This page last updated: 13 November 2005


JULY 1, 1870 - DECEMBER 31, 1881

Hono. 245.01 23Jul70

Mail exchanged between Hawaii and the United States was greatly simplified by a Postal Convention signed May 4, 1870, effective July 1, 1870. This Convention:

  • Created a single rate of 6 per ounce for first class mail, fully paid with postage stamps of the country of origin. See Mail Rates.

  • Abolished collect or underpaid letters, stipulating they were not to be forwarded;

  • Provided "each country shall retain to its own use the postages which it collects" thus ending the accounting system with the San Francisco post office;

  • Prohibited either country from adding internal fees for delivery of mail received from the other (thus abolishing the Hawaiian 5 internal charge on foreign mail and the United States ship fee);

  • Specified many other details for exchanging mail including the style of postmarks required and where they were to be placed on a cover.

I see the Convention Period as the "Neo-Classical" Period of Hawaiian postal history. It retains the "innocence" of the Treaty Period in the sense that few fakes or "philatelic inspirations" - genuine covers made to order for collectors - are known. Mixed frankings, colorful stamp combinations, a proliferation of town cancels and an interesting variety of Honolulu foreign mail postmarks are some of the reasons why this Period should fascinate any student of postal history, as it does me.

The first mail bag sent from Honolulu in the Convention Period was postmarked July 23, 1870 and carried to San Francisco on the steamer Ajax, departing July 24 and arriving San Francisco August 4. Hawaii joined the Universal Postal Union effective January 1, 1882. The Convention Period thus ended December 31, 1881. The last covers recorded were carried by the steamer City of Sydney, departing Honolulu December 19, 1881. Two sailing vessels departed Honolulu with mail between December 19 and January 1, the American barkentine Jane A. Falkinburg on December 20 with 56 letters and the Hawaiian bark Kalakaua on December 31 with 395 letters. Also, the British steamer Zealandia departed for Sydney on December 27. No covers have come to light from sailings after the City of Sydney until the new UPU rates were in effect.

Contract steam service continued into this period both to San Francisco and to Australasia, terminating at either Sydney or Auckland. Neither service, was consistent. Financial troubles and old steamers plagued the Australasian route in the early '70's and the service actually was suspended from April, 1873 to January, 1874. Moreover, in September, 1873, the steamer Costa Rica (the only steamer on the Hawaii - San Francisco route) grounded attempting to enter San Francisco Bay in a fog and that service came to a halt. Sailing ships and naval vessels filled the void until January, 1874, when service between Sydney and San Francisco via Honolulu was commenced. Through several route realignments between Auckland, Fiji and Sydney, Honolulu had continuous steam service between San Francisco and Australasia through the balance of this Period. Between Hawaii and San Francisco, the high volume of steamer and sailing ship traffic usually offered multiple opportunities to forward mail each month.


Hawaii continued using its 2 orange-red (Scott No. 31a) and 5 blue (Scott No. 32) stamps until newly ordered stamps arrived in March, 1871. These stamps were the 1 mauve (Scott No. 30a), 6 yellowish-green (Scott No. 33) and 18 "burgundy" (Scott No. 34). In 1875, after Kalakaua became king, new stamps were ordered with his portrait on the 2 brown (Scott No. 35) and his brother's portrait on the 12 black (Scott No. 36). These stamps are discussed in detail at National Bank Note Company stamps. The 2 stamps were primarily for use on domestic mail but are found in multiples on foreign mail. The 1 stamp was for postage on newspapers sent either in the domestic or foreign mail, or for the domestic drop mail rate instituted during this Period. The higher value 6, 12 and 18 stamps were intended primarily for foreign mail. Click here for Hawaiian Stamps used on Foreign Mail in the Convention Period.


Need for keeping United States postage stamps on hand continued during the Convention Period. One need was for mail to foreign destinations sent through the United States. In order to take advantage of United States postal treaties, Hawaiians had to use United States postage stamps for the rates to other countries. Also, the Convention failed to address registered mail and it was necessary to prepay United States registry rates with United States postage stamps. Finally, newspapers and other printed matter still required postage stamps of both countries. Click here for Convention Period Mixed Franking Covers To Foreign Countries.

