Chakri1.gif (1395 bytes)  The British Library's Big Secret

by Stephen Parker

One of the greatest early collectors of Siam was Mr R.W. Harold Row. His passion for the stamps of Siam is superbly documented in a series of articles that appeared in the Stamp Lover magazine. These were later published in 1912 in a seventy-five page handbook, ‘The Adhesive Postage Stamps of Siam’. A copy of this handbook may be found within the Thailand Philatelic Society library. Upon his death his wonderful collection was offered to and accepted by the Trustees of the British Museum. For many years the collection was on public display at the British Museum until, about three years ago, it was moved to the British Library at Euston, London. Unfortunately, the space allocated to philatelic exhibits is severely limited and general access to the Row Collection is no longer possible. To view the Collection one now has to apply to become a reader at the British Library and then make an appointment with a philatelic department curator. The former can be arranged within an hour by applying in person at the Reader Admissions Office or remotely (see below). A reader’s pass will be issued valid for one month or five years. Arranging an appointment with a curator, however, requires at least three weeks notice. I suggest that visitors to London apply to become a reader by email or post detailing precisely why this Collection is such an important and unique source for study. You will then be able to collect your pass on arrival, a photo is required (this will be taken at your interview). Your application will hopefully have been approved in advance enabling you to make your appointment with the curator prior to the commencement of your journey.

So, exactly why is this Collection so important? Harold Row was the recognised authority on the stamps of Siam. He had made an in depth study of the surcharged issues amassing an immense number of examples. His greatest area of research, however, was into the 1 Tical surcharges of 1885. The Collection was considered to be one of the most highly specialised accumulations of stamps of any one country ever put together. At the time of its donation, the whole collection was mounted and completely written up, under Harold Row’s instructions, by Messrs. Frank Godden, Ltd. It was contained in twenty-two Facile Oriel albums plus some large pages containing whole sheets and blocks too large to be mounted in albums. All stamps issued by Siam up to the date of Harold Row’s death in 1919 including practically all the rare types and errors found amongst the surcharged issues plus essays and proofs are present. One volume was filled with post-cards and letter-cards. Two volumes contained Siamese stamps used in Kedah and another used in Kelantan. It is now housed in twenty-two conservation boxes and a flap case for the loose items.

A notice was attached to the inside cover of each volume as follows:

‘This collection of Siamese stamps, comprised in twenty-two volumes, was brought together and arranged by R.W. Harold Row, B.Sc., F.L.S., F.Z.S., Assistant Lecturer and Demonstrator in Zoology at King’s College in the University of London, who died on 16th February, 1919, while engaged in Research Work at the Pathological Laboratory of the Fourth London General Hospital (Malaria Department) undertaken during the Great War. In accordance with his wish it was presented by his mother, Eliza Row, of Mount Vernon, Exeter, to the British Museum, and accepted by the Trustees 11th October, 1919’.

He died in early middle life of influenza, which was rife in Western Europe at that time.

It is my intention to begin a study of the Collection and report within these pages my findings. I hope that this and subsequent articles will whet appetites and encourage members to visit the Collection. If enough people make representations to the Library then perhaps the Collection will once again have a place on permanent view.

The British Library is located at: 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB. Nearest underground station is Euston.

The web site URL is:

To enquire about becoming a reader, email:

To contact a philatelic curator, email:


(This article first appeared in Thai Times, December 2001)