This page last updated: 27 May 2004

::: BOSTON LITHOGRAPH - Hawaiian Mysteries :::

By 1861, Hawaiian postal officials were confident the 2¢ domestic rate would be retained so they decided to replace the 2¢ Numerals with a more finished stamp. Because these new stamps were printed by a Boston printer using lithography, they and their engraved re-issues and engraved imitations are known collectively as the "Boston Lithographs."


Traditionally, two printings are given for the lithographed stamps, one in 1861 and another in 1863. All of the lithographed stamps were printed on white laid paper. Stamps of the pale rose and light rose shades are said to be of the first printing and are assigned Scott Nos. 27 - 28 by the Scott Catalogue, with No. 27 assigned to those with the laid lines running horizontally and No. 28 assigned to those with the laid lines running vertically. Stamps of the dark rose and dark carmine rose shades are said to be of the second printing and are assigned Scott Nos. 27a - 28a with the difference depending upon how the laid lines are oriented. Intermediate shades between light rose and dark rose add confusion.

Click Here for discussion of the Clark Essays.
Click Here for discussion of the Number of Printings.
Click Here for a discussion and Illustrations of Forgeries.
Click Here for illustrations of Boston Lithograph covers.


2¢ Pale Carmine Rose or Light Rose on White Laid Paper With Laid Lines Running Either Horizontally Or Vertically

Scott No. 27
Scott No. 28

2¢ pale carmine rose on laid paper, Scott No. 27 (paper laid horizontally)

2¢ light rose on laid paper, Scott No. 28 (paper laid vertically)


2¢ Dark Rose or Dark Carmine Rose on White Laid Paper With Laid Lines Running Either Horizontally Or Vertically

Scott No. 27a
Scott No. 28a

2¢ dark carmine rose on horizontally laid paper, Scott No. 27a

2¢ dark rose on vertically laid paper, Scott No. 28a


Click Here for The Quantity And Shade Analysis.


Much of what we should know of these stamps remains a mystery. Postmaster General Alvah Clark sent an order for "5000 sheets, 25 stamps on a sheet" to John Marsh of Boston on May 2, 1861. Clark wanted the stamps printed in red ink "similar to the U. S. three cent stamps & of the same size of the Hawaiian five cent stamps." Clark gave specific details about the wording and arrangement for the stamps, but forgot to include the word "HAWAII" so these stamps have no country reference. The order contained a "likeness" of Kamehameha IV in military uniform with full beard, made in 1860. Curiously, in the early 1870's Henry Whitney claimed he designed and ordered these stamps in 1855, confusing early philatelic writers. By the 1890's, most writers and catalogues were reporting the correct date.

Marsh was not a printer so he arranged for the stamps to be executed by someone else. The only source we have for the names of the die engraver, Nathaniel Dearborn, and printer, T. R. Holland, is that notorious philatelic rogue, S. Allen Taylor, whose own forgeries of this issue are well known. No record of the printing layout exists, although Taylor offered his own fanciful explanation. No full sheets exist today. Reconstructing the layout of the printing stone is thus a challenge. Much use is made of ink skips and stray color marks found in each stamp position.

Click Here for Plating Study.

The order was received by Marsh around mid-June, 1861 and the stamps were sent from Boston about mid-July. Clark received the stamps on September 2, 1861. He wrote to Marsh on September 4, acknowledging "the tin containing stamps" and complained "the color is not exactly what I intended, and they are rather faded." The quick fulfillment of this order, done as the United States was being torn by the start of the Civil War, was possible only because the stamps were lithographed despite Clark's order for an engraved stamp.

Proofs from the lithograph printing exist. They show two die flaws common to all lithograph and engraved re-issues, suggesting a single die was prepared for the lithograph printing and used again when engraved stamps were ordered later:

lithograph proofs A
lithograph proofs B
Details of two lithograph proofs showing a stray diagonal grill line extending downward into the colorless panel above the "T" of "KENETA," seen on all lithographed and engraved re-issues
lithograph proofs C
lithograph proofs D
Details of two lithograph proofs showing extensions of the grill lines into the colorless panel at the upper right of the center vignette, visible on all lithograph and engraved re-issues


Scott No. 29
Scott No. 29s

Engraved re-issue of 1869, Scott No. 29. The engraved stamps have none of the ink skips and other position marks of the lithographic printings.

First re-issue stamp overprinted in Honolulu about 1872

To fulfill orders from stamp collectors and dealers, the post office ordered a fresh printing of these stamps in 1869. At that time, the stamps still were valid to pay the domestic letter rate but were obsolete because the 2¢ orange red perforated stamp (Scott No. 31a) was the regular issue. The original die was used to prepare a plate of fifteen stamps, five across and three down. The stamps were printed on white wove paper and have more of a carmine red color than rose. About 10,000 of these stamps are thought to have been printed. In order to prevent confusion, the re-issues were overprinted with the word "CANCELLED" by order of the post office around 1872. Only about 1,000 overprinted stamps are thought to have been produced. The re-issue is assigned Scott No. 29 without the overprint, or Scott No. 29s with the overprint. Full sheets of the first re-issue are known, with or without overprint, but they are scarce.


