The Hawaiian Missionaries

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The Hawaiian Missionaries stamps The Hawaiian Missionaries stamps Photo:

An Act establishing a postal service was passed by the Hawaiian Assembly as early as 1846, but nothing was done to implement this until 1850 when a subsequent Act laid down an external postal rate of 10 cents per letter (reduced the following year to 5c on the introduction of adhesive stamps).

The post office established in September 1851 wasn’t under government control but was farmed out to Henry M. Whitney, a printer and stationer of Honolulu who published a newspaper, The Commercial Advertiser. It isn’t known whether the first stamps were printed there, or at the office of the government paper, The Polynesian. The stamps were type-set and printed in September 1851, being placed on sale the following month.

The Polynesian of October 4 mentioned the three denominations of 2c, 5c and 13c. The lowest value prepaid the newspaper rate while the 5c represented the letter rate. The 13c stamp denoted the payment of three separate fees – 5c Hawaiian postage, 6c United States postage, and a 2c ship letter fee for conveying the letter from Hawaii to America. All three stamps were inscribed in upper and lower case lettering ‘Hawaiian Postage’, though the 13c was re-issued in 1852 with the inscription amended to ‘H.I. & U.S. Postage’.

Because the majority of the known examples of these stamps were discovered on correspondence from US missionaries they acquired the nickname of the ‘Missionaries’. These stamps are all major rarities, especially the 2c denomination for which there was little use, since the inland service which it was intended to represent didn’t materialise until eight years later. In any case, most 2c stamps, if used on newspaper wrappers, would have been torn and discarded when the wrapper was removed.

The stamps were printed in blue ink on extremely thin, brittle paper and thus few of the Missionaries are in perfect condition. They continued in use until 1853 when they were superseded by intaglio designs printed by Holland of Boston.

Celebratory issue
On October 24, 2002 the US Postal Service issued a miniature sheet bearing a strip of four 37c stamps, each of which reproduces one of the Missionaries including the two versions of the 13c. The sheet margins reproduce one of the most celebrated of all the entire letters, the cover addressed to Miss Eliza A. Dawson of New York, bearing the 2c and 5c Hawaiian stamps, but having the US postage paid by means of a pair of the US 3c Washington stamps. The Hawaiian stamps bear the red Honolulu postmark while the US pair were cancelled at San Francisco before the letter made the journey overland to New York.

This cover was rescued from a bonfire in 1903 when a load of waste paper was being incinerated. It was subsequently taken to a dealer who recognised its rarity and sold it to G.H. Worthington for $6,000. When the Worthington collection was sold in 1917 this realised only $6,100. It was later acquired by Alfred Caspary and when Harmers disposed of his collection in 1957 it made $25,000. A dozen years later it fetched $120,000 at the Ostheimer sale, and in 1995 was sold in New York by Siegel for a cool $2,090,000 million to a private collector, Geoffrey Brewster.

Only 28 covers bearing the Missionary stamps are known to exist, but the Dawson cover is the only one to bear the 2 cent stamp. There is also a piece bearing the 2c and 13c (first type) side-by-side. From the surviving fragment of the cover it appears to have been addressed to a Miss A… and the stamps are tied by the red San Francisco postmark of March 15, 1851. In the same 1995 auction this piece was knocked down to the US National Postal Museum for $99,000. A baker’s dozen of used 2c stamps are known off paper, including one in the Tapling Collection at the British Library in London.