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Stampless Consignee 24Apr94

A consignee letter sent free of postage to the consignee of cargo aboard a ship waiting to unload at Honolulu Harbor. It is postmarked on the back on April 24, 1894.

Until August 1, 1859, all domestic mail was carried free of charge. This total government subsidy lead to abuse as people delivered to the post office bags of fruit, flammable liquids, bulky hats and other objects expecting them to be carried to some other place and for the most part the post office complied.

AUGUST 1, 1859

A standard letter rate of 2 per ounce prepaid was fixed on August 1, 1859, when laws affecting the Post Office and postage rates were added to the Civil Code as sections 397 to 415. The need to charge something for domestic mail had become increasingly apparent in the face of an escalating use of the mail. Even so, the decision to impose a postage rate on domestic letters was attended with considerable debate and much doubt existed over whether the rate would be repealed. Certainly if the new rate had resulted in diminished letter writing it would have been abandoned. However, letter writing flourished despite the new postage rate. This letter rate remained in place until June 14, 1900, when the United State postal system took over the delivery of mail in Hawaii. Throughout the period, prepayment of at least a single letter rate was required or the letter was to be refused.

Letters were to be prepaid with stamps but if there were no stamps a postmaster could accept a letter with payment in cash and mark it "Paid." All "individuals" were prohibited from carrying unstamped letters outside the mail. The law was written broadly to prohibit both express companies and friends from taking a letter from one place to another unless it was stamped. Three exceptions were written into this prohibition against carrying unstamped letters outside the mail: 1) free postage was conferred upon the king and queen, royal ministers and official correspondence; 2) drop letter and 3) consignee letters could be taken free of postage outside the mail direct from a ship in a harbor to a consignee located at the same harbor.

Additional rates set out in Section 406 or elsewhere in the 1859 Act became effective August 1, 1859, as follows:

  • 15 to register any kind of mailable matter;

  • free for newspapers sent from the office of publication to subscribers;

  • 1 for all other newspapers;

  • 1 per ounce for bound books;

  • 2 each for pamphlets under 200 pages and 4 for pamphlets of 200 pages or more;

  • 2 per ounce for sealed packages;

  • 1 per ounce for parcels of small bulk without letters, papers, liquids in glasses or anything injurious to the contents of the mail bag;

  • free for drop letters mailed at the office of "delivery" (no city or town carrier service existed then so "delivery" was at the post office when someone called for their letters);

  • free for the king, queen, royal ministers and official correspondence;

  • consignee letters could be carried free of postage outside the mail direct to a ship's consignee at the port where the ship was waiting to unload (a letter rate was charged if the consignee letter was delivered through the post office).

The only rate where a single 1 stamp might be used as a practical matter was on transient newspapers, those sent to anyone from a source other than the office of publication or from that source to a non-subscriber. Other rates calling for 1 involved articles usually weighing more than an ounce so the rate in practice worked out to some multiple of 1, but could require an odd value necessitating a 1 stamp in addition to one or more 2 stamps. These rates explain the sparse need for 1 stamps such as the 1 Numerals and Scott No. 30a.

1865 ACT

Effective January 10, 1865, the free frank privilege for the king, queen, royal ministers and official correspondence was ended and fines were added for conveying "any letter from port to port."

1876 RATES

Some changes were made to these additional rates as time wore on. Thomas G. Thrum began publishing the Hawaiian Almanac and Annual in 1875 and in 1876 began including a table of inter-island postage rates. The table included in 1876 shows some changes since 1859. By 1876, in addition to the 2 per ounce letter rate, the rates reported in Thrum's Annual were:

  • 15 to register any kind of mailable matter;

  • 2 per ounce for newspapers sent from the office of publication to subscribers if the overland carrier routes on Hawaii, Maui or Kauai were used;

  • free for newspapers sent from the office of publication to subscribers other than via the overland routes mentioned above;

  • 1 each for all other newspapers or printed circulars;

  • 2 for printed music, pamphlets or magazines under 50 pages and 4 for the same from 50 to 200 pages;

  • 1 per ounce for bound books, patterns or samples, limited to 4 pounds each.

