This page last updated: 25 September 2019


Hawaii’s sugar production was stifled for many years by high sugar tariffs in the United States, Hawaii’s major market. In 1876, a “Reciprocity Treaty” between Hawaii and the United States reduced tariffs significantly and American capital flowed in to expanding sugar plantations and build infrastructure for getting more sugar to market. Maui’s isthmus districts of Hamakuapoko, irrigated by water brought on aqueducts from the slopes of Haleakala, and Wailuku, watered by the West Maui Mountains, became some of the largest plantations in the islands, including Spreckelsville, said to be the largest sugar plantation in the world. To get milled sugar onto ships headed to refineries on San Francisco Bay directly, without transshipping cargo at Honolulu, the nearby boat harbor of Kahului was dredged and transformed into a port for oceangoing steamships.

An entrepreneur named Thomas Hobron built a narrow gauge railroad to connect the Kahului port with the plantations. The line eventually was called The Kahului Railroad. The first part of the line, the rail between Wailuku and the harbor, was in service by early 1880. Service was extended eastward to Paia by 1884. A branch line serviced Spreckelsville Plantation. Wilder Steamship Company took over the railroad in 1884. Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company, owner of Spreckelville Plantation, bought it from Wilder in 1897 to resolve an impasse over port access. A trestle bridge 200 feet high spanned Maliko Gorge to reach Haiku in 1913 for hauling pineapple. The railroad continued to operate into the 1960s.

Mail Carriage

Hobron, who also was postmaster of Kahului, allowed mail to be sent free over the railroad. Later, in 1884, Wilder received a subsidy of $25 per month for hauling mail. Mail was carried on the railroad in locked bags between the towns along the lines. Letters arriving at a post office after the mail bags were closed went as loose letters at no charge.

PS-6 UPSS 7 80 - Aug 22 Wailuku KRR

This 4˘ postal envelope (PS-6, UPSS 7), was uprated with a 1˘ green Princess Likelike postage stamp to make up the 5˘ postage to the United States, was postmarked at Wailuku on August 22, 1890 and addressed to Port Townsend, Washington. It bears a large Kahului Railroad CANCELLED mark, indicating it was carried as a loose letter to Kahului by the Kahului Railroad.

Kahului Railroad Stamps

A set of stamps was ordered by the Kahului Railroad from the American Bank Note Company in 1894 apparently for paying freight on packages sent outside the mail. After examples of these stamps began to appear in New York around 1910, stamp dealers began asking people connected with the railroad for more information. Little was discovered so how the stamps were used remains a bit of a mystery. Kahului Railroad stamps are not listed by Scott Catalogue, consistent with its policy against listing private issues.


American Bank Note records show the order was received August 3, 1894 and fulfilled December 17, with a likely arrival in Hawaii during January, 1895. A set of six denominations was produced by lithography.

KRR 1 ABN 5c
KRR 2 ABN 6c
KRR 3 ABN 15c

100,000 printed

100,000 printed

75,000 printed

KRR 4 ABN 18c
KRR 5 ABN 50c
KRR 6 ABN 100c

100,000 printed

50,000 printed

50,000 printed

Unused stamps of the 5˘, 15˘, 50˘ and $1 values are rare today. On the other hand, genuinely used examples of the 6˘ and 18˘ values are rare. It is quite possible the rate charged was 5˘ and multiples of 5˘ depending upon weight. Whatever use originally was planned for the 6˘ and 18˘ stamps may never have been adopted. Large quantities of the 6˘ and 18˘ values were unloaded in the 1930's after being found in a safe and are common today. The other values, particularly the 15˘ stamp are harder to obtain. Probably fewer than 300 of these other values exist and probably fewer than 100 of the 15˘ exist today. Typical cancels are a crayon marking in red, orange or blue or a straightline rubber handstamp "CANCELLED" in one of two styles, one serifed and the other not serifed. Click Here for a study of the cancels.

