Sema Commemorative Medallions: A Royal Gift to Children
Sema Commemorative Medallions: A Royal Gift to Children
4/2/2564 / 85 / สร้างโดย ลลิตา อัศวสกุลฤชา

Since ancient times, it has been the duty of Thai kings to govern the kingdom as well as to protect it from foreign invasion. The kings had led Thai troops to battles, thereby boosting the morale within the military during wartimes. In peacetime, royal attention was constantly given to maintaining the kingdom’s prosperity. Occasionally, Thai kings would wish to personally inspect the well-being of the people living in the country. Hence, the kings would travel to rural towns to carry out the duty of royal inspection.

In Rattanakosin Era, King Mongkut or King Rama IV was the first to initiate a royal tour to the Northern provinces to both visit the people and to inspect the civil affairs in the rural areas within the kingdom. Later in 1901 AD or year 120 of Rattanakosin Era, King Chulalongkorn or King Rama V followed the King Father’s initiative to visit the northern provinces. The objectives of the royal tours remained to be inspecting current affairs, the well-being as well as grievances of the people, and the performances of the civil servants in each province. On this occasion, the King also wished to bestow royal souvenir to commemorate the royal tour.

King Mongkut and his officials took a photo at Bang Pa-In Royal Palace during his royal tour to the Northern provinces in 1901 AD.
Source: National Archives of Thailand

The Bestowment of Sema Commemorative Medallions to Children on the Occasion of the Royal Tours to the Northern Provinces in 1901 AD

King Chulalongkorn’s royal tour to the Northern provinces started when the King left Bangkok on 29th September 1901 by train to Bang Pa-In Royal Palace in Ayutthaya province. His Majesty was scheduled to leave Bang Pa-In on 3rd October 1901 by boat and travel along the Chao Phraya river towards the towns of Fang, Uttaradit, and Nakhon Sawan. The King told of stories during the trips via letters to the Prince Devawongse Varoprakar who was acting as regent at the time. One of the notable incidents was the royal commission of the replica of Phra Phuttha Chinnarat Bhudda statue at Phitsanulok province to be made then brought back to Bangkok and placed at the Ubosot of Wat Benchamabophit temple as the main statue. Moreover, for the first time, the King bestowed royal swords to the governors of each Monthon and gave Sema Commemorative Medallions imprinted with the royal initials (จปร) as souvenir to the children along the route of the royal tour.

King Mongkut bestowed Sema Commemorative Medallions to children during his royal tour to the Northern provinces.

People welcomed the King at Wat Pa Mok in Angthong province
Source: National Archives of Thailand.

Sema Commemorative Medallions imprinted with the royal initials (จปร) were commissioned by the King, and were meant to be given to boys and girls who gathered to welcome the King in each destination along the route of the tour to the north. This signified His Majesty’s true love and mercy towards subjects. The medallions were first bestowed on 5th October 1901 at the reception pavilion in Chainat province. Then, they were given at places, and the provinces where the King made a stop along the royal route. Thai people would bring their children to welcome the King and to receive the Sema Commemorative Medallions from the King personally.

Features of the Sema Commemorative Medallions

They were made in the shape of Bai Sema or a boundary stone according to Buddhist culture. There was a bail attached on top of the medallion. The front was the design of the royal initials "จปร” placed under a royal coronet with shining rays. Around it was a text, "Bestowed by Phrabat Somedet Phra Phra Poraminthra Maha Chulalongkorn Phra Chunla Chom Klao Chao Yu Hua”. The reverse was plain. They were made of silver and gold, were 3.90 cm. in diameter, 0.25 cm. in thickness, and each weighed 16.97 grams.

Sema Commemorative Medallions: gold and silver displayed at the Coin Museum

The medallions which were made of gold were commissioned especially to be bestowed to royal descendants and children of high-ranking officials in the royal entourage.

