This page last updated: 4 March 2010


MAY 16, 1855 TO AUGUST 30, 1863

When the United States adopted new rates effective April 1, 1855, only prepaid mail to the East via Panama was affected. The former rate of 6¢ was increased to 10¢. With the 2¢ ship fee and the Hawaii rate of 5¢, the cost of a prepaid letter from Hawaii was thus increased from 13¢ to 17¢.

55 - Aug 11 to Everet - Peters

A cover postmarked at Honolulu on August 11, 1855, with Hawaii and United States postage prepaid with stamps (Hawaii No. 5 and four United States No. 11) at the 1855 United States rate for prepaid letters sent via Panama. (Courtesy of Gary Peters)

Collect letters and stampless prepaid letters were allowed to enter the United States postal system if they originated outside the United States (prepayment of United States postage by stamps was made mandatory by the 1855 law on letters originating in the United States). A stampless prepaid letter cost the same as a stamped prepaid letter, with cash or a Hawaii stamp used to pay Hawaii postage, and cash used to prepay United States postage. In the case of prepaid stampless letters, the Honolulu Post Office account at the San Francisco Post Office was charged with the postage. The account was settled on a quarterly basis.

55 - Jul 28 to Seeley

A prepaid stampless letter sent from Hawaii to Connecticut via San Francisco and Panama, postmarked at Honolulu on July 28, 1855. With the United States postal act of 1855, pre-payment of United States postage with stamps was made mandatory. However stampless letters, both prepaid and collect, originating in a foreign country continued to be accepted. A pencil notation on this cover directs the Honolulu Post Office to charge Hawaii and United States postage to the Honolulu firm of Castle & Cooke. The San Francisco Post Office charged United States postage to the Honolulu Post Office account kept at the San Francisco Post Office.

News of the rate change on prepaid letters was slow to reach Hawaii and finally arrived on May 16, 1855. See Mail Rates. August 30, 1863 is used as the termination date of the Middle Treaty Period because on that date Hawaii learned of a reduction in United States postage, effective July 1, 1863.

The rate for a letter sent with United States postage collect remained at 10¢ (12¢ with the ship fee). Thus, in the 1855 rate period a collect letter cost the same as a prepaid letter. Payment of Hawaii 5¢ postage remained mandatory. Hawaii postage could be paid in cash or with stamps.

57 - Apr 8 cover - Leonard

Letters sent with United States postage unpaid also cost 12¢ during the 1855 rate period, because the 1851 rate for collect letters was unchanged by the 1855 law. As always, payment of Hawaii postage by stamps or cash was mandatory. This cover postmarked at Honolulu on April 8, 1857, was sent with United States postage unpaid.

Payment of Hawaii postage with stamps became a problem in 1856-1857, when the Honolulu Post Office ran out of 5¢ stamps. At the start of the rate period in May, 1855, the available 5¢ stamp was the 1853 Boston Engraved Issue (Scott No. 5) See Boston Engraved Issue.

56 - Dec 8 - Scott 5

Payment of Hawaii postage with stamps meant using a Hawaii 5¢ stamp – one stamp paid a single rate. This cover postmarked at Honolulu on December 8, 1856, was sent with United States postage collect and Hawaii postage paid with a 5¢ 1853 Boston Engraved stamp.

When the Honolulu Post Office ran short of 5¢ stamps, it placed a new order from the same Boston printer who had made the 1853 issue. That order finally was received in mid-1857. Meanwhile, Hawaii resorted to provisional use of the 13¢ stamps made obsolete when the United States increased the prepaid rate in 1855. At first, the 13¢ stamp was used as a 5¢ stamp without any notation on the stamp itself. Post Office records probably reflected they were sold for 5¢, but those records have not been located.

Pos 2 - 6 1200 - used as 5¢

A 13¢ Hawaii stamp postmarked in September, 1856, with the Honolulu collect letter postmark, indicating the 13¢ stamp was used as a 5¢ stamp when the supply of 5¢ stamps was exhausted.

