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The British Post Office in Siam

By the end of the first half of the 19th century communications in Siam could best be described as inconsistent, disorganised and lacking infrastructure, built on a relay system of runners and riders together with a network of locally based and up-country traders.

King Chulalongkorn (King Rama V) - 1853-1910 was a modernising monarch and after his coronation in 1868 one of his first priorities was to establish a reliable domestic and international postal service. It was the foundation for the more sophisticated and structured facility that has since developed. It also enabled the King to correspond in English with foreign heads of state and dignitaries and build alliances which contributed to the stability and the country’s continued independence.

In 1856 a British Consulate located on the banks of the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok was opened. There was a growing demand for a reliable and regular postal service from merchants and their families living in Siam. Letters were regularly carried in diplomatic pouches between Bangkok and Singapore and then taken onward by the regular shipping lines. Due to the ever increasing volume of mail, pressure exerted by the incumbent Post Master and with the agreement of the Siamese Government, a branch of the British Post Office was opened within the Consulate in May 1882.

Originally definitive stamps issued by the Straits Settlements Colonies were used, cancelled with the Embassy handstamp then later to facilitate commercial mail the stamps were handstamped with an overprint in black ink, with a simple capital letter “B” confirming that the stamp had originated in Bangkok. The 1882 issue consisted of eight denominations from 2 cents to 12 cents. There were different colours and two watermarks ‘Crown Colonies’ (CC) and ‘Crown Agents’ (CA). Additionally, a circular 30 millimetre diameter ‘Bangkok’ date stamp was introduced. It is also known that stamps from Great Britain and Hong Kong were sometimes used as substitutes cancelled by the British Consular Seal or the Bangkok CDS. Occasionally, examples of inverted ‘B’s have been found together with even rarer double overprints with a shadow ‘B’ in the background.

Siam joined the Universal Postal Union on the 1st July 1885 and assumed responsibility for all domestic and international mail. The British Post Office in Bangkok closed on the 30th June 1885, bringing to an end this unique period of Siam’s “philatelic membership” of the British Empire. These stamps are wonderful reminders of this brief and fascinating period.

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