For several years, Hawaiian postal authorities resisted buying supplies of United States stamps for sale over the counter because there was risk of loss and no profit. Only enough United States stamps were purchased from local stationery stores to supply the need of the Post Office on its own correspondence. During 1874, the Post Office began ordering United States stamps in large quantities from the San Francisco Post Office but still refused to distribute them to outlying post offices. Foreign mail originating at a country post office and requiring United States postage was to have sufficient Hawaiian postage put on it to pay the full postage rate. Clerks at Honolulu were to remove the Hawaiian stamp and replace it with the correct amount of United States postage. Finally, in April, 1880, a separate window was opened at the Honolulu Post Office for sale of United States stamps over the counter and they were distributed to outlying post offices.


Hono 19Apr71 cover

Postmarked April 19 at Honolulu, this cover is the earliest known use of the 6 Hawaiian Scott No. 33, paying full postage for delivery in the United States. This cover was carried to San Francisco by the American bark Comet, departing Honolulu April 19, 1871, arriving San Francisco May 7. The Honolulu postmark type is 277.12. Click here for Honolulu Postmarks. A May 8 San Francisco transit mark is on the back. The "SHIP" mark applied at San Francisco is the same marking found during the Treaty Period on collect mail delivered to the San Francisco post office from a non-contract vessel. Click here for San Francisco Postal Markings. Why San Francisco used its SHIP mark on this cover is unclear. Perhaps the San Francisco office was unfamiliar with the new postage stamp. Another reason may rest in the arrangement for paying sea postage. When mail was carried by a non-contract ship in the Convention Period, Hawaii was obligated to pay the sea freight. However, there are many non-contract sailings and the SHIP mark was used only for this one. One other cover from this same sailing of the Comet also bears the "SHIP" mark. Whatever stamp once graced the other cover was cut out and replaced by a United States 10 stamp so we cannot tell if it bore the 6 stamp originally.


Hono 3May75 cover

Postmarked May 3, 1875 at Honolulu and May 15 at San Francisco, this cover for Canterbury, England, is franked with a United States 6 stamp (US Scott No. 159) to pay the then treaty rate between the United States and England. The cover was carried by the steamer Cyphrenes to San Francisco. Note this cover bears the Honolulu "PAID ALL" postmark, type 233.24. It was received at Canterbury on June 2.

About July, 1875, Honolulu stopped using its regular foreign mail postmark on letters for delivery to other countries. Instead, Honolulu postmarked those letters on the back with its regular domestic mail postmark. In July, 1881, Honolulu again started placing its normal foreign mail postmark on the front of covers destined for delivery in countries beyond the United States, and continued to do so through the balance of this Period. Why Honolulu stopped and later resumed the use of its regular foreign mail postmarks on mail to other countries is unclear. When it stopped, the General Postal Union had just been formed on July 1, 1875, with the United States as a member, but not Hawaii. Perhaps the PAID ALL postmarks were thought to be confusing in light of GPU practices. The GPU was replaced by the Universal Postal Union on April 1, 1879. When Hawaii resumed using its foreign mail postmarks on mail to other countries, Hawaii was itself applying for membership in the UPU and perhaps discovered its PAID ALL postmarks were satisfactory after all.

Hono 12Nov75 cover: front and back

Front and back of a letter destined for Coulon sur Mer, France. It is postmarked November 12, 1875 on the back with postmark type 243.03 (after July 1, 1870, this type was used only for domestic mail although it was a foreign mail marker in the Treaty Period). In addition to the Hawaiian 6 stamp, this letter is franked with 9 United States postage to pay the rate then in effect between the United States and France (France joined the GPU in January, 1876).


Hono 25Feb75 cover REG

Postmarked February 25, 1875 and registered for delivery in the United States. Because the Convention failed to address registered mail, it was necessary to pay the United States registry fee with United States stamps. In this case, the United States registry fee was 8, regardless of weight, so it was paid only once on this double weight cover. A "silent" Hawaiian registry fee of 15 also was charged but paid in cash so there is no indication of this rate on the cover. Click here for Registered Letters.