In 1857, the Honolulu Postmaster decided to surcharge the 13¢ stamps with a "5" to indicate their use as 5¢ stamps. Stamps bearing the numeral "5" are listed as Hawaii Scott No. 7. For a census of Scott No. 7 covers, See Scott No. 7 Covers.

57 - Jun 27 Scott 7 and US 17

A cover postmarked June 27, 1857 at Honolulu, with Hawaii postage paid with a provisional surcharge "5" on the 13¢ stamp (Hawaii Scott No. 7), and United States postage prepaid with a twelve cents stamp of the 1851 Issue (United States Scott No. 17).

Honolulu re-ordered the 5¢ stamps and received the stamps of the second printing (Scott No. 8) in mid-1857. Some of the old 5¢ stamps were still in the hands of patrons so Scott No. 5 covers continue to appear in the record of surviving covers until October, 1860. The census of Scott No. 5 covers is set out at Early Treaty Period - Scott No. 5. Use of the new 5¢ stamps began by June 27, 1857, the earliest recorded date. The cover census lists 82 covers bearing a 5¢ Scott No. 8. The latest use is recorded in 1863.

61 - Nov 9 cover Scott 8 and US 17

A cover postmarked November 9 at Honolulu and November 28, 1861 at San Francisco and sent to Wayland, Massachusetts, via San Francisco and the Daily Overland Mail stage to St. Louis, Missouri, where it was loaded on the railroad for the East. From Honolulu, the cover was carried to San Francisco by the American clipper ship Speedwell, departing Honolulu November 9 and arriving San Francisco November 27.

In time, the supply of Scott No. 8 covers was diminished and a third order was placed for more 5¢ stamps. Stamps from the third order were received in mid-1861 and are designated Scott No. 9. There are 49 recorded Scott No. 9 covers, starting with one postmarked in early September, 1861. This stamp remained valid for paying the Hawaii foreign mail postage rate so Scott No. 9 uses continued into the Late Treaty Period. A census of Scott No. 9 covers is set out at Scott No. 9 Covers.

Later, in 1861, the Honolulu Post Office ran short of United States 12¢ stamps and resorted to another provisional use of the 13¢ 1853 Boston Engraved stamp. This time, it was used as a 12¢ United States stamp at the Lahaina Post Office, to show the Honolulu Post Office when United States postage was prepaid so it would be listed on the prepaid letter way-bill when sent to San Francisco. No inscription was marked on the 13¢ stamp to indicate this use. An example may be seen at Boston Engraved.

At the outset of the 1855 rate period, the cost of sending a letter for delivery at San Francisco remained the same as before – a 6¢ ship fee. The ship fee remained the same regardless of weight.

55 - Jun 5 SF clamshell

This letter postmarked at Honolulu on June 5, 1855, was addressed for delivery at San Francisco. As in the earlier rate periods, the cost remained 6¢, as indicated by the San Francisco SHIP/6 clamshell rate mark. Hawaii postage of 5¢ was paid in cash.

After ten years of use, the San Francisco SHIP/6 clamshell mark became so worn it lost the design and printed only the bare minimum information required.

60 - Nov 26 to SF

Postmarked November 26 at Honolulu and December 19, 1860 at San Francisco. The clamshell "SHIP/6" marking was just about worn out and this cover bears the last recorded strike of it on mail from Hawaii.

Effective April 1, 1861, the United States rate on letters addressed for delivery in San Francisco was reduced to a 5¢ ship fee. Meanwhile, Hawaii ordered a new supply of the 5¢ Boston Engraved stamps. These stamps were received in 1861 and were printed on bluish paper (Hawaii Scott No. 9).

62 - Jul 16 SHIP 5 to SF w #9

A letter postmarked at Honolulu on July 16, 1862, addressed for delivery in San Francisco, was charged 5¢ under the 1861 United States rate amendment, as indicated by the SHIP/5 applied at San Francisco. Hawaii postage was paid with a 5¢ 1861 Boston Engraved stamp (Hawaii Scott No. 9).

