Hawaii’s Coinage 1847-1883

America’s 50th state since 1959, Hawaii’s motto is Ua Mau Ke Ea O Ka Aina I Ka Pono (The Life of the Land is Perpetuated in Righteousness). This group of Pacific islands became known to the Western world when discovered by Captain James Cook of Great Britain in 1778. The individual island states were then united in 1810 by the powerful King Kamehameha I. As American missionaries and planters began arriving in Hawaii during the 1820s, a gradual decline in the natives’ power and independence developed. By 1893, the Yankees exerted enough influence to expel the old monarchy and establish the Republic of Hawaii. The islands were annexed by the United States in 1898 and declared a U. S. territory two years later. In 1959, Hawaii finally achieved statehood, the only U. S. state not a part of the North American continent.

The creation of large plantations and the adoption of a Western style economy beginning about the 1820s created a demand for coined money. At first, this money consisted of coins carried in from a variety of countries having interests in the islands. This source proved unreliable, and coins were in chronically short supply. As dissatisfaction grew, King Kamehameha III (1825-54) set out to rectify this shortage by including a provision for a Hawaiian monetary system in his new legal code of 1846. This system provided for a unit known as the dala, which was based on the American dollar. The dala was divided into 100 keneta, or cents. Several denominations of fractional silver coins were included in this system, as well as a copper piece to be valued at one keneta.

Coining of the silver pieces required a two-thirds approval by the Privy Council, and these issues were deferred while the monarchy addressed the more urgent demand for cents. The Minister of Finance was directed to have the latter coined as quickly as possible. Through Royal Agent James Jackson Jarvis, editor of the newspaper Polynesian, a contract was made with the private minting facility of H.M. & E.I. Richards of Attleboro, Massachusetts, familiar to American numismatists as a manufacturer of Hard Times tokens.

As prescribed by law, these copper pieces bore on their obverse a facing portrait of Kamehameha III with his name and title KA MOI (the King). Though coined in 1846, all examples were post-dated 1847 to coincide with their anticipated arrival in Hawaii. The reverse of each coin featured two laurel boughs tied at their juncture to form a wreath. Around this wreath was the legend AUPUNI HAWAII (Kingdom of Hawaii). Within it was supposed to appear the denomination HAPA HANELI (Money of 100), but Yankee diesinker Edward Hulseman had mis-spelled it as HAPA HANERI. Adding to this disappointment was the fact that the King’s portrait was essentially unrecognizable. Taken together, these flaws caused the natives to view this new money with disgust, and it was widely rejected. There were rumors that many workers threw the coins in the ocean rather than accept them as just payment for their labor.

It was originally anticipated that the 100,000 pieces included in this initial delivery were to be just the first of many, yet the overwhelming rejection of the copper coinage meant that no more would be struck. After 1862, the Hawaiian Treasury ceased disbursing the unwanted cents, and a mere 11,595 pieces remained outstanding at that time. Though these coins ceased to have legal tender status after 1884, examples were still seen in circulation for the simple reason that no other coins of such low value were readily available. Their use came to a complete end only when cents of the United States were imported at the turn of the century.

Scholar Walter Breen reported that two obverse dies and six reverse dies have been identified, one of the reverses being known only from trial strikings in pewter. He further added that a number of regular copper impressions remained with the descendants of the Richards firm. These were acquired by dealer Wayte Raymond before 1956 and probably account for most of the surviving Mint State examples.

No more coins were struck for the Kingdom of Hawaii until the 1880s. Under the farsighted rule of the cosmopolitan King Kalakaua (1874-91), who sought to bring the islands up to Western standards of development, representatives from various foreign mints were interviewed on the subject of a contract coinage. This move alarmed sugar magnate Claus Spreckels, whose influence in the islands made him a virtual second king. Certain that Hawaii was vital to the interests of both himself and the United States, he persuaded Kalakaua to have the desired silver coins struck by the USA to American standards. The latter provision was a key selling point, as the use of standard USA coin planchets lowered the cost of this coinage. For reasons not specified, the copper keneta was not included in this proposal, and only silver pieces were ordered to a total of one million dala.

The master hubs and dies for this coinage were prepared by the United States Mint’s Chief Engraver, Charles Barber. He worked from designs submitted by Spreckels and subsequently modified by Mint Director Horatio C. Burchard. Six proof sets were struck at the Philadelphia Mint in September of 1883, both to test the dies and to provide souvenirs for important figures  associated with the occasion. Some 20 more sets were produced in 1884 from the same dies, and these were distributed to various Hawaiian dignitaries. None were offered to the public.

The circulating coinage of Kalakau was executed at the San Francisco Mint between November of 1883 and June of 1884, though all pieces bore the earlier date. The denominations struck corresponded to those provided for in the law of 1846, with one exception. The hapawalu, or eighth dollar, was excluded from regular production in favor of the umi (ten) keneta, or dime. This move facilitated the use of standard USA silver planchets. The eighth dollar, however, was included in the 20 proof sets struck at Philadelphia in 1884.

These silver coins were far more successful than their copper counterparts of an earlier generation, and they remained in circulation after the American annexation of Hawaii in 1898. They were gradually withdrawn thereafter and replaced with American coins of the regular types. Retired pieces were returned to the USA and melted. As a result, all denominations are fairly scarce in circulated grades and genuinely rare in Mint State. The sole exception is the hapaha, or quarter dollar. Several Uncirculated rolls turned up after World War II, and these coins are highly sought by collectors.

SPECIFICATIONS:

Keneta or cent 1847:

Diameter: 27 millimeters

Weight: approximately 9 grams

Composition: copper

Edge: plain

Number coined: 100,000

Net mintage after melting: 11,595+

 

Umi keneta or dime 1883:

Diameter: 17.9 millimeters

Weight: 2.5 grams

Composition: .900 silver, .100 copper

Edge: reeded

Number coined: 250,000 + 26 proofs

Net mintage after melting: 249,921

 

Hapawalu or eighth dollar 1883:

Diameter: 20.6 millimeters

Weight: 3.125 grams

Composition: .900 silver, .100 copper

Edge: reeded

Number coined: 20 proofs

 

Hapaha or quarter dollar 1883:

Diameter: 24.3 millimeters

Weight: 6.25 grams

Composition: .900 silver, .100 copper

Edge: reeded

Number coined: 500,000 + 26 proofs

Net mintage after melting: 242,600

 

Hapalua or half dollar 1883:

Diameter: 30.5 millimeters

Weight: 12.5 grams

Composition: .900 silver, .100 copper

Edge: reeded

Number coined: 700,000 + 26 proofs

Net mintage after melting: 87,755

 

Akahi dala or dollar 1883:

Diameter: 38.1 millimeters

Weight: 26.73 grams

Composition: .900 silver, .100 copper

Edge: reeded

Number coined: 500,000 + 26 proofs

Net mintage after melting: 46,348

From the NGC Photo Proof Series. Copyright © 2001 The Numismatic Guaranty Corporation.  All rights reserved.