Coins of the Realm: Rare Thai notes and historic ‘bullet’ coins to headline Hong Kong auction


Heritage Auctions is set to host their World Paper Money Signature Auction in Hong Kong on December 7, 2023. Notably, the auction will feature four intriguing Thai notes, three of which have previously attempted sales in both the Thai and international markets without success. While there have been interested buyers, the previous asking prices proved to be too high.

Additionally, a set of rare Thai bullets will be up for auction on December 9 as part of the Heritage HKINF World Coins Platinum Session and Signature Auction.

In 1924, Thomas de la Rue & Company Limited (TdlR) created artwork for 20- and 100-Baht banknotes, as documented in the book “Siam Specimen Banknotes Second Series” under references #AA.II-21 and AA.II-22. These notes, bearing the date 1st July 1926, featured the portrait of King Vajiravudh, Rama VI, with a prefix of B/78 and the number 98199. The upper margin was marked with a pencil-dated 1924.

These artworks were likely intended as an alternative for the Royal Ploughing Ceremony. However, King Vajiravudh, Rama VI, expressed his preference against having his portrait on the banknotes. Consequently, the 20- and 100-Baht artworks, considered UNIQUE, were produced by TdlR. They were later sold directly to the present owner.

From the end of February to the 19th of March 1932, Sidney Lamert, the Chairman and Managing Director of Thomas de la Rue & Company Limited (TdlR), visited Bangkok. His visit was primarily focused on discussions regarding the continuation of producing banknotes for Siam. TdlR had initially secured a bid on December 1, 1923, winning the contract to print Second Series Banknotes for Siam in competition with four other banknote printers. Originally contracted for a period of five years, it is noteworthy that in 1932, TdlR was still actively printing banknotes for Siam, indicating the signing of a new contract for an extended period. Lamert’s visit to Bangkok also encompassed discussions on additional projects, such as the printing of new poll tax receipt forms and stamps.

Thomas de la Rue & Company Limited (TdlR) received information that King Prajadhipok, Rama VII, did not object to having his portrait on the banknotes. In response, TdlR made the decision to replace the original portrait of Rama VI with that of Rama VII on the 1924 artwork for the 20- and 100-Baht banknotes. This replacement was carried out by hand, akin to the other manual processes involved in the creation of the artwork.

The 20- and 100-Baht artworks, along with the newly produced 5- and 10-Baht notes, were presented by Sidney Lamert during a meeting in Bangkok in March 1932. The 5- and 10-Baht notes were also hand-executed. Before the meeting, when TdlR initially produced the 5- and 10-Baht notes, the artist at TdlR inadvertently used the old legend from the Second Series Banknotes, Type I: “Promised to pay to the Bearer on demand in Siamese currency.” The Treasure Department in Bangkok took note of this discrepancy.

The correct legend, as per the Second Series Banknotes Type II introduced in 1928, was “This note is legal tender according to the law.” Interestingly, this change in the legend was accurately implemented on the artwork for the 20- and 100-Baht notes originally produced in 1924. It’s worth noting that not only was the portrait changed on the 20- and 100-Baht notes, but the legend was also appropriately updated after 1928. The original artworks from 1924 for these denominations must have initially featured the old legend before the correction was made.

In his extracts dated 4th March 1932 to Thomas de la Rue & Company Limited (TdlR), Sidney Lamert emphasized a crucial detail: “Note carefully: On all the designs the Siamese wording is to be the same as on the present notes, i.e. the wording about the notes being legal tender and not the wording which were used before, and was changed when we made the new plates. Some of the new designs have the old wording on. Please be careful with this”.

The 10 Baht note dated 1st July 1926, with the prefix and number B/78 00000, set to be auctioned in Hong Kong on 7th December, features a design that was not officially approved. The unapproved design includes Rama VII in profile at the left, a Garuda bird at the top center, a water buffalo and farmer with a plough at the low center, coconut palms to the left, the value at the center and at three corners, and a three-headed elephant at the low right.

In a letter dated 11th March, Sidney Lamert provided general instructions for the Third Series banknotes. The most crucial aspect was the attached King’s portrait, emphasizing a full-face depiction to be engraved with the utmost precision. Lamert expressed dissatisfaction with the side profile used in the initial design, citing its poor execution in Waterlow’s Commemorative Stamps. He advised against the inclusion of stray coconut palms and recommended the preference for firmer and more lifelike banana trees.

The final approved design of the 10 Baht banknote was initialed as approved by the Minister of Finance and the Comptroller General. Notably, the approved portrait of the King was presented in a full-face orientation, deviating from the initial side profile designs in the four artworks.

The 5- and 10-Baht notes, both dated 1st July 1926 and produced before the meeting in Bangkok in March 1932, were auctioned by Spink in 2009. According to Spink, the family of an individual who worked for Thomas de la Rue & Company Limited (TdlR) at the time they were produced consigned both notes.