Letters sent to West Coast addresses beyond San Francisco cost 5¢ throughout the 1855 rate period, unchanged from the 1851 rate period. This rate was comprised of United States postage of 3¢ and a ship fee of 2¢, so the postage portion was doubled for each rate over one-half ounce. At first, San Francisco used a simple "5" with the word "SHIP" to show the rate.

55 - Nov 3 HI 5c (No 5) to Utah Walske

This letter was postmarked at Honolulu on November 3, 1855, and addressed to Salt Lake City, Utah. Hawaii postage was paid with an 1853 5¢ stamp (Hawaii Scott No. 5) and United States postage of 5¢ was collected on delivery. (Courtesy of Steven Walske)

Later in the 1855 rate period, the San Francisco Post Office began using the arced SHIP/5 to show postage due from the addressee.

61 - Sep 24 to Sierra County

A letter postmarked at Honolulu on September 24, 1861, and addressed to Sierra County, California, shows the San Francisco arced SHIP/5 to indicate the amount due from the addressee. Hawaii postage was paid in cash.

We travel through this Period with relatively little rate confusion, but we encounter a greater variety of Hawaii Boston Engraved stamps, and United States stamps, and a progression of postmarks to make the Period interesting. See San Francisco Postmarks and Honolulu Postmarks. This Period also witnesses the next great change in how mail traveled from San Francisco to the East, with the introduction in 1858 of the Butterfield Stage from San Francisco across the Southern Route via Los Angeles and El Paso to St. Louis. After stage service began in 1858, a letter was carried to the East by stagecoach if the sender designated it to go "overland", otherwise it was sent via Panama unless it was specially endorsed to go overland. In late 1859, the practice was reversed so far as letters were concerned and mail was sent overland unless specially endorsed to go by steamer via Panama. In 1861, as the United States entered upon its Civil War, the stage line was relocated, amidst murky ownership changes, to the Central Overland Route via Salt Lake. In the middle of the relocation was the Pony Express which, despite its romantic history, carried little mail but proved the viability of the central route. Given the semi-weekly coach departures of the Butterfield stage and the daily departures of the Central Overland Mail, San Francisco dates on mail carried by coach more closely tie to the date the cover arrived at San Francisco - but mail still was postmarked normally when it left San Francisco.

At the start of the Middle Period Hawaii put into use an oval PAID rate mark (MH #761) See Hawaii Rate Marks. This device had been obtained in 1851 but apparently was put aside as unnecessary at the time. Now, perhaps to emphasize the fact of prepayment, it was used for a few months on stampless prepaid letters. Interestingly, for the first two mail shipments under the new rate (May 17 and June 5, 1855), Honolulu used its collect mail postmark even on prepaid mail (perhaps evidencing some concern over the effective date of the new rate and wanting to avoid a charge-back of unpaid postage). From May 12 to November 13, 1855, fifteen covers are recorded with the oval mark enclosing a manuscript rate See Paid Oval Covers. Please send me an E-mail ( with information about other oval mark covers.

55 - May 17 Paid 6 - stamps up

Postmarked May 17 at Honolulu and June 16 at San Francisco. A pair of United States 3¢ stamps (United States Scott No. 11) are lifted to show the PAID oval beneath with a manuscript 6¢ entered in red crayon. This cover was carried to San Francisco on the American bark Archibald Gracie in the first mail bag sent from Honolulu after the new rate on prepaid mail to the East was known there. However, this cover was unaffected by the rate change, as it was a prepaid letter to Oregon. The Archibald Gracie departed Honolulu May 17, 1855 and arrived San Francisco on June 6. The steamer for Oregon departed June 16. In my opinion, the United States stamps on this cover were added at Honolulu to eliminate any confusion about the prepayment of mail to Oregon. At the time, there was uncertainty in Honolulu about the Oregon rate and 6¢ is an overpayment of the 5¢ rate and, in any event, Honolulu had no United States 5¢ stamps. San Francisco probably would not have made that mistake. Only two covers with the oval bear United States stamps pasted over the oval mark.

