkorn in profile, facing the frame’s left, and were neither marked with the country name nor values in an international script. This necessitated the series’ replacement in 1887 to comply with the standards of the Universal Postal Union, which Siam had joined in 1885. It is the only series to refer to each of the old currency units; subsequent issues had their values denominated in att. The one-fueang stamp never entered circulation as they were not delivered in time for the postal service’s opening.
In 1885, the postal service was gradually extended throughout Thailand with the first up-country branch established at Samut Prakan. Others were soon set up at Bang Pa-in, Nakhon Pathom, Samut Sakhon, Samut Songkhram, Ratchaburi, and Phetburi among others. A letter took two days to go from Bangkok to Nakhon Pathom and four days between Bangkok and Phetburi. Parcels and registered mail were included in the system from the very beginning, although there were restrictions on certain items. For example, dynamite and other explosives were prohibited and any person found violating the law could be fined up to 800 baht. At the time, communication in Thailand was largely conducted via waterways and bullock cart. Roads were few and the railway was still some years off. When the postal service extended to Chiang Mai, the route went up the Chao Phrya River to Nakhon Sawan, and then took a branch of the river as far as Uttaradit where it went by road through Phrae, Lampang, and Lamphun before reaching Chiang Mai. The whole process took around 15 days.
In April 1886, the postal offices located in Phuket and in the vassal state of Kedah participated in a direct exchange of mail with Penang. In the same year, direct closed mail began being sent to France and Italy. In June 1886, a line was opened between Chiang Mai and Rangoon that saw mail delivered from and to Bangkok. Mail from the north of Thailand that was destined for Europe was also dispatched via Rangoon. A mail delivery line between Bangkok and Saigon was established in March 1887 while in June 1888, an agreement was reached with the Straits Settlements for the exchange of parcels. In December 1889, the agreement was extended to include India and Britain. A similar arrangement was made with Hong Kong and this enabled correspondence to travel from Thailand to Japan, Macau, and the Chinese treaty ports. In 1890, an agreement was reached with Germany whereby parcels were sent on British steamers to London and then forwarded. A year later, German vessels began taking parcels direct to Hamburg and then dispatched throughout central Europe.
In the initial stages, the postal service focussed on overseas deliveries and receipts. One of the main reasons for this was that the average Thai person living in the interior was illiterate and therefore rarely wrote or received mail. Additionally, traders needed to maintain communication with their overseas markets, receivers, and suppliers. Domestically, the government concluded agreements in the 1890s with the Siam Steam Navigation Company to transport mail between Bangkok and the Thai ports along the east and west coasts. The construction and expansion of the rail network made it a viable alternative to water-borne delivery of the mail, and in 1905, the Postal Department arranged for the establishment of post offices at each station. A few years later, mail vans were used to collect mail from post boxes and delivered to the stations. By 1917, with the completion of much of the rail network, the number of ports at which vessels of the Siam Steam Navigation Company were required to call was substantially cut back.
An experimental airmail service, handled by military planes, between Bangkok and Chantaburi was begun in February 1919 and proved so successful that it was expanded to Khorat, Roi-Et, and Ubon Ratchathani in 1922. Mail from Khorat to Nong Khai, which had previously taken up to 14 days, was reduced by air services to around four hours.
In 1927, the Postal Department reached an agreement with the Interior Ministry to set up a postal outlet in each district office. At this time, the postal express service was also established to circumvent theft. Between 1927 and 1935, the postal service ran at a substantial loss, but with increased usage by the public, it had become self-sustaining by the 1970s. In 1961, Bangkok and Thonburi were divided into 12 postal districts, issued with a number, and mail collections were conducted three times a day. In remote country areas where there was no postal outlet or the district office was some distance away, the village headman acted as postmaster. This situation has carried on into the twenty-first century in many of the remoter parts of the nation.
The stamp pictured today was issued on 14 August 2013 to commemorated the 10th anniversary of Thailand Post’s establishment. It has the distinction of being the largest stamp ever issued by the Kingdom, measuring 62×62 millimeters. Unfortunately, I don’t have the Scott catalogue number (it’s about time that I begin purchasing a newer edition than my trusty 2009) but I do have the official Thailand Post issue number — TH-1016. Designed by Mr. Udorn Niyomthum of Thailand Post Co., Ltd., the stamp was printed in mini-sheets of four by the Thai firm of Chan Wanich Security Printing in multi-colored lithography. There were 700,000 copies of the 10 baht stamp printed, which depicts a design meant to “present the company’s commitment as Human Networking” (I love Thailand Post’s Thinglish in their press releases).