The 6˘ and 18˘ stamps are known bearing an overprint H. I. Some consider the overprint to be a pre-cancel to prevent misuse. The overprint comes in red or black, right side up, upside down or sideways. Because of their late appearance and the various orientations, these overprints have a bad reputation. It is thought they are a later concoction. They can be found in blocks and even on cover. Evidence against these overprints includes statements of eyewitnesses that the lot discovered in a vault had no overprints when discovered. There is no known purpose for the overprint, but a lot of other things about these stamps remain mysterious. It must be noted that one cover bearing a 2˘ postage stamp and a 6˘ Kahului Railroad stamp and cancelled with the H.I. overprint was certified as genuine by the Philatelic Foundation. More information is needed to explain this overprint.

KRR 2- HI red
KRR 2- HIa
KRR 2- HIb
KRR 4- HIa

red, right side up

black, right side up

black, upside down

black, sideways

Stamps exist overprinted SPECIMEN in red. The overprint was applied at the American Bank Note Company and were retained by that company. The overprinted stamps came to market when the American Bank Note Company archives were auctioned in 1990 by Christie’s/Robson Lowe.

ABN SPECIMEN overprint

SPECIMEN overprint


By 1898, the supply of the 5˘ and 15˘ values were running low. The Kahului Railroad placed an order with the Schmidt Label and Lithographic Company in San Francisco for additional 5˘ stamps. At the same time, it was decided to print stamps with values of 10˘ and 25˘. The quantities of these printings is unknown. Indeed, the identity of the printer was only obtained by later dealers such as Richards who interviewed those connected with the railroad. Records of the Schmidt Company were destroyed in the earthquake and fire of 1906. Records of the Kahului Railroad Company were largely destroyed in the tidal wave of 1946. Intact sheets of the Schmidt Lithographs exist to show that the stamps were printed in sheets of 50, 10 across and 5 down.

KRR 7 Schm 5c
KRR 8 Schm 10c
KRR 9 Schm 25c

Bogus Kahului Railroad Post Cards

The Kahului Railroad never issued post cards. Several types of bogus post cards, represented at Kahului Railroad post cards, are known. These post cards were produced in the late 20th century by the late Dave Churchman of Indiana. Churchman owned a letterpress parts and supply dealership known at The Sterling Type Foundry. He produced numerous “fantasies,” including the bogus Kahului Railroad post cards. Below are the several known styles, printed with letterpress, from the Mike Farrell collection of Hawaii forgeries and presented courtesy of Mike Farrell and Casey Jo White.

1c Churchman_1c001
1c Churchman_1c002
2c Churchman_2c001
2c Churchman_2c002
3c Churchman_3c001
3c Churchman_3c002
5c Churchman_5c001
5c Churchman_5c002
10c Churchman_10c001
10c Churchman_10c002


  • Hill, C.W., "Kahului Railroad Stamps", Sanders' Philatelic Journal, Vol. 10, No. 7, p. 133, Sept., 1964. An essential reference for this issue.

  • Hill, Russell O., "The Revenue Stamps of the Kahului Railroad Company", Linn's Stamp News, Vol. 37, p. 22, Jan. 11, 1965; reprinted at Stamps, Vol. 131, No. 9 [1707], p. 382-384, 388, May 29, 1965; Po'Oleka O Hawaii, No. 23, p. 1-5, Apr., 1981. An excellent resource but judgment is reserved on the discussion of covers.

  • Jenkins, R.H., "Hawaiian Islands, Their Local Stamps", Stamps, Vol. 16, No. 10 [208], p. 333, Sept. 5, 1936. Early account of this issue.

  • Richards, Charles F., A Checklist of the Stamps of Hawaii - And More, published by author, New York, 1916; reprinted in part at Po'Oleka O Hawaii, No. 43, p. 2-7, April, 1986; No. 44, p. 1-16, July, 1986; No.  45, p. 13, Oct., 1986. A key reference work, see particularly page 26.

  • Richards, Charles F., Additions To A Checklist Of The Stamps of Hawaii-And More, published by author, Linprint, In., Columbus, Ohio, 1938. An essential part of Richards's Checklist with updated information.

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