Hono 17Feb79 wrapper

This newspaper wrapper shows an example of the third way United States stamps were required on mail during the Convention Period. This wrapper is postmarked February 17 and is ascribed to 1879 based on sailing tables, the postmark type (234.62) and the then current 1 plus 1 rate for transient newspapers. The stamps are the Hawaiian 1 mauve (Scott No. 30a) and the United States 1 (US Scott No. 156). Please E-mail ( me with information about other wrappers from the Convention Period.


foreign office honolulu front May 1878
Hono 30Sep78 cover

At least two styles of labels were used by the Foreign Office at Honolulu for its official mail. The handful of known covers bearing a Foreign Office label all were mailed to the Azores. The upper image is cropped from a large cover mailed at Honolulu on May 14, 1878; the Honolulu postmark on the back is type 222.02. The lower image, also cropped from a large cover, was mailed from Honolulu on September 30, 1878; the Honolulu postmark on the back is type 223.029. Both covers were treated as fully paid and traveled via San Francisco, New York, London and Lisbon. For another cover with the Foreign Office label, see Aall Sale, Siegel Auction #805, lot 550. Please E-mail ( me if you have information about other covers with this label.


Conventions also were signed with New Zealand and New South Wales. The New Zealand convention was signed before March, 1871, and the only evidence of it found to date is in internal post office correspondence in Hawaii. Please E-mail ( me if you can shed further information on this convention. The rate was 12 per half ounce, fully paid in postage stamps of the country of origin, each country retaining the postage collected. The convention with New South Wales was signed July 1, 1874. A rate of 12 was stipulated but in practice the rate charged was 12. Before this convention, rates are unclear but the rate published in Hawaii was 12 in April, 1871. A convention between the United States and New South Wales effective in February, 1874, stipulated a rate of 12. Covers to Australasia in this Period before 1875 have not been found.

NZMPO 11Apr81 cover

Postmarked with a New Zealand Marine PO mark dated April 11, 1881, this cover actually was mailed on board the steamer City of New York, after its departure from Honolulu on April 18. The postmark date was fixed at the steamer's departure for Sydney via Honolulu from San Francisco on April 10 (adding one day to conform to the New Zealand date) and was unchanged until the steamer reached Auckland. A letter mailed on board was to be paid with postage stamps of the last port-of-call and according to the rates in effect from that port. Thus this letter was franked with the Hawaiian 12 stamp and was received at Dunedin on May 7. Only two covers to Australasia from this Period are recorded (see Pietsch Sale - Shreve Auction, September, 1996 - lot 1339 for the other cover, franked with six 2 stamps). Please E-mail ( me with information about other covers to Australasia during the Convention Period.

NZMPO 11Apr81 mark

Detail of the New Zealand Marine PO mark. This mark is McNaughten type 5. See McNaught, K.J., "New Zealand Marine Post Office Markings On Hawaiian Stamps", The American Philatelist, Vol.84, No.9 [836], p.793-795, Sept., 1970; reprinted at Mitchell's Hawaiian Philatelist, Vol.3, No.2, p.16-20, 1980, for a complete listing of NZMPO marks found on Hawaiian mail.


Closed mail

Here is a mystery. This cover is postmarked in London on February 21, 1881. A closed mail system between Hawaii and Great Britain is documented from the Treaty Period. No closed mail covers from that Period have been identified. I am unable to document a closed mail system this late in time. This cover has no Honolulu or San Francisco postmarks. The stamps appear to have originated on this cover and the cross-roads cancels are of Hawaiian origin. Please E-mail ( me if you can provide additional information about a closed mail system between Hawaii and Great Britain in 1881.


July 81 forwarded letter
Irwin oval mark

Front and portion of back showing the Irwin forwarder mark. This cover is postmarked July 31 at San Francisco and bears no Honolulu postmark. It was carried on the American barkentine W. G. Irwin, departing July 11, 1881 and arriving July 31. Loose letters were implicitly prohibited by the Convention, but examples are known. Some, such as this cover, were handled by forwarders but in order to prepay the postage with Hawaiian stamps, the letter had to be in the official mail bag. How forwarders got mail into the San Francisco post office fully prepaid with Hawaiian stamps is unclear.


