Bangkok #12 (1883)

Bangkok #12 (1883)
Bangkok #12 (1883)

Bangkok is the capital and most populous city of Thailand, known in Thai as Krung Thep Maha Nakhon (กรุงเทพมหานคร). The city occupies 605.7 square miles (1,568.7 square kilometers) in the Chao Phraya River delta in Central Thailand, and has a population of over 8 million, or 12.6 percent of the country’s population. Over 14 million people live within the surrounding Bangkok Metropolitan Region. The city traces its roots to a small trading post during the Ayutthaya Kingdom in the 15th century, which eventually grew in size and became the site of two capital cities: Thonburi in 1768 and Rattanakosin in 1782. Bangkok was at the heart of Siam’s (as Thailand used to be known) modernization, during the later 19th century, as the country faced pressures from the West. The city was the center of Thailand’s political struggles, throughout the 20th century, as the country abolished absolute monarchy, adopted constitutional rule and underwent numerous coups and several uprisings. The city grew rapidly during the 1960s through the 1980s and now exerts a significant impact among Thailand’s politics, economy, education, media and modern society.

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 opened on 11 June 1856 and acted as the intermediary for mails.

The British Consular Post Office in Bangkok was established in 1858 as a consequence of the signing of the Bowring Treaty between Great Britain and Siam, and in response to a demand by expatriate merchants and missionaries. The Chief Constable at the Consulate, H. A. Gardner, was named as Postmaster in January 1869. 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.

Initially, there was no date-stamped postmark for Bangkok. The stamps were cancelled in Singapore with either a spider-web octagon, chessboard hand stamp or the ship’s name cachet. The stamps of British India were used at first but when the first Straits Settlements stamps were issued in 1867 those were increasingly used. Hong Kong stamps were also used occasionally as late as 1885. Starting in September 1878, the British Consulate began applying a marking which consisted of the Royal Arms with BRITISH CONSULATE at the top and BANGKOK at the bottom. Both the U.S. Consulate (opened in May 1856, elevated to Legation status in October 1882) and the German Consulate (opened in April 1865) later applied their own security markings to outgoing mail.

When 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. With the concurrence of the Siamese government, a branch of the Singapore Post Office was opened at the British Consulate in 1882. A stock of obsolete Straits Settlements stamps were on hand — the 32 cents overprint on 2 annas yellow dating from 1867. These were given an additional overprint, a large letter B for Bangkok, and appeared in the British Post Office on 1 September 1882. The Bangkok 30mm diameter circular date stamp postmark was also introduced during this period. In all, twenty-two Straits Settlements B overprinted-stamps were issued and remained in use until Siam established her own foreign mail service on 1 July 1885 (coinciding with the country’s admittance into the Universal Postal Union).

Those letters, cards and newspapers bound for Europe were still sent to enter the postal system at Singapore while mail destined for China, Japan or the United States were forwarded through Hong Kong. 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. After the closure of the British Post Office in Bangkok, 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. The copy of Scott #12, today’s stamp, shows a very late usage of a overprinted Straits Settlements stamp postmarked at Kuala Lumpur on 13 March 1902.

The Scott catalogue lists these stamps in Volume 1 under “Bangkok”, while Stanley Gibbons has them a bit later in the alphabet as “British P.O. in Siam (Bangkok).” Scott #12 saw the B overprint applied in 1883 on the two cent rose Straits Settlements of July 1883 (Scott #41a). These were printed in typography by Thomas de la Rue & Company, London, on paper watermarked with a crown and the letters CA. They were perforated 14. Counterfeits of all the Bangkok stamps are quite common.

I have previously written about the early years of the Siamese postal systems on A Stamp A Day here and on Philatelic Pursuits.

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