At the time of his death on October 13, 2016, His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Aduyladej (Rama IX) had ruled Thailand for 70 years, 4 months and eight days — by far, the longest ruling monarch in the world. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth of England will not surpass this length of time until late June 2022, should she live that long. To mark this 70th year of reign, a number of events had been in the planning stages including a grand Royal Barge Procession. Thailand Post scheduled the issuance of a stamp numbered as TH-1115. The design wasn’t announced and the listing was removed soon afterwards.
On March 30, 2017, Thai print and broadcast media included numerous reports of the impending release of a new stamp marking the 70th anniversary of His Majesty’s accession to the throne. While the postponement wasn’t mentioned, much coverage was given to the fact that this would be what was called “The World’s Longest Stamp” (widest, I would think, is the more descriptive superlative). According to the English language press release:
“The length of 170 millimeter is significant in that it represents His Majesty’s 70th birthday anniversary which is the only one of its kind in the world.
“These set of stamps is a celebration as well as a remembrance of His Majesty King Bhumibol or King Rama 9’s glorious reign and tireless efforts for the betterment of his subjects.“
The stamp was issued on April 1, 2017 with the same previously-assigned Thailand Post issue number of TH-1115 (the State Railway of Thailand round stamps issued on March 26 are TH-1124 while the annual Thai Heritage Conservation issue released on April 2 is numbered TH-1125). Printed by Thai British Printing Company Limited in sheets of five, the 9-baht stamp depicts King Bhumibol in six different situations representing stories of the Royal Initiative Development Centers in a panoramic view.
Nine million copies of the stamp were printed with each customer is allowed to purchase no more than 50 sheets. Thailand Post has stated that this will be the final official set of stamps commemorating His Majesty King Rama IX. I do doubt that, however, given the nation’s fascination with the Royal Family and the numerous stamps issued to commemorate past achievements and birth/death anniversaries dating back to the earliest days of Siam. King Bhumibol’s birthday will remain as the national holiday of Father’s Day (Thais regard him as the father of all Thai people; one mourning shirt I’ve seen reads “I miss my dad”) and his death day has also been added to the calendar as an annual holiday. There will be a stamp released on his birthday this year, December 5, titled “Nation Day Commemorative” (no design released yet).
Besides this being the “longest’ stamp, it also includes a bit of interesting technology. Embedded in the Royal Cipher of King Bhumibol Aduyladej at the center of the stamp is a code that, when scanned using the Asia-Stamp application generates a nine-minute video explaining the six Royal-initiated research and development centers. The video showcases the history as well the work that these centers have carried out which makes this a ‘living stamp’ able to interact with humans, according to one Thai press report.
During the past twelve years or so that I have lived in Thailand, I have noticed that the general press coverage (both in the newspapers and on television) has been quite high, albeit with occasional laughable mistakes. Sometimes, I learn something new such as in a recent article appearing in The Nation that says, “During the course of His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 70-year reign, Thailand Post issued 79 sets of postage stamps related to the monarch, in 353 different designs, and sold more than two billion individual stamps.”
The statistics appeared in a lengthy article announcing a multimedia exhibition titled “Stamp Khong Phor” (“Stamps of the Fatherly King”) at the Grand Postal Building in Bangkok. I stumbled across the article just two days ago (I tend to read the Bangkok Post rather than The Nation) and was upset to find that the exhibition finishes on October 31. However, a version of the show without the multimedia elements will be held at the philatelic museums in the Sam Sen Nai District of Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, and Khon Kaen until December 31.
The article also mentions some of innovative printing techniques used on Thai stamps were tested first on stamps related to King Bhumibol. Examples include stamp embossed in gold, silver and copper foil and even a stamp containing an actual grain of rice.