Hawaii has always been an exciting place in my imagination. When I was a pre-teen, I was collecting coins, stamps, and old books. In those days, there seemed to be rare stuff all over the place. I would dig through piles of old books and came up with treasure after treasure for 10¢.
By the time I was 12, I often could spend as much as $5 or $10 for a coin, stamps, or a book. For me, the trio was a natural to collect. I found A New Voyage, Round the World In the Years 1768, 1769, 1770, and 1771 Undertaken by Order of His Present Majesty, Performed by James Cook, In the Ship Endeavour. The title goes on, but the really rare things about this book is not only the subject matter, but the fact that it was printed in New York by James Rivington in 1774. Books printed in America before the Revolution are rare, and this subject was very popular.
Four years later in 1778, Cook discovered Hawaii and was killed there shortly thereafter. For a few dollars I had purchased Cook’s Voyages With an Account of His Life by A. Kipps published in Philadelphia in 1838. This was followed by History of the Sandwich Islands With an Account of the American Mission Established There in 1820. This rare little book was printed in Philadelphia in 1831 by the American Sunday School Union.
The coming of the Missionaries doomed the Hawaiians. Soon most of the Missionaries and their families spread fatal western diseases that all but wiped out the Hawaiian population. Then the men of God and their families grabbed most of the land, and eventually overthrew Hawaii’s last ruler, Queen Lilinokalani in 1893 with the help of U.S. Marines from a U.S. warship in the harbor at Honolulu.
It became a saying, “That the Missionaries went to Hawaii and did right well.”
Indeed they did. Stanford Ballard Dole and the others ended up millionaires many times over. I look over a sad little book once owned almost 180 years ago by a Charlotte Upton of Andover, Mass. which was printed in 1818 at New Haven, Conn. at the Office of the Religious Intelligencer). It is called Memoirs of Henry Obookiah, a Native of Owhyhee (Hawaii) and a Member of the Foreign Mission School. Of course the poor guy died at Cornwell, Conn. on February 17, 1818. Winter in Connecticut, before running water in the dirty germ infested United States of America where daily bathing was as unknown as was central heating, did poor Henry in.
After all, the poor unsaved Hawaiians were accustomed to daily swims, a heavenly climate, and a lot of good healthy food, as well as fresh air and scant clothing. It was the latter thing that killed off the Hawaiians. First the missionaries over dressed them, then wiped them out and stole their land.
The sad evidence of all this is the mere handful of scarce coins minted in 1847 and 1883. The total number which can be collected at under $1,000 each in almost uncirculated condition is five. They consist of the 1847 cent of King Kamehameha III who died young of too much good western living and the 10¢, 25¢, 50¢, and $1 silver coins of King David Kalakaua who was also felled by a higher level of western culture in gastronomic form.
Hawaiians of the pre-western period often lived well into their 70s and 80s in good health. But after the missionaries and whalers made Hawaii a regular visiting and rest spot, it was all over for the Hawaiians. Only the coins minted for them, some stamps and postcards, their royal palace, and some museum collections remain to remind us of them and the great life Hawaiians once lived.
The first Hawaiian coin I got was an extra fine 25¢ piece in an antique show in Upton, Mass. in 1967. I sold it and got a better one and eventually traded up to a fully toned mint state 65 coin. Next I found my Hawaiian dime at a local coin shop for $30.
It was so dirty and greasy that all the hair detail of King Kalakaua I was filled in with greasy sludge as was the date, 1883, and all the lettering. Sometimes one has to be brave. I looked at the dime for a while then took bold action. I boiled up some hot water, added a mild detergent then went to work with a cotton swab.
Slowly the greasy dirt came away showing the 99 percent detail of a A.U.50 coin. It turned out to be a nice buy. I do not urge anyone else to do this. It takes a steady hand and exactly the right coin not to mention the right high grade class of filth. I bought a nice M.S.63 half dollar with good luster about 30 years ago for $275. The reverse of this coin, as well as the quarter dollar and dollar shows the majestic royal Hawaiian coat of arms. On the dollar, the arms are draped with an ermine cape and topped with a crown like many European coins of the 1883 period.
