The Treasury department of the Government of Thailand, who are the overseers of circulation and commemorative coinage for the Southeast Asian kingdom, have made announcements regarding a commemorative coin dedicated to the memory of HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej—more commonly known as King Rama IX Chakri—who died last week at the age of 88 after a long illness. His Late Majesty was not only Thailand’s longest-serving king (he came to the throne in 1946 at the age of just 18), he was the world’s longest-serving head of state. (Story continues below the slideshow; scroll further for biography and photos of the late king.)
According to the daily newspaper The Bangkok Post, Mr. Chakkrit Parapuntakul, the director-general of the Treasury department, has outlined preliminary plans for a memorial coin that will mark the cremation service of the king. According to royal tradition, the service may take place one year from the king’s death, and after the official year of national and court mourning. The coin, which will take several months to design and mint, will also need royal assent before it can be produced. The director-general said the reverse of the commemorative coins will have an illustration of the royal crematorium (to be designed by the Fine Arts Department) but did not offer a description of the obverse, which could include an effigy of either the late king or his successor. It is likely there will be four kinds of collector coins, which may include 99% pure gold and silver pieces, and both small- and large-sized bronze coins.
Mr. Chakkrit added that the number of coins produced at their facilities at the Royal Mint of Thailand will depend on advance orders, and that the lowest price for a coin will be set at 100 baht (US$2.85 at current exchange rates).
The Thai Treasury department has announced they will also produce 200,000 more of the cupro-nickel coins commemorating the 70th year of His Majesty’s reign, due to high demand. Before the king’s death, about 2,800,000 of the cupro-nickel coins had been sold. Although another 10,000 gold and 50,000 silver coins minted for the same occasion were sold out, the precious-metal versions of the coins will no longer be produced. Mr Chakkrit added that the coin-sales department of the Treasury still have some 3 to 4 million commemorative coins, in 24 different types linked to the late king, that are still available for purchase.
The World’s Longest-Serving Head of State
Bhumibol Adulyadej—meaning “The Strength of the Land”—was given this name at his birth on December 5, 1927, by his mother. Born as a commoner, she had married a junior prince in the Chakri dynasty (or Royal House of Thailand) seven years previously. The little prince was in fact born in Massachusetts, United States, as his father was then studying at Harvard University.
The prince was never expected to be called upon to assume the post of king of Thailand, but circumstances intervened twice in his young life: first, the unexpected death of his father, Prince Mahidol Adulyadej (1892–1929) when the prince was just two years old; and second, the death of his elder brother in 1946. This placed Bhumibol at the head of the line of succession when tragedy befell Thailand’s king that same year.
In 1935, upon the unexpected abdication of the country’s King Prajadhipok (1893–1941), the successor would have been the king’s half brother, Prince Mahidol—but owing to his demise in 1929, the prince’s elder son, Prince Anada Mahidol (1925–1946), became the country’s new king, ascending the throne as Rama VIII under a regency at the age of just 10 years. Eleven years later, under what have been described as very uncertain circumstances, the young king was found dead from a gunshot wound, initially thought to have been an accident.
Further investigation apportioned blame on three royal pages, who were later executed following very irregular trials. The mysterious circumstances surrounding the death have been the subject of much speculation ever since.
These tragic events elevated the 18-year-old prince to the position as his country’s monarch. He was studying in Switzerland when he learned the news. The young monarch did not return to Thailand full time until he completed his studies, obtaining a degree in political science. During this time, Bhumibol frequently traveled to Paris, where he met his future wife, the Honorable Sirikit Kitiyakara, a distant cousin who was five years his junior. They were engaged in 1949 and married in April 1950, one week before his ornate coronation.
During their 66 years together the couple had four children, including three daughters and one son. With Queen Sirikit by his side, the young king dedicated his life to the improvement of the living standards of ordinary Thais as well as to the stability of the democracy and constitutional government. He is credited with improving the technology of farming, particularly in matters of irrigation, animal husbandry, and land distribution in the countryside. During his 70 years as constitutional head of state, the king acted as mediator between the civilian government and representatives of the military who had orchestrated coups no fewer than 17 times from 1946 to 2014.
Many Thais have regarded Bhumibol Adulyadej not only as their respected monarch but as a divine god. The man whom many looked up to as their spiritual guardian was also an accomplished musician, chemist, and botanist who had a love for jazz music and even composed and recorded some of his own songs. He was considered the father of the nation, then, over time, its grandfather and the greatest influence on the nation for 70 years.
Rama IX Chakri was the only head of state most Thais have ever known, and the country has been in an official state of mourning since the news of his death was announced in the late afternoon on October 13. As a mark of respect, many Thais have taken to wearing dark or black clothing or armbands, and the country’s television stations, websites, and newspapers have taken to transmitting or publishing in black-and-white only. The flags over state buildings will fly at half mast for one month. The king’s successor, 64-year-old Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, has asked for a delay in the proclamation of his succession so he can mourn with the population of the country.