The 10 Baht note was auctioned in Singapore on Saturday, 4th July 2009, with an estimated value of S$ 10,000 -12,000. Remarkably, it sold for an impressive S$ 70,000, equivalent to close to THB 1,900,000, including the premium. The 5 Baht note was sold in London on 30th September 2009. Initially estimated to be GBP 8,000 – 10,000, it fetched GBP 14,000, translating to almost THB 900,000, including the premium for this UNIQUE artwork.

Heritage Auctions has provided an estimated value for the 10 Baht note in the upcoming Hong Kong auction on the 7th of December. The estimate ranges from US$ 30,000 and up, approximately THB 1,060,000, with a starting price of US$ 15,000, around THB 530,000. This valuation seems reasonable, considering the unique nature of the one-sided artwork.

The artwork is graded by Paper Money Guaranty (PMG) as 63, indicating it is in Choice Uncirculated condition. Despite being in the market for around THB 3,000,000 for several years, the UNIQUE artwork did not find a buyer at this price.

On March 7th, 1934, Thomas de la Rue & Company Limited (TdlR) dispatched a registered postal packet to H.E. The Siamese Minister in London, Phya Subarn Sompati. This packet included three specimen banknotes of the new Third Series 20 Baht, which were dated 11 February 1933, featuring the prefix E/100 and the number 00000. Subsequently, on March 9th, the First Secretary of the delegation acknowledged the receipt, confirming that the specimen notes had been forwarded by airmail to Bangkok.

It’s noteworthy that some of the other denominations of Specimen Banknotes from the Third Series shared the same prefix and number, specifically the 100- and 1000-Baht notes. Importantly, these denominations were never printed for circulation.

On April 12th, the 20 Baht specimen banknote was returned to Thomas de la Rue & Company Limited (TdlR), having received approval from the Ministry of Finance. The Minister of Finance, H.E. Chao Phraya Sridhamadhilbes, initialled the left lower margin, while H.E. Phya Chaiyos Sombathi, the Comptroller General, initialed the right lower margin.

Out of the three banknotes originally sent to the Siamese Minister in London, the Legation in London retained one, the Ministry of Finance in Bangkok retained another, and TdlR retained the one that had been initialed by the Ministry of Finance.

Thomas de la Rue & Company Limited (TdlR) maintained an archive for storing banknotes scheduled for printing. The 20 Baht note dated 11th February 1933, designated for printing, was assigned the archive number 79F, as indicated in pencil in the upper right corner. Banknotes housed in the archives were typically affixed with glue on one side for organizational purposes, and remnants of this glue residue can often be observed, as seen on the left-hand side of this particular banknote.

It is indeed highly uncommon to come across a banknote signed by a monarch. In the Heritage Auction in Hong Kong, there is a notable specimen—a 20 Baht banknote dated 11th February 1932 with the prefix E/100—bearing the signature of King Prajadhipok, Rama VII. This banknote is presented in a display mounting, likely produced at a later date. Machine-written text on the mounting indicates that “THIS 20 TICAL NOTE WAS SIGNED ON 14 JUNE 1934 BY H.M. KING PRAJADHIPOK TO COMMEMORATE THE VISIT TO BUNHILL ROW OF HIS SON PRINCE DEVAVONGS.”

King Prajadhipok did not have a son named Prince Devavongs. Instead, there were two former Ministers of Foreign Affairs with the name Devawongse. Prince Devawongse Varoparak served as the Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1885 until 1923, passing away on 28th June 1923 at the age of 64. His son, Prince Devawongse Varadaya, subsequently became the Minister of Finance from 1924 to 1932.

Given the birth year of Prince Devawongse Varadaya (1883) and King Prajadhipok (1893), it is unlikely that Prince Devawongse Varadaya would have been introduced as the son of King Prajadhipok. Instead, it is probable that the individual commemorated in the inscription was Prince Chirasakdi Surapat, whom King Prajadhipok and Queen Rambai Barni had adopted. It is suggested that Prince Chirasakdi Surapat likely visited Thomas de la Rue & Company Limited (TdlR) at Bunhill Row in London on the 14th of June 1934.

King Prajadhipok’s last visit abroad began on January 12, 1934. The journey included visits to 9 European countries, and preceded the King’s eye surgery in London on May 10, 1934. King Prajadhipok did not return to Thailand after this trip, ultimately leading to his abdication on March 2, 1935.

The 20 Baht signed banknote has a notable history among Thai banknote collectors. In Eurseree auction #17 in December 2008, it commenced with a starting bid of Baht 400,000 and eventually fetched Baht 660,000, excluding a 10.7% premium. Subsequently, the same 20 Baht specimen banknote, bearing the King’s signature, reappeared in auction #31 in March 2013, this time with an initial price of Baht 700,000. However, it remained unsold. Following the auction, the banknote may have been transacted through private channels, and more recently, it surfaced in the market with an astonishing asking price of Baht 3,500,000.

