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Hilo Custom 27May65 31a

Hilo Customs House mark used as a postmark by the Hilo Post Office. This letter is docketed May 17, 1865


Post offices on the island of Hawaii, the largest and southernmost island of the group, began in 1846 with a customs office located at Hilo, the largest town on the island. Another office was opened in 1847 at Kealakekua, serving the populated upland region of South Kona. Kawaihae, a tiny and arid village but strategically located as a port was the third customs office on the island, opened in 1850. The kingdom's 1846 Organic Act assigned postal duties to customs collectors so as customs collectors were appointed in the 1840's, the job of handling mail at the port fell to them.

A post office, as such, was established at Benjamin Pitman's store in Hilo in 1854, the first official post office on the island. Benjamin Pitman, the Hilo customs collector, now added the formal title of postmaster of Hilo. That same year, postmasters were appointed for offices at Paauhau (known as the Hamakua office), Kawaihae and Waimea. By 1860, eleven offices were open on Hawaii. In addition to the four opened in 1854, three offices were opened in 1856 (Ka'u, located at Waiohinu), (Kailua and Kealakekua), two in 1858 (Kaupakuea and Kohala), one in 1859 (Laupahoehoe) and one in 1860 (Keaiwa). Only the Puna District was without a post office but it was serviced from nearby Hilo. Hawaii's population was declining throughout this period so by 1875, only eight offices were still open: Hilo, Kawaihae, Kealakekua, Kailua, Waiohinu (renamed from the Ka'u office), Waimea and Kohala. No offices were located in Hamakua or Puna. With the 1876 Reciprocity Treaty, Hawaii's population rebounded and postal services expanded. The number of open post offices in 1880 was fifteen, in 1881, the number had climbed to eighteen and in 1884, there were twenty-four. In 1900, thirty-four offices were operating.

Hilo 235_02 23Mar88 Hawaii route

Mailed at Hilo on March 23, 1888 and taken by steamer to Mahukona and thence by railroad to Kapaau in Kohala.

Although mail arrangements look quite organized on paper, they often created problems. Steamers landed mail in the wrong place or weather kept ships away, leading to inefficiencies and frustrations.

UX1 Paauahau 253_41 21Jan86 back

Message side of a UX1 postal card mailed from Paauhau on January 21, 1886. In the message, postmaster Lyman complained about having to hire a carrier to retrieve mail improperly landed at Paauilo by the steamer Kinau. The Kinau was due at the Paauhau landing and Lyman concludes "I will close bag at landing, but can not weigh letters there."

Town Postmarks and Cancels

The Big Island's first postmarks were the Hilo custom house mark and the makeshift Laupahoehoe mark. Hilo got the first dating stamp in June, 1866 and Kawaihae received its first postmark in July, 1868. A decade passed before another postmark appeared on Hawaii, the Waiohinu oval mark, seen only as a backstamp in 1878. In that year, Kohala received its first dating stamp, the standard brass type 238.02. In 1880, only four dating stamps were in use on Hawaii (all type 238.02 used at Hilo, Kawaihae, Kohala and Waiohinu). The first of the rubber stamps is recorded at Hoopuloa in 1882 and others appearing later that year were at Hilea, Mahukona, Pahala and Puehuehu. By 1885, at least nineteen dating stamps were in use on the island among the twenty-two offices listed that year. Otherwise, stamps were canceled with pen strokes, manuscript town names or other cancels.

On the Island of Hawaii, I count a total of one hundred thirty-five postmarks used up to June 13, 1900. Of that number, twenty six are manuscript marks (Hamakua, Hilea, four styles of Hilo, Honokaa, Kalapana, Kapoho, Kau, Kaupakuea, Kawaihae, Keaiwa, Keauhou, Kohala, Laupahoehoe, Mahukona, Mountain View, Napoopoo, Olaa, Paauhau, Paauilo, Punaluu, Waimea, Waiohinu and two styles of Waipio).

The post offices are listed alphabetically. Click on:

Island of Hawaii Postmarks, Part 1 for Alualu to Hilo

Island of Hawaii Postmarks, Part 2 for Holualoa to Kawaihae

Island of Hawaii Postmarks, Part 3 for Keaau to Niulii

Island of Hawaii Postmarks, Part 4 for Olaa to Waipio

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