In 1885, the post office desired additional stamps of this issue to fulfill orders from stamp collectors and dealers. However, the original plate could not be found. An example of the stamp was sent to the American Bank Note Company in New York to produce an imitation. A new die was made by George F. C. Smillie, a plate of 50 subjects was laid down and 15,000 stamps were run off in sheets of 50. The resulting imitation was engraved and printed in an orange red color on yellowish to buff wove paper. Part of the order (5,000 stamps) was to be sent overprinted with the word "SPECIMEN," which appears in a steel blue, leaving 10,000 stamps without overprint. The imitation is assigned Scott No. 50 without the overprint, or Scott No. 50S with the overprint.

Scott No. 50
Scott No. 50s

Imitations of 1885, Scott No. 50 on yellowish wove paper

Imitation overprinted by the American Bank Note Company with the original order, Scott No. 50S

Enough differences exist between stamps printed from the original die and imitations to avoid serious risk of confusion. However, one well accepted test apart from the paper and ink color is in the extension of the frame line at the bottom left of the central portrait. In the imitation, the frame line extends to the frame line at the top of the box containing the words "ELUA KENETA." In stamps from the original die, the frame line stops short.

Scott 50 corner zoom
Zoom of corner frame line of the imitation, Scott No. 50
Scott No. 51 Zoom In
Zoom of corner frame line of Scott No. 51, from the original die


The original die was discovered in the post office vault in 1887. Eventually, the postmaster decided to send the die to the American Bank Note Company to be restored so more stamps could be printed from the original die. The die was restored and a new plate was made of fifteen subjects. They were printed in a carmine red color on yellowish paper. This paper has a watermark R & M sometimes visible in the margins or in stamps from the outer rows or columns. In 1892, remainders were overprinted with the word "REPRINT" by the Robert Grieve Company in Honolulu. The first order for these stamps was to make 7,500. A second printing of 30,000 was placed in 1890. Of the total 37,500, about 24,000 were overprinted. Remainders of the overprints were destroyed by order of the post office in 1897, at which time 13,873 of these stamps were burned. Thus, we are left with about 13,500 stamps without overprint and about 10,100 overprinted stamps.

Scott No. 51
Scott No. 51s

Re-issue of 1889, Scott No. 51

1889 re-issue stamp, overprinted in Honolulu in 1892, Scott No. 51S

Students of this issue have sought evidence of retouches to the die in the 1889 re-issue. A notable retouch is said to exist immediately to the right (our left as we view it) of the King's nose where there are three sharp shade lines running nearly parallel to the bridge of the nose from the corner of the King's right eye nearest the nose to the mustache. Meyer-Harris focused on these lines as retouching evidence. However, the same three lines appear on plate proofs from the lithograph stone and also can be seen in the lithographed stamps themselves, although weaker. These shade lines apparently were strengthened, but not added, in the retouch of the die.

lithograph proof

lithograph proof nose
Zoom image of the shade lines lay the left side of the nose on a lithograph proof; the ink skip "donut hole" in the left leaf panel shows this proof is from the lithograph stone
Scott 28 nose 1200-2
Zoom image of the shade lines on Scott No. 28, showing the same three shade lines to the left of the King's nose, although they are weak in these stamps
Scott 29 nose 1200-1
Zoom image of the shade lines to the left of the nose in Scott No. 29, the 1869 first engraved issue
Scott 50 nose
Zoom image of the left side of the nose on the 1885 imitation; no shade lines
Scott No. 51 Zoom In
Zoom image of the more pronounced shade lines in the 1889 re-issue, Scott No. 51


  • Meyer, Henry A., and Harris, Rear Adm. Frederic R., et al., Hawaii, Its Stamps and Postal History; Chapter 18, "The Kamehameha IV or 'Boston Lithographed' Issue", p. 175-186, The Philatelic Foundation, New York, 1948. A comprehensive discussion of the issue, but with no conclusions regarding the stone layout.

  • Ginther, Ralph B., "The Hawaiian Two Cent Imperforates", Stamps, Vol. 37, No. 5 [477], p. 153-154, Nov. 1, 1941. Excellent monograph collecting most of what was then known.

  • Luff, John N., "Hawaiian Islands - The Two Cents Lithographed And Engraved", The American Journal of Philately, Vol. 8, p. 244-246, May 1, 1895. Confusing on the early reprint and laid paper originals.

  • Diena, Dr. Emilio, "A Variety of the Two Cents of 1861, Lithographed, of the Hawaiian Islands", The London Philatelist, Vol. XXIX, [347], p. 258-260, November, 1920. Details the lithographic transfer flaw.

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