The banknote signed by Rama VII was not directly involved in the production process, as it had already received approval from the Ministry of Finance in Bangkok. Significantly, the signature of King Prajadhipok is not uncommon. An illustrative example is a Royal Command from 1929 bearing King Prajadhipok’s signature, which was auctioned in Eurseree auction #64, lot 74, and fetched Baht 5,000. In contrast, the 20 Baht specimen banknote dated 11th February 1933 is exceptionally rare, and with the King’s signature, it is likely to be considered UNIQUE among collectors.

In the Heritage Auction on January 7th, the same banknote, graded 58 by Paper Money Guaranty, is being offered with an estimated value of US$30,000 and a starting price of US$15,000. This equates to approximately THB 1,060,000 and THB 530,000, respectively. Interestingly, the starting price is lower than its 2008 selling price, suggesting a potential opportunity for collectors at a more affordable cost.

The 20 Baht Third Series, Type I, was officially announced on September 7, 1935. Notably, due to the King’s abdication on March 2, 1935, the Thomas De La Rue (TdlR) received explicit instructions from the Siamese Minister in London to ante-date all Currency Notes that were in the process of being printed before March 2, 1935. This directive was conveyed through a telegraph from the Ministry of Finance on April 2, 1935.

The inauguration ceremony of the Bank of Thailand (BOT) occurred on December 10, 1942. General Pao Pienlert Boripanyatakit, Minister of Finance, in his opening address, outlined the three primary functions of the Bank. “In carrying out its responsibility, the Bank of Thailand`s functions falls into 3 categories. Firstly, to issue notes which will serve as Thailand`s sole legal tender.” To fulfill this duty, the BOT established the Issue Department. However, a strategic decision was made at that time. It was determined that, until the international monetary system achieved a satisfactory level of stability, the issuance of banknotes would continue following the existing practices.

In the TdlR archives, there were artworks for two never printed banknotes: a 1 Baht and a 100 Baht. Found in the section titled “Banknote Currency,” these artworks share the prefix R51, identical to the 1 Baht Ninth Series, Type I announced on October 14, 1949. TdlR commonly employed prefixes aligning with standard production runs for printer models and artwork.

Given the prefix and signatures on the 1 Baht Ninth Series, it is reasonable to deduce that these artworks were created around 1950 for the Bank of Thailand (BOT). However, they were never officially issued, likely remaining in the realm of unrealized designs.

H.H. Prince Vivadhanajaya, who served as the Governor of the Bank of Thailand (BOT) in two separate periods (November 27, 1942 – October 16, 1946, and September 3 – December 2, 1948), entrusted the task of formulating the method for the circulation of BOT banknotes to Mr. Sommai Hoontrakul, Chief of the Secretariat Division in Central Administration, and Metee Dulyajinda, Assistant Director of the Issue Department. The printing responsibility was bestowed upon TdlR.

In 1946, Luang Thanatornpinit, the director of the Issue Department, assigned Chuang Salelanondaa, an artisan at BOT, to create preliminary designs for Bat Thanakarn, which were essentially tickets or promissory notes.

The preliminary designs crafted by Chuang Salelanondaa were forwarded to TdlR for the creation of color designs, which would then be submitted to Thailand for the final decision-making process. According to the book “CENTENARY OF THAI BANKNOTE: 1902 – 2002,” the Bank of Thailand (BOT) commissioned TdlR to design banknotes in five denominations: 1 Baht, featuring a Para-rubber plantation on the reverse, 5 Baht, depicting irrigation on the reverse, 10 Baht, showcasing forestry on the reverse, 50 Baht, displaying rice harvesting on the reverse and 100 Baht, featuring a depiction of mining.

The 1- and 5-Baht denominations were assigned the prefix R/213, identical to the prefix used on a 1 Baht from the TdlR archives ordered on October 3, 1950. On the other hand, the 20- and 100-Baht denominations had the prefix B/9, consistent with the 100 Baht Ninth Series Type I announced on March 17, 1948.

In the TdlR archives, a green presentation album containing Front and Back Archival Photographs of six denominations, including the 1000 Baht, was discovered. Remarkably, the 1000 Baht banknote featured a combination of all the images present on the lower denominations on its reverse side. This revelation surprised representatives from the Bank of Thailand Museum, as they had only received five denominations when the transfer occurred from the Monetary Museum at Surawongse Office.

The 1000 Baht Bat Thanakarn in the TdlR archive bears the prefix A/5, matching the prefix of the 1000 Baht notes that were produced but never entered circulation. Notably, the archived 1000 Baht banknote was dated with a pen in the upper margin as 19.1.49 and carried the archive number 80D.