55 - Nov 3 PAID oval 12

This prepaid cover postmarked at Honolulu on November 3, 1855, shows the oval PAID mark with the "via Panama" 12¢ rate indicated. The San Francisco Post Office marked it with its straightline "PAID 12" to indicate postage was prepaid, and charged the Honolulu Post Office account 12¢.

55 - Jun 5 Paid 22 oval

A double weight letter sent via Panama cost 22¢ United States postage, as shown on this cover postmarked at Honolulu on June 5, 1855. The rate consisted of twenty cents postage and two cents for the ship fee. In this case Hawaii and United States postage was paid in Honolulu in cash and 22¢ was charged to the Honolulu Post Office account at the San Francisco Post Office.

In September, 1858, overland stagecoach mail service between San Francisco and Missouri (and thence to the East by rail), became a viable option for Hawaii mail when the Butterfield Overland Stage began operation. The route went via Los Angeles, Tucson, El Paso, and Ft. Smith. Semi-weekly stages carried the mail through to St. Joseph, Missouri, about as fast as the steamships. Letters went by steamship via Panama unless they were endorsed to go "overland" until January, 1860, when the stagecoach line became the default and a letter was carried by steamship only if it was endorsed to go that way. Whether a letter was carried by coach or steamship, the postage rate was the same. Despite the regulations, numerous Hawaii covers went by stage without endorsement, perhaps because the route was indicated on the way-bill accompanying the letter bag or on some other writing. San Francisco began using a handstamped "OVERLAND" mark in 1859.

59 - Nov 16 OVERLAND Briggs

San Francisco's "OVERLAND" handstamp, seen on this 1859 collect cover, was used to designated transit by stagecoach from San Francisco to Missouri on the Butterfield Overland stage begun in September, 1858.

In 1861, the southern route used by the Butterfield stage was closed with the onset of the Civil War, and its operations were moved to the Central Route, between Placerville, California and Missouri, via Salt Lake City. This route was used earlier, primarily for intermountain mail to Nevada and Utah, and also was being used by the fabled Pony Express. Transcontinental letters carried by the Butterfield stage began moving across the Central Route on July 1, 1861.

61 - Jun 8 Scott 8 to Large

Postmarked at Honolulu on June 8, 1861, and at San Francisco on June 29, this Hawaii cover sent collect to Pennsylvania was among the letters carried on the first trip of the Butterfield stages on the Central Route after the southern route was closed due to the onset of the Civil War. Hawaii postage on this letter was paid with a Hawaii 5¢ 1861 Boston Engraved stamp and United States postage of 12¢ was collected on delivery.


My census lists 541 covers or large cover remnants sent from Hawaii during the Middle Treaty Period. Of these, 354 were prepaid and 160 were sent with United States postage unpaid (the balance were privately carried, or postage free covers to the United States, or covers sent direct to non-United States ports). Judging from the surviving covers, collect mail was less popular than prepaid mail. Stampless covers number 259 (including free letters, letters sent to non-U.S. ports and privately carried letters) and covers prepaying United States postage with stamps number 238. The number of covers paying Hawaii postage with stamps, but with United States postage collect is 34. As the Period wore on, the number of stampless covers dwindled. The year 1860 was the last year when stampless covers outnumber stamped covers. Before 1861, stamped covers outnumber stampless only in the year 1857. After 1860, stamped covers prepaying United States postage heavily outnumber stampless covers (81 stamped covers to only 27 stampless). These numbers omit covers with portions lost so it cannot be determined whether they bore stamps when mailed.

Study of Covers bearing United States Stamps in the Middle Treaty Period

Study of Covers to foreign destinations sent through the United States

Study of Privately Handled Covers in the Middle Treaty Period


Generally, postmark dates are reliable. But they were sometimes wrong.