Mail from the United States was supposed to be paid at the same 6 rate applicable to mail from Hawaii.

Inbound 15Oct77

A typical inbound letter with 6 postage fully paid with stamps of the United States. Hawaii was prohibited by the Convention from adding its 5 foreign mail rate on mail received from the United States. This cover shows a Honolulu receiving postmark, the domestic mark in use at the time. The Honolulu postmark was probably applied because the letter was forwarded to Hilo because receiving postmarks typically are not seen on inbound letters in this time frame. This cover belongs in 1877 based on the postmark type and sailing lists.

Domestic mail could be sent throughout the United States for 3 and the need to add another 3 for mail to Hawaii was forgotten by some people. We thus see short paid covers to Hawaii. In some cases, the extra 3 was added as a courtesy by someone in a post office in the United States. In other cases, mail was held for postage in San Francisco. In those instances, a card was sent to the addressee to pay the extra postage before the letter would be forwarded.

Held for Postage cover

This cover bears a San Francisco "HELD FOR POSTAGE" lozenge because it was a double weight cover and required an additional 6 postage. Given the manuscript note, probably reflecting the dateline on the contents, and the April 15 San Francisco postmark, it is probable someone in San Francisco (perhaps the Hawaiian postal agent or consul) paid the extra 6 to avoid the delay in sending a card to Rev. Bond and waiting for him to send the money.

Short Paid
Short Paid - back

Front and back of a short paid letter originating in the East. In this case, the extra postage was paid by George Hopper, the Superintendent, Foreign Department, New York Post Office, as reflected in a note he placed on the back of the cover.


Inbound - Outbound cover: front and back

This cover was sent to Hawaii for transmission to Kusaie in the Caroline Islands and is anther example of a short paid letter with the extra postage paid by George Hopper. By now, Hopper had gotten a handstamp to show he added postage. Mail from Hawaii to the mission stations in the South Pacific was carried privately. This cover is attributed to 1881, based on sketchy data.

Hopper oval mark

Detail showing the Hopper handstamp.

Hono 7Feb78 cover

Another inbound/outbound cover going in the opposite direction. This cover originated at Ponape, Micronesia and was brought to Honolulu on the Morning Star for delivery in Ohio. The Morning Star arrived from Ponape on February 5, 1878, to be postmarked at Honolulu on February 7, type 221.02, for the February 9 sailing of the steamer St. Paul. The stamp is the bluish-green 6 (Scott 33a).


Our cover log for the Convention Period lists 482 covers (including pieces and fronts large enough to yield postal history information). This number is lower than expected so more covers probably can be added. Auction houses often include covers from this period in large lots or without illustrations. Recently, prices for these covers have risen for even the ordinary cover franked with a 6 stamp and most auction houses now illustrate them in single lots if the condition is decent. More of these covers should become visible. Mixed franking covers, bisect covers and covers with Hawaiian 1, 12 or 18 stamps have been treated more respectfully by auction houses so the log of those covers can be considered more complete.

As in the Treaty Period, the number of covers we find today from a given year suggests written correspondence mirrored economic conditions in the Islands. In 1875, Hawaii's economy began expanding dramatically as American markets opened to Hawaiian sugar when tariffs were lifted. Through 1871-1874, Hawaii had nothing of substance to export and no whaling fleet to support in numbers approaching the 1840's and 1850's so its economy stagnated. Businesses were shrinking or closing. When we look at the number of surviving covers identified from these period, we find there are 27 covers from the last six months of 1870, 33 covers from the year 1871, 25 covers from 1872, 23 covers from 1873 and 24 covers from 1874. By contrast, in 1875 we count 40 covers and in 1881 we have 79 covers.

Another interesting development in this rate Period is the proliferation in town postmarks for towns outside Honolulu. When this Period started, outside Honolulu only Hilo, Lahaina, Wailuku and Kawaihae had postmarks. During this Period twenty-two town postmarks (including the Lanai manuscript) were in use, many of which are found as origin postmarks on foreign mail. Click here for a list of Town Postmarks in use during the Convention Period. Please E-mail ( me if you can add to the list of town postmarks found on foreign mail in this Period.

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