Top GB collector Pichai Buaranasombati

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Although born in Thailand Pichai Buranasombati – known simply as ‘Pichai’ – spent many of his formative years in Great Britain and developed an early love for British stamps. In March 2001 his stunning collection of Great Britain early line engraved issues (1840-41) went under the hammer at auction in London, closing a chapter in his long love affair with early Great Britain issues.

Pichai recalled: ‘I started collecting at the age of 10 when I was attending prep school in England where everybody had to have a hobby, and it was predominantly philately. My father as a going away to boarding school present bought my first stamp for me – a Penny Black. Suddenly I found out that I was the only one in school who owned a Penny Black. Everybody took a look at it with awe and admiration. My second major acquisition was a Twopence Blue to commemorate my father’s first annual visit and I have never stopped collecting since’.

After nine years of studying in England Pichai went to New York University in the US to study for the bachelor, master and PhD in Philosophy in education and administration. Despite his almost lifelong love for stamps it has really been in the past 12 years – since he met his wife Yaovanee Nirandara – that Pichai’s philatelic star has really risen. He recalled: ‘We have formed many great collections such as Straits Settlements (winner of the Grand Prix National in Singapore ‘95), Burma: under Indian postal administration (winner of the Grand Prix National in Indepex ‘97), Classic Siam (winner of a Large Gold medal at Bangkok ‘93), Siam: middle period (winner of a Large Gold at Singapore ‘95) and many revenue collections’.

Piecing together
This philatelic, and romantic, partnership is very important to Pichai: ‘A great collection has to be planned. It is like putting the jigsaw into place and it is more fun when you have somebody to share your aspirations. If things do not go according to the plan then you must make alternatives that will achieve the same grandeur’.

Pichai’s array of awards began back in 1993 with his first ever exhibit. He recounted: ‘It was at F.I.A.P. (Federation of International Asian Philately) exhibition in Surabaya, Indonesia 1993 that I won with my classic Siam collection a Large Gold medal with a special prize’.

As for sources of inspiration for his philately Pichai explained that they came from his homeland and from Great Britain. ‘My strength comes from the Philatelists Association of Thailand whose members are very supportive of my philatelic endeavours. My source of inspiration is the Royal Philatelic Society of London whose members are true philatelic friends with great philatelic knowledge’.

In many ways Pichai has had the best of both philatelic worlds combining his origins with Asian collections with his British schooling helping to establish a fascination with the trailblazing Great Britain issues of the 1840s. He said: ‘Thai philatelic items always have a special place in my heart, and the first of issue of Siam is truly reflected the great design of the One Penny Black in that the name of the country had been deliberately left out. The item that I like the most is the original hand painted essay by Waterlow and Sons specifically for postage purpose’.

We asked him about his favourite items from the Great Britain early line-engraved issues. Pichai explained: ‘For Great Britain stamps I like the large mint block as well as the largest used block of the One Penny Black. For covers I am very fond of the VR usage. The mint block of 24 was the reconstruction of a block of 18 plus a strip of six’. Reconstructing the left sheet margin mint block of 24 proved a tricky exercise for Pichai: ‘The block of 18 (ex-Daisy collection) was acquired in a London auction house while the latter (strip of six) was spotted in New York – it is a small miracle that enabled them to be reunited’. As far as an overall number one British stamp Pichai said simply: ‘Nothing beats the One Penny Black!’

Prize controversy
Pichai’s collection was the cause of some controversy during Stamp Show 2000 in London when it was poised to win the Grand Prix by a country mile. An objection was raised about an 1840 2d Blue cover (bearing a strip of five and a single 2d blue dated February 1841 and addressed to New York, USA) which had evidently been repaired and sold to Pichai without telling him of the repair. Clearly this wasn’t a pleasant experience. We asked him did he ever think a philatelic item had been a bad investment. He replied: ‘I only buy the best items available. I don’t mind paying higher for quality items. However I feel that when I spend real money I should get genuine items in return. I hate dishonest people in general but I detest or despise them the most when they are involved in philately. These people take the fun out of our hobby and kill philately’.

When quizzed on what he would buy if there was any item he could afford or have Pichai became philosophical: ‘You cannot have everything in life and the key is to enjoy what you have and make the most of it. I really enjoyed my collection and was excited finding the items, in many ways all over the world’. Don't be surprised to see the name Pichai popping up again soon with a new collection, perhaps from a different part of the world.