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::: Error Rate Sub-Periods :::

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Letters sent to United States destinations other than San Francisco (See First Sub-Period) were treated in the Late Treaty Period pretty much as one would expect until the summer of 1864. Then suddenly mail sent from Honolulu on August 13, 1864, aboard the Onward was taxed when it reached the U. S. Post Office at San Francisco on September 3. Why these letters were taxed and why the surcharge was ended prove the Treaty of Friendship and Commerce adopted in 1850 remained in full force, albeit forgotten during the summer and fall of 1864.

Rate confusion stemmed from new rates for foreign letters adopted by the United States on July 22, 1864, as follows:

The uniform rate of United States postage, without reference to distance, upon letters and other mailable matter addressed to or received from foreign countries, when forwarded from or received in the United States by steamships or other vessels regularly employed in the transportation of the mails, (a) shall be as follows, viz.: ten cents per single rate of half an ounce or under, on letters; two cents each on newspapers; and the established domestic rates on pamphlets, periodicals, and other articles of printed matter, which postage shall be prepaid on matter sent, and collected on matter received: Provided always, That these rates shall not apply to letters or other mailable matter, addressed to or received from any foreign place or country, to and from which different rates of postage have been or shall be established by International Postal Convention or arrangements already concluded or hereafter to be made.

Article 15 of the Treaty of Friendship in effect between Hawaii and the United States since 1850 was an "arrangement" and established "different rates of postage." Thus, the proviso explicitly exempted mail to or from Hawaii from the 1864 postal rate on foreign mail. However, those in charge of postal affairs in Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