1878 ACT

In 1878, the legislature enacted comprehensive changes in postal rates, effective August 1, 1878:

  • First class:
    2 per ounce for letters, sealed packages, "mail matter wholly or partly in writing, printed matter, so marked or interlined as to convey other information than that of the original print, all matter not otherwise chargeable with letter postage but concealing any written memorandum; and all matter so wrapped or secured as to prevent its examination without breaking or destroying the wrapper;"

  • Second class:
    > 1 per 4 ounces for newspapers, pamphlets, almanacs, calendars, corrected proofs, hand-bills, magazines, maps, sheet music, occasional publications (not bound), posters and other publications, (not bound) designed primarily for advertising purposes or for free circulation;
    > free for newspapers published in the Hawaiian Islands and mailed from the office of publication to subscribers;

  • Third class:
    1 per ounce for bound volumes including books, blank cards, book manuscripts, card boards, engravings, merchandise, models, samples, seed, cuttings, roots, bulbs, photographs and all other matter not otherwise described in the first or second class.

A new 1 per ounce drop letter rate replaced the previous free rate. Postal cards were authorized and a 1 rate for them was fixed (but the postmaster general did not purchase postal cards until 1882). The right to send consignee letters outside the mail free of postage and the 15 registry fee were continued. A four pound weight limit was put on second and third class mail. "Disloyal, lewd, indecent or obscene mail" was prohibited along with live animals, liquids, explosives, poisons, sharp instruments, sugar and glass.

1882 ACT

On August 7, 1882, the fee for registering a letter was reduced to 10.


According to Thrum's Annual, printed circulars were charged at the same rate as drop letters, increasing the cost from 1 per 4 ounces, under the former second class rate for advertising circulars, to 1 per ounce.


I have no record of changes to domestic postal rates after 1887 and Thrum's Annual for 1900 continues to reflect the rates stated in 1887.


Hawaii required at least one rate to be prepaid and if the letter was underpaid, the recipient was charged double the amount of the deficiency. I am uncertain when this practice began but it is mentioned in Whitney's July, 1885 postal regulations.



3-E-I 4Sep60

Docketed in September, 1860, this cover shows the 2 letter rate for domestic mail, effective August 1, 1859. The numeral stamp is plate 3-E-I and was used as an illustration in Westerberg.

Hono 231_82 12Jun00 C&C

At the end of Hawaii's independent postal period on June 13, 1900, the letter rate was still 2 per ounce. This cover bears a Honolulu postmark type 231.82 dated June 12, 1900 and a Kohala, Hawaii postmark type 254.018 dated June 14, 1900, so it was in transit as Hawaii became the United States Territory of Hawaii and the job of administering postal affairs passed from the Republic of Hawaii to the United States of America.

Ookala 259_023 8Jan94 52pr

A letter weighing more than a ounce required another 2 for each additional ounce or fraction thereof. This double weight cover originated at Ookala, Hawaii and was franked with a pair of 2 Scott No. 52, postmarked January 8, 1894.


UPSS1 Hono 4Jan94

Letters deposited in the post office where they were to be delivered were free until a 1 rate was imposed in 1876. This UPSS 1 1 envelope was postmarked January 4, 1894 with Honolulu type 231.72 and was delivered in the City of Honolulu at the 1 rate. Drop letters and printed circulars usually both show the 1 rate but can be distinguished by whether the envelope was sealed. Drop letters could be sealed but envelopes enclosing circulars had to be left unsealed.

Hono 231_82 2Feb97 74 drop

A drop letter postmarked at Honolulu on February 2, 1897 with postmark type 231.82.

UPSS 3a Lihue 282_011 17Jan93 drop

On Kauai, people used the drop rate to send letters intra-island without penalty. This practice seems to be a violation of the drop rate (repeated advices from the General Post Office warn against permitting use of the drop rate other than for mail deposited in the same office where it was to be picked up by the recipient) but it apparently was tolerated. The image above is a UPSS 3a envelope sent from Lihue to Hanalei without penalty. It was postmarked at Lihue on January 17, 1893 with type 282.011.


Koloa reg 30May

A double weight registered cover postmarked at Koloa, Kauai on May 10, 1899 with type 282.012 and at Honolulu on May 11, 1899 with type 282.11. From 1859 to 1882, the domestic registered rate was 15. Effective August 4, 1882, after Hawaii joined the UPU and the international registry fee was 10, the domestic registry fee was reduced to 10 per letter, plus domestic postage. Unlike the international registration practice (restricted to letters), in Hawaii any mailable matter could be registered.


UX1 Wailuku 238_02 29Mar82

This UX1 postcard was postmarked March 29, 1882 at Wailuku, Maui, the first month in which postal cards were available in Hawaii to take advantage of the 1 rate fixed in 1876 for domestic postal cards.

