National Archives News

Archives Loans Artifacts to Thai Exhibition

By Kerri Lawrence  |  National Archives News

WASHINGTON, March 23, 2018 — A new exhibition that opened this week in Bangkok, Thailand, highlights 200 years of United States-Thai friendship and features more than 40 records and gifts loaned from the National Archives and Records Administration.

The items exchanged between Thai royalty and American Presidents—including ceremonial letters, head-of-state gifts, and an 11-foot facsimile of the 1833 U.S.-Siam Treaty—have never before been exhibited outside the United States. They will be featured among manuscripts, musical instruments, textiles, and other 19th-century artifacts loaned from the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institution.

The “Great and Good Friends: 200 Years of U.S.-Thai Friendship” exhibit opened on March 21, 2018, at the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles in Bangkok, Thailand, and continues through June 30, 2018. United States Ambassador to Thailand Glyn Davies had the idea for the exhibition. 

The title of the exhibit originates from the formal greeting—“Great and Good Friends”—used by U.S. Presidents in addressing the kings of Siam when contact between the two governments was limited to envoys and letters. The friendship between the nations began when an American sea captain entered the port of Bangkok and initiated an historic association between the two nations. 

“These ceremonial gifts, on loan from the National Archives and our Presidential Libraries, reflect the continuing strong friendship of the American and Thai peoples,” said Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero.

He explained that in 1862 President Abraham Lincoln politely declined King Mongkut's offer of elephants. Lincoln did accept other gifts “in accordance with Your Majesty's desire as tokens of your goodwill and friendship for the American People.”

Lincoln promised the King that these treasures would be placed among the archives of the Government, “where they would remain forever as tokens of mutual esteem and pacific dispositions more honorable to both nations than any trophies of conquest could be.”

“More than 150 years later, we are pleased to share these and other historic treasures, and are honored to partner with the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, Meridian International, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Queen Sirikit Museum on the ‘Great and Good Friends’ exhibit,” Ferriero said. 

One National Archives record on loan for the exhibit includes the letter from King Mongkut to President James Buchanan in 1861, offering the gift of elephants “. . . to be let loose . . . [to] increase and multiply in the continent of America.”

Another featured item includes a gold cigarette case sent to President Franklin Roosevelt in 1945 by Luang Praditmanutham, Regent of King Ananda Mahidol, through two Office of Strategic Services agents who had infiltrated Japanese-occupied Thailand to rendezvous with him. The regent requested that the officers return to the United States with a golden cigarette case decorated with the royal cyphers to give to President Roosevelt to convey the kingdom’s desire for peace and an unspoken message of solidarity, said Kimberly Koons, collections officer for the National Archives’ Office of Presidential Libraries. 

That cigarette case is featured in the exhibition with the note, “Though small in size, this golden cigarette case demonstrates the power of a gift to shape history.”
Koons noted that “the curators of the exhibit were truly experts of the artifacts, sharing much new and interesting information about the symbolism, history, and details of each piece.”

While many of the objects are in remarkable condition, particularly for their age, some items underwent conservation to improve their stability in preparation for display. National Archives supervisory conservator Abigail Aldrich provided professional oversight of the treatment services performed on the decorative objects, textiles, and textual items from the agency.

“As a team, we were able to move this complex loan forward, and the end result is this amazing exhibit nearly 9,000 miles from Washington, DC,” Aldrich said. “It does a beautiful job of showcasing the care that the National Archives has taken to preserve these letters and objects not only for reference by future generations, but also for the enjoyment and education of a global audience.”

Other related resources within the National Archives Catalog include the daguerreotype of King Mongkut and daughter, from King Mongkut to President James Buchanan, 1861; a Siamese sword with scabbard, from King Mongkut to President James Buchanan, 1861; and a letter from King Chulalongkorn to President Theodore Roosevelt. A silver-framed photograph of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, inscribed by the King and given to President John F. Kennedy in 1963, is available to view via the online Kennedy Library catalog. 

For more information on items within the exhibit from other sources, see the recent Library of Congress blog post that showcases the Library’s Thai instruments on loan. For more detailed information on the “Great and Good Friends” exhibit and a history of the relationship between the two nations, see the Great and Good Friends exhibition website.