On Christmas morning, Manuel texted me to ask if I was interested in an old Siam passport document. Of course, I was, as Siam passport-related documents are scarce to find. It took me, e.g., a decade to find a 1937 Siam passport at a flea market in Bangkok.
Thai people do usually not collect much Ephemera, except it is something from the Royal Thai family – maybe. Hence, I was delighted that Manuel contacted me. SIAM Passport Document Bunnag
Not a passport but a Siam passport application, which is even more astonishing and rare. The document is in English and with a photograph in an oval form of the applicant. A relatively simple printed form asks the particulars of the applicant, which has to fill out the form in handwriting, of course.
The application is from the Siam Legation in Paris. Now, who is the applicant? The surname is known to any Thai and maybe also to foreigners long enough in Thailand and are interested in the country’s history. The man in the photo is THERD BUNNAG, a friend of PRIDI BANOMYONG, founder of the Thammasat University, the Bank of Thailand, and the 7th Prime Minister of Thailand.
Pridi wrote, “Some of my fellow students in France call me “Professor” for various reasons. Some later became a judge in Siam and visited me at my residence on the outskirts of Paris. Mr. Therd told his family that I was his friend and teacher. In addition to receiving advice on studying, I also helped review subjects for him before taking the final exam. Many people called me because of this.” SIAM Passport Document Bunnag
The Bunnag family, descended from the most significant non-royal persons in Ayudhya and Siam, must be the most prominent family in Thailand. The Somdetch Chao Prayas and Chao Prayas titles belonged to the clan more than any other family in the land, leaving the lesser titles to other families.
A brief Bunnag family history
Sheik Ahmad was a Persian who immigrated to Ayudhya and served King Narai. He was the ancestor of the Bunnag family (1656-1688). He adopted Chao Praya Bavorn Rajanayok, and his daughters married various Siamese Kings. His descendants all held the titles of Chao Prayas and Prayas.
Sun and Moon
The two most significant people in recent history are Somdetch Chao Praya Borom Maha Prayurawongse (1788–1855) and Somdetch Chao Praya Borom Maha Pijaiyati (1791–1857). The former is known as the Sun, and the latter is known as the Moon; they were given these names when King Rama IV granted them the title of Somdetch Chao Prayas.
These two men, who belonged to the sixth generation of the Bunnag dynasty and were brothers, served directly under Kings Rama I, II, III, and IV in the civil service. After Kings Rama IV and Second King Pinklao, The Sun rose through the ranks until he was appointed Minister of Defense and, ultimately, Regent of Siam. His brother, the Moon, oversaw the kingdom’s finances and was appointed a second Siamese Regent; he was the fourth most powerful man. SIAM Passport Document Bunnag
Somdetch Chao Praya Borom Maha Sri Suriyawongse
The son of the Sun was an intelligent young man who worked in the country’s financial and diplomatic sectors. He was also King Rama III’s most trustworthy advisor, was present when the king passed away and was one of the powerful Bunnags to meet with the incoming King Rama IV when he was still a monk. He also picked up the skill of building ships, and for H.M. King Rama IV, he constructed the first Siamese warship, the Suriyamonthon.
To allow King Rama V to ascend to the throne, he was appointed Regent of Siam (1868–1873) by the cabinet of the 20 most senior members of the country.
He was the last person in Siamese history to hold the title of Somdetch Chao Praya, which was given to him by King Rama V.
I also learned from Manuel that surnames weren’t formally adopted in Thailand until the first half of the 20th century (1915). As a result, many Thai family names are very recent creations, dating back only two or three generations. Thai law prohibits adopting a surname that is the same as another family.
FAQ Passport History pasaporte passeport паспорт 护照 パスポート جواز سفر पासपोर्ट
1. What are the earliest known examples of passports, and how have they evolved?
The word "passport" came up only in the mid 15th Century. Before that, such documents were safe conducts, recommendations or protection letters. On a practical aspect, the earliest passport I have seen was from the mid 16th Century. Read more...
2. Are there any notable historical figures or personalities whose passports are highly sought after by collectors?
Every collector is doing well to define his collection focus, and yes, there are collectors looking for Celebrity passports and travel documents of historical figures like Winston Churchill, Brothers Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Read more...
3. How did passport designs and security features change throughout different periods in history, and what impact did these changes have on forgery prevention?
"Passports" before the 18th Century had a pure functional character. Security features were, in the best case, a watermark and a wax seal. Forgery, back then, was not an issue like it is nowadays. Only from the 1980s on, security features became a thing. A state-of-the-art passport nowadays has dozens of security features - visible and invisible. Some are known only by the security document printer itself. Read more...
4. What are some of the rarest and most valuable historical passports that have ever been sold or auctioned?
Lou Gehrig, Victor Tsoi, Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce, and Albert Einstein when it comes to the most expensive ones. Read more...
5. How do diplomatic passports differ from regular passports, and what makes them significant to collectors?
Such documents were often held by officials in high ranks, like ambassadors, consuls or special envoys. Furthermore, these travel documents are often frequently traveled. Hence, they hold a tapestry of stamps or visas. Partly from unusual places.
6. Can you provide insights into the stories behind specific historical passports that offer unique insights into past travel and migration trends?
7. What role did passports play during significant historical events, such as wartime travel restrictions or international treaties?
During war, a passport could have been a matter of life or death. Especially, when we are looking into WWII and the Holocaust. And yes, during that time, passports and similar documents were often forged to escape and save lives. Example...
8. How has the emergence of digital passports and biometric identification impacted the world of passport collecting?
Current modern passports having now often a sparkling, flashy design. This has mainly two reasons. 1. Improved security and 2. Displaying a countries' heritage, icons, and important figures or achievements. I can fully understand that those modern documents are wanted, especially by younger collectors.
9. Are there any specialized collections of passports, such as those from a specific country, era, or distinguished individuals?
Yes, the University of Western Sidney Library has e.g. a passport collection of the former prime minister Hon Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret. They are all diplomatic passports and I had the pleasure to apprise them. I hold e.g. a collection of almost all types of the German Empire passports (only 2 types are still missing). Also, my East German passport collection is quite extensive with pretty rare passport types.
10. Where can passport collectors find reliable resources and reputable sellers to expand their collection and learn more about passport history?
A good start is eBay, Delcampe, flea markets, garage or estate sales. The more significant travel documents you probably find at the classic auction houses. Sometimes I also offer documents from my archive/collection. See offers... As you are already here, you surely found a great source on the topic 😉
11. Is vintage passport collecting legal? What are the regulations and considerations collectors should know when acquiring historical passports?
First, it's important to stress that each country has its own laws when it comes to passports. Collecting old vintage passports for historical or educational reasons is safe and legal, or at least tolerated. More details on the legal aspects are here...
Does this article spark your curiosity about passport collecting and the history of passports? With this valuable information, you have a good basis to start your own passport collection.
Question? Contact me...
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