UX8a Hono 18Sep98

Postmarked September 18, 1898 at Honolulu with type 231.72, this postal card is a UX8a with its characteristic pinkish color. It originated on Kauai where it was postmarked at Kekaha with type 235.04 on September 17.


Free Official

Official correspondence was carried free until 1865 and thereafter regular postage was charged so starting in 1865, every government agency had to budget a certain amount of money to pay to the Postal Service for postage.

Stampless GPO to Ulu 11Mar89

Official correspondence of the Postal Service continued to be carried in the mail free of postage. The above cover is an official Hawaiian Postal Service cover sent free to Ulupalakua, Maui and postmarked at Honolulu on March 11, 1889.

Hono 231_82 10Oct98 Interior

Apart from the Postal Service, government agencies were required to frank their correspondence with postage stamps after 1865. This example is a drop letter postmarked October 10, 1898 with Honolulu postmark type 231.82.


Stampless Consignee 24Apr94

Postmarked on the back at Honolulu on April 24, 1894, this consignee's letter was "canceled" with the old patent style MH 116. In the early days, consignee's letters could come ashore and be delivered outside the mail. This exception to the general requirement that all mail must be stamped and sent through the post office resulted in consignee letters being allowed free so long as they were not delivered by the post office. If delivered by the post office, the letter rate applied. References in post office correspondence support the conclusion that consignee letters delivered through the post office were allowed free in the later years and this cover is evidence of that practice.


Hono 231_72 10Feb99 74 taxed

This cover franked with a 1 Scott No. 74 was underpaid 1 so the recipient was charged double the deficiency. It was postmarked February 10, 1899 at Honolulu with type 231.72. For the tax marks used in Hawaii, see Service Marks.


Stampless Wailuku Paid 18Nov89

One of the few stampless covers provisionally marked "Paid" by Interim Postmaster Lee at Wailuku, Maui, during a shortage of postage stamps at that office. This example was postmarked at Wailuku on November 18, 1889 with Wailuku type 282.01 (II).

Stampless Kahului Postage Paid 30Nov

An example of the handstamped "Postage Paid" seen on covers to Kahului from Wailuku or Honolulu. This example was postmarked November 30 (the year is uncertain) with type 281.01 (I).


Hono 226_528 circular

Postmarked with the undated Honolulu squared circle postmark used primarily for second and third class mail, this envelope was left unsealed as required for sending printed circulars or advertisements at the 1 circular rate instead of the 2 letter rate. Unlike circulars, drop letters could be sealed so a cover left unsealed is presumed to be a circular cover.


Hono 234_62 15Apr  photos

This large cover enclosed photographs and was sent at the third class rate of 1 per ounce set in 1876. Thus this item was rated at between five and six ounces. It is franked with Scott No. 33, rarely seen on domestic mail, and was postmarked at Honolulu on April 15 (year uncertain) with postmark type 234.62, first put in use about January, 1879.

Hono 226_528 newspaper

Transient newspapers were those sent in the mail other than from the office of publication to a subscriber. This newspaper wrapper covered a transient newspaper. Newspapers sent from the office of publication to a subscriber were free but transient newspapers probably fell under the third class catch-all provision. I interpret the second class reference to "newspapers" to have been limited to newspapers devoted primarily to advertising. This interpretation would place transient newspapers in the 1 per ounce rate category. If transient newspapers were considered second class mail then the rate was 1 per 4 ounces.


A "Special Postal Delivery" mark was concocted by someone in Honolulu to give apparent credibility to covers bearing higher value stamps.

Bogus SpecPostDel 13Mar94
Hono 231_72 13Mar94 bogus 63

Two covers bearing a bogus "SPECIAL POSTAL DELIVERY" legend apparently designed to give credibility to philatelic inventions bearing scarce high value overprinted stamps. These covers were postmarked March 13, 1894, with genuine Honolulu postmarks type 231.72. The 18 cover is interesting because it bears a double overprint and shows there was a sense of disdain toward overprint varieties caused by printer's mistakes so the creator of these covers assigned no premium to the value of a double overprinted stamp. Thrum, for example, had a complete collection of Hawaiian stamps including all of the Missionaries but he refused to consider double overprints worthy of his collection. Collectors at that time attached significant premiums to some other overprint errors, such as the missing period variety.

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