I got my scarce almost uncirculated Hawaiian dollar the old fashion way. I swapped for it. I had a political document another collector-dealer wanted, and an arms-length-trade took place between us – two willing parties.
Now all I needed was my 1847 cent. I saw many lesser quality coins. Then even these poor numismatic dregs dried up. Then one day, a fellow came in with a box of loose junk coins some dead relative had collected over the years. He offered me the lot for $100. I was very busy, but I looked it over. I almost said, “No thanks,” then I felt inner voice saying, “why not?”
I think that the inner voice belonged to the 12 year old kid in all of us that comes out in our personalities sometimes. So I said, “What the hell. O.K.”
I gave him the $100 and stuck the box in my desk drawer. There it remained for ten years. One cold winter day, when we were all snowbound in Massachusetts, I came upon the box of junk in the desk. I put a terry cloth towel down on the desk top and began separating the coins onto it.
Some World War II Philippines material was there as were coins from Australia, New Zealand, and the whole Pacific rim. It was starting to look like some World War II gathering of what was around in that time period. The coins were mostly minors (small silver, nickel, and copper coins), and there were odd British and Australian pennies and half pennies, as well as tokens. But all of a sudden at the bottom of the box was a thick old type British half penny size coin.
It was covered with varnish which had picked up a lot of dirt and odd bits of paper while drying. Under a strong glass in a good light I could tell it was a Hawaiian 1847 cent. The varnish turned out to be yellowing shellac. I thought to myself, “If the gods are good, this could turn out to be a good thing, but how shall I get this garbage off the coin?”
I couldn’t really tell much about it. It might be a fine to very fine coin. After a bit of cogitation, I decided to break out the Q-tips and rubbing alcohol and see what I could do. After an hour of working, I saw that nothing much was happening.
I went wildly outside the box. I went all the way to acetone (C3H6O)! Acetone tends not to alter the color of the coin or its surface. In the old days, a lot of collectors varnished or shellacked their coins to protect them. Even German museums did it.
In the same period, the U.S. Mint was polishing their collections so they would shine when shown on display. I’ll take the varnish treatment over the polishing job any day.
My efforts were crowned with success. A nice reddish brown A.U. Hawaiian cent emerged from more than a century of a varnish-like coating. Only 100,000 of these 1847 cents were minted.
Rumor had it that 50,000 of them had been tossed down a volcano Pele. Who knows? In 1881 a 5¢ piece was minted. They are very rare, and an unknown, but a tiny number of proof 12-1/2¢ coins were also minted in 1883. This corresponds to the face value of the old “Real” or “Bit.” Eight of these would make a Spanish “Piece of Eight” or a dollar. If you have $30,000 to $50,000 to toss around, you might be able to buy one.
There were also plantations in Hawaii which issued their own tokens. In 1928, the United States government honored the 150th anniversary of Cook’s western discovery of Hawaii. I choose to show the reverse side of my coin, not featuring Cook, but featuring King Kamehameha I who united all the islands of Hawaii under his rule between 1790 and 1810.
The United States annexed Hawaii in 1898 at the request of Stanford B. Dole and the rest of the rich American planters. During the World War II Period, the United States overprinted its money to be used in Hawaii with the word “HAWAII” on both sides of the banknotes. This was done so that the $1, $5, $10, and $20 bills which were overprinted could be demonetized if the Hawaiian Islands were successfully invaded by the Japanese.
There is a great deal more that can be written about Hawaiian numismatic history, but that is another story. Enjoy collecting.
Those of you who want to track me down in October will find me at the N.E.S.S. The First Sunday Show is at the Holiday Inn in Dedham, Mass. on October 3rd. The Holiday Inn is located at the junction of Rt. 1A and Rt. 128. This show is a Richard Murphy Production. Show hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
On October 10, I’ll be at Tom Lacey’s Greater Worcester Coin Show on Rt. 12, just off the Mass. Pike Exit 10, at the Best Western Yankee Drummer Hotel in Auburn, Mass. Show hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
I hope to see all of you from The Journal of Antiques and Collectibles there.
By the way, isn’t it interesting that most of the people who now inhabit Hawaii are European or Asian and cavort all over the beach in a state of near nudity. I wonder what those missionaries of 1820 would have to say about that.