59 - Jan 12 [sic - Feb 21] cover Morning Star

What have we here? This cover is postmarked January 12 at Honolulu and March 5, 1858 at San Francisco. So what's wrong? The handwritten note in the lower left corner reads "Per Morning Star," the missionary ship supplying mission stations in the South Pacific. But in 1858, the Morning Star arrived at Honolulu from Ascension Island on January 28 so the January 12 postmark must be incorrect. Moreover, we record four covers with the San Francisco March 5 postmark, two bearing March 5, 1858 and two with March 5, 1859. One of the two with a March 5, "1858" postmark has contents datelined September 24, 1858 at Ponape on Ascension Island, so the 1858 date in the San Francisco postmark must be wrong. In 1859, the Morning Star arrived at Honolulu from the South Pacific on January 24, still too late for the Honolulu postmark. The Honolulu postmark should be February 12 instead of January 12 and the San Francisco postmark should be March 5, 1859. To further prove the point, none of the 1858 sailings make sense. The American bark Melita departed Honolulu February 12, 1859 and arrived San Francisco March 3, in time for the Panama steamer sailing on March 5. Please E-mail ( me if you have information on the cover with the Ponape contents. Apart from interest in the postmark mistakes, the Morning Star cover above is an example of mail from elsewhere in the Pacific being sent to the United States via Hawaii. Missionary mail was carried free of charge on the Morning Star and was first entered into an official postal system upon arrival at Honolulu.


A rate change on inbound letters took place in November, 1856. Until then, the Honolulu Post Office paid the 2¢ ship fee from the 5¢ collected on each inbound letter. Postmaster Joseph Jackson replaced Whitney in July, 1856 and soon afterward obtained permission to charge 7¢ on each inbound letter. Treatment of inbound letters thus became the same as outbound letters in the sense that the postal patron paid the 2¢ ship fee in both cases. It became less common in this Period for inbound letters to be addressed to an agent in San Francisco, except it was a usual practice for letters originating in Europe.


63 - Jul 6 to Phelps

Postmarked July 6 at Honolulu and July 30, 1863 at San Francisco, this letter was franked with postage (12¢ US Scott No. 69) sufficient for the 1855 rates although on July 1, 1863, the United States letter rate was reduced to just 3¢ which, with the 2¢ ship rate made the total United States postage on a letter just 5¢ from Hawaii. News of this rate change was late in reaching Honolulu and finally arrived August 30, 1863. Letters such as this one sent by the American bark Comet on July 6, 1863, continued to be paid at the old rate.


  • Kemble, John Haskell, The Panama Route 1848-1869, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1943. An essential reference for the Panama Route.

  • Hafen, LeRoy R., The Overland Mail, Arthur H. Clark Company, 1926; Quarterman edition, 1976. U.S. Overland Routes including the Butterfield Southern Route and the Central Route; a key reference work.

  • Hahn, Mannel, "The U.S. Post Office 1851-1860", Chapter XXXVI, The United States One Cent Stamp Of 1851-1857, Vol. II by Stanley B. Ashbrook, H.L. Lindquist, New York, 1938. This chapter of Ashbrook's famous book was written by Hahn and addresses U.S. mail development and rates of the period.

  • Jackson, W. Turrentine, "A New Look at Wells Fargo, Stagecoaches and the Pony Express", California Historical Society Quarterly, p. 291-324, December, 1966. U.S. Central Overland Route; excellent analysis of Wells Fargo's formation, development and relationships with other overland carriers.

  • Jackson, W. Turrentine, "Wells Fargo/Staging over the Sierra", California Historical Society Quarterly, p. 99-133, June, 1970. U.S. Central Overland Route.

  • Nathan, Mel C. and Boggs, W.S., The Pony Express, with foreword by Roy S. Bloss, Collectors Club Handbook No. 15, Collectors Club, Inc., N.Y., 1962. Authoritative work on the pony express; includes departure and arrival dates of known covers, history of the service and routes; gives details on the stamps used.

  • Wiltsee, Ernest A., Gold Rush Steamers, The Grabhorn Press, San Francisco, 1938. The definitive work on the Panama Route, particularly in reference to the contracts, details of service and alternative routes.

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