A color design of the front side of a 1000 Baht Bat Thanakarn has been available for sale, priced at THB 3,000,000. Interestingly, both the front and back sides are now being offered in the upcoming Heritage auction on December 7th in Hong Kong. Each side is presented in a captivating red Thomas de la Rue presentation album, similar to those housing the 1-, 5-, 10-, 50-, and 100-Baht denominations in the Bank of Thailand Museum.

At the auction, the front and backside of the 1000 Baht Bat Thanakarn are estimated to fetch between US$ 50,000 (about THB 1,770,000) and above. The starting price for this unique artwork or model is set at US$ 25,000 (about THB 885,000). According to Heritage, this may be a rare opportunity to acquire this particular piece, with the only other known specimen being the Archival Photograph found in the green TdlR presentation album.

Uncut sheets of banknotes from Thailand are indeed rare, and in Eurseree auctions, there have been instances of uncut notes being sold. Particularly notable are the Series V, Japan printing 20 Baht Pick 49 color trials, which have been frequently offered in uncut two and four-note configurations. Recent sales have seen these uncut sheets fetching around Baht 20,000.

Additionally, Eurseree has auctioned several 20 Baht notes from the Ninth Series, Pick 76, without signature and prefix/number, presented as vertical pairs. Initially, these notes were sold for over 200,000 Baht. However, due to multiple offerings, the price has gradually decreased, nearing 100,000 Baht. It is mentioned that both types of notes are believed to originate from uncut sheets that were subsequently divided for sale in individual pairs.

An uncut uniface progressive proof of a 1 Baht note, dated ND (1948), was auctioned by Spink on April 17-18, 2019. This unique piece featured unevenly cut edges, presenting one complete design alongside four partial designs. Initially estimated to be worth GBP 100 to 150, the final sale price surpassed expectations, reaching GBP 1,700, with an additional 20% premium.

It’s indeed a rare occurrence to come across uncut sheets of banknotes from Thailand, with most available sheets having been divided for individual sale. However, in the upcoming Heritage auction on December 7th, there’s a notable item – an Uncut Sheet comprising 18 notes of 20 Baht ND (1953), Pick 77. These notes are graded by PMG as 58 Choice About UNC, and each note concludes with the serial number “02”. The estimated value for this sheet is set at US$ 15,000, with a starting price of US$ 7,500.

In the Eurseree auction #63 held on April 1st and 2nd, 2023, a set of the rare “Bullet” presentation Set CS 1242 (1880) was individually sold. Among these, the most elusive is the 80 Baht coin, with an official mintage of only 8 pieces. Eurseree has facilitated the sale of 4 of these extremely rare 80 Baht coins. The most recent one, sold in April, fetched a remarkable price of Baht 7,600,000.

The other coins in the set and their respective mintages and sale prices are as follows: 40 Baht, mintage 17 pieces, sold for THB 2,000,000, 20 Baht, mintage 42 pieces, sold for THB 700,000, 10 Baht, mintage 75 pieces, sold for THB 300,000, 4 Baht, mintage 115 pieces, sold for THB 190,000, and 2 Baht, mintage 205 pieces, sold for THB 155,000.

Notably, the 80-, 40-, and 20-Baht coins were acquired by the same collector. The entire set of six “Bullet” coins, when combined, was sold for THB 10,945,000, including a 10.7% premium, amounting to approximately US$ 343,000.

The coins in the “Bullet” presentation Set CS 1242 (1880) were created as a commemoration of the anniversary of the death of Somdej Phra Dhep Sriintramat, who was the mother of King Chulalongkorn, also known as Rama V. An interesting aspect of these coins is that the marks on the 80- and 40-Baht denominations were engraved by hand, adding a unique and personalized touch to these particular pieces.

It’s fascinating to note that another set of the rare and intriguing “Bullet” presentation Set CS 1242 (1880) will be auctioned by Heritage on December 8. This set comprises six coins, with the Chang being the 80 Baht/20 Tamlung, weighing an impressive 1,210.4 grams. The smallest coin in the set, a ฝ Tamlung, has a weight of 30.33 grams. Described as uncirculated by the auctioneer, this set carries historical significance and substantial weight, both literally and figuratively.

During the Eurseree auction #31 on March 24, 2013, this very set was estimated at THB 5,000,000 and ultimately sold for THB 9,200,000, plus a 10.7% premium, amounting to about US$ 348,000 at that time. In comparison, the set offered by Heritage on December 8 is estimated at US$ 150,000 to US$ 250,000, with a starting price of US$ 75,000 (approximately THB 2,650,000). Given the historical auction prices for this set, the Heritage estimate does seem relatively low.