The Bestowment of Sema Commemorative Medallions on the Occasion of Thaveetha Phisek Royal Anniversary Ceremony of 1903

Later in 1903 or year 122 of Rattanakosin Era, the Thaveetha Phisek Royal Anniversary Ceremony was held to celebrate 36th anniversary of King Chulalongkorn’s coronation, which reached twice the number of the years the previous king or King Mongkut had held royal office. Furthermore, the year was also King Chulalongkorn 50th Birthday which would be a big celebration. Therefore, the King ordered that the special anniversary celebration and the annual coronation day were held together in November as the Thaveetha Phisek Royal Anniversary Ceremony. On this occasion, the King reminisced about the children who greeted His Majesty and received the Sema Commorative Coins as a royal souvenir. Unlike those children, children in Bangkok and the provinces near the Monthon of Bangkok had not had the opportunity, except for those in Thanyaburi province. Therefore, the King ordered Prince Naret Wararit, Minister of the Ministry of Metropolitan Bangkok, made an announcement to the people near Monthon Bangkok regarding the date when the King would bestow the Sema Commemorative Medallions to children in Monthon Bangkok and its outlying districts. The date was set on 1st November 1903 which befell on Sunday, waxing of the 12th Night of the 12th Lunar Month, the zodiac year of the rabbit, the fifth year of Thai Minor Era. The even took place from 9.00h to 16.00h at Sanam Luang. An almshouse was set up where toys were given away to children. There were various kinds of entertainments such as Khon (Thai traditional dance drama), plays, Chinese Opera and others on site for all children and visitors to enjoy. District-chief officers, Sub-district Headman, and village chiefs were ordered to make sure that the news reached all people. Those whose children were under the age of nine could bring their children to receive Sema Commemorative Medallions as a souvenir. The entrance to Sanam Luang led to nine booths corresponding to nine tambon. King Chulalongkorn presided at the Royal Pavilion at Sanam Luang in order to oversee the bestowment ceremony and to grant audiences to the crowd. The adults or the guardians of the children must be properly dressed. An adult could accompany one or several children. However, due to the large numbers of children participating in the event, it was impossible for the King to personally give the medallions to each and every child. Thus, the King granted permission to civil servants from various ministries to receive the medallions in bulk and give them to children at another time. The medallions in this occasion were made identical to those bestowed to children during the trip to the Northern provinces.

The Bestowment of Sema Commemorative Medallions upon the Second Return of the King from Europe in 1907

In 1907, a celebration was held to celebrate the occasion that the reign of King Chulalongkorn reached the same length as that of King Ramathibodi II of Ayutthaya. Moreover, another celebratory ceremony called Rajamangalaphisek royal celebration was also held to celebrate the fact that, having surpassed the length of King Ramathibodi II’s reign, King Chulalongkorn became the longest reigning monarch in Thai history. The ceremony was held in a grand scale after the King returned from His Majesty’s second trip to Europe. On this occasion, the King commissioned the production of Sema Commemorative Medallions and Rajamangalaphisek Commemorative Coins to be bestowed to children and civil servants.

The commission of a new production of Sema Commemorative Medallions to commemorate the King’s return from His Majesty’s second trip to Europe was due to the popularity of the Sema Medallions among the populace. The medallions were deemed auspicious for children. Adults would make children carry the coin at all times, believing it would bring good health. Therefore, the King commissioned another round of production. However, this time King Chulalongkorn ordered that His Majesty’s image was used on the obverse of the coin instead of the royal initials. The commission was taken by the Paris Mint or Monnaie de Paris in France both for the Sema Medallions and the Commemorative coins for Rajamangalaphisek Royal celebration ceremony. The correspondence letter between Mom Chao Charoonsak Kridakorn, the Thai Embassador to Paris and Prince Sommut Amornphan, the King’s private secretary reported the details of the commission and the shipment of the medallions to Bangkok by sea in the name of Prince Damrong Rajanubhab. The order included 100,000 pieces of Sema Medallion made of white gold (sent in four shipments), 500 pieces made of silver, and 30 pieces made of gold. These were shipped to Thailand along with Rajamangalaphisek Commemmorative Coins. It was His Majesty’s intension that the shipments had reached Bangkok before the King arrived so that the King could readily give them to children of people in Bangkok as a souvenir from the second tour to Europe.

Upon the King’s arrival, King Chulalongkorn wished to visit Trat and Chanthaburi province before returning to Bangkok. This was to congratulate the people of the two provinces on returning into Siamese rule after having been under the rule of France since the Franco-Siamese War of 1893. The King bestowed the royal sword to bless the two provinces’ governors and gave the Sema Commemorative Medallions on the Occasion of His Majesty’s Return from the Royal Tour to Europe to all children including those who lived on Ko Chang island as a souvenir. Before returning to Bangkok, the King was visiting the people of Chanthaburi, His Majesty ordered that money and goods were given to the people and allowed large numbers of children to receive the Sema Commemorative Medallions.

King Chulalongkorn visited Trat after the return of the King from the second royal tour to Europe.

The royal dock in Chantaburi province

As King Chulalongkorn was approaching Bangkok, the King was giving away souvenirs including Sema Commemorative Medallions to children in company of those who came to welcome the King. According to Mom Chao Phoonpisamai’s statement, "…before returning to Bangkok, the royal vessel crossed the sea over to Chanthaburi and Trat province which had just been returned from the 1893 incident. Along the way at sea, King Chulalongkorn gave souvenirs to almost all members of the welcoming crowd. I and Lady Luea also received a Sema Medallion which was helped put on by the King himself…”

People welcomed King Chulalongkorn in Bangkok after the return of the King from the second royal tour to Europe. Source: National Archives of Thailand

To welcome the King in Bangkok, members of the royal family, the king’s private servants, civil servants, and merchants had grand arches built as well as decorated the roads through which the King would pass. There were large crowds along the roads who brought with them small children. Thus, the King ordered officers to give Sema Medallions to the crowds and children who attended the event from Sanam Luang to Rachadamnern Nok Road.

Additionally, the King allowed the bestowment of Sema Medallions in commemoration of the return of the King from the second royal tour to Europe during a reception at Antepurikthurin Club.[1]

Antepurikthurin Pavilion during in reign of King Chulalongkorn

According to records, Sema Medallion were distributed in the Ante Club. Each member received a royal portrait from the European tour and Sema Medallions made of white gold imprinted with the image of the King just as those which were given to all children in Bangkok.” Those who received the medallion would let their children or young relatives wear it because it was seen as accessory for children, while others kept the medallion as souvenir. Children with high-ranking royal titles and royal family members who were close to the King received the medallions that were made of gold. The medallions were called ‘Sema Medallions for Children’ or ‘Medallion to be Given Away to Children’

Sema Medallions in Commemoration of the Return of the King from the Second Royal Tour to Europe: Coin Features

On the top of the medallion was a bail. The obverse was the image of the bust of King Chulalongkorn turning to the right, dressed as a royal page commander. There was a text "Chulalongkorn” on top and "Borommarachathirat” at the bottom. On His Majesty’s right shoulder is written ว่า "A.PATEY”. The reverse of the medallion was a text that said, "the Royal Return from Europe”, a number 40 over another text stating the year "126 Rattanakosin Era”. The medallion was designed by August Patey.

Sema Medallions in Commemoration of the Return of the King from the Second Royal Tour to Europe made of silver displayed in the Coin Museum

Sema Commemorative Medallions were a symbol of King Chulalongkorn’s gracious thoughts to the people under His Majesty’s rule, especially to children, both boys and girls. No matter how close or far away they were, the King thought of them and bestowed to them gifts, including Sema Medallions. Adults were keen to put the medallion on a string to put around the neck or around the wrist of children. Some kept the medallion as an object of worship. It was believed that the medal granted by the King was the utmost auspicious item, to the extent that it could cure illnesses.

Today, Sema Medallions have become a sacred item that is rare but very popular. Therefore, National Tresure Promotion and Development Division has arranged for Sema Commorative Medallions, both the royal initials collection and the collection to commemorate the King’s return from the second royal tour, to be displayed in coins exhibition on the second floor of the coins museum. Those with interest can view and learn more about this valuable item.

[1] A wooden pavilion with a thatched roof. It was located on the field opposite to Phra Thinang Aphisekdusit and was built to host receptions arranged by members of the club which included royal family members and officers of the royal court. The name of the club was given by Prince Narisara Nuvativongse and was shortened to ‘Samosorn Ante’ or Ante Club. The club had around 50 members.