Gallery 3a
Institutional Gifts
Model of Puttha Prang (Wat Arun) - Gift of State, 1966
A new form of Thai Royal gift--the institutional gift--was developed in the 1880s by King Chulalongkorn. In 1881 the United States and Thailand negotiated changes to the 1857 Harris Treaty. King Chulalongkorn wished to send a gift, but since he had learned that Royal Gifts to the United States presidents had been deposited at the Smithsonian Institution, he planned to send the commemorative gift directly to the Smithsonian.
It is interesting that the major part of this gift were “Gift of Respect” or Khru'ang rachabannakan items, including Gum Benjamin or gambooge (Styrax benzoin [Styracaceae]) used for skin complaints and rheumatic conditions, rong thong (Garcinia hanburyi) used as golden-yellow ink in Thailand; Catechu or gambir sisiat thet (Catechu gambir (Anacardiaceae)) used as a masticatory when chewing betel; Cardamom kra wan (Amomum krervanh, or Elettaria sp.) a spice and medicinal remedy; Copal varnish gum yang (resinous fuel oil from the tree Dipterocarpus alatus); Saltpeter (din pra siu); Tumeric (kamin); Samrohng seed (met Samrohng); Shoria Robusta mint seed (met meng-lak); lotus seed (met bua); the useful medicinal Nox vomica (p’on baa chu); and rice (Oryza sativa). It is possible that in giving this large “Gift of Respect”, Thailand hoped to increase trade in these and other valuable items. This was certainly always the goal in giving the historical “Gifts of Respect.”
19th Century Manuscript Cabinet from Wat Rakhang Khosittaram, Thonburi (doors: The Life of Siddhartha)- Gift of State, 1966
Illuminated Manuscript of the Phra Malai Sutra - Gift of State, 1966

King Chulalongkorn had learned through John Halderman, the U.S. Minister in Bangkok at the time, that the Smithsonian's curators were especially interested in ethnological materials. Therefore, aside from the Khru’ang rachabannakan trade items, King Chulalongkorn's gift of 1881 consisted of fish traps and nets, probably from his own extensive royal collections, and the flag of Siam. Although there was a Royal Letter commemorating the treaty negotiations in 1881, it was not connected to the gift in any way, nor does it mention the gifts. The timing of the Royal Gift remained connected to treaty negotiations, but both the content of the gift and the intended receiver of the gift had changed.

King Chulalongkorn sent gifts to allies around the world in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of his coronation. In 1893 the Tripitika, the “Three Baskets” of Buddha’s teachings, normally recorded in the Sanskrit-based Pali language script, was printed for the first time in Thai script at the Royal Press. There were no Royal Letters sent out with the books; the volumes were sent directly to institutions of learning throughout the world on behalf of the king through the Siamese Legation office in London (Siam did not have an embassy in Washington until 1901). Multi-volume sets were sent to the Smithsonian Institution, to Harvard University and to Cornell University among others.

Gallery 1

1a. Robert's Treaty, 1833

1b. Harris Treaty, 1856

1c. Status & Rank of the Presidents

Gallery 2

2a. H.M. King Chulongkorn's Gifts

2b. Centennial Exposition, 1876

2c. 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition

Gallery 3

3a. Institutional Gifts

3b. Recent Gifts to the US

3c. Thai Royal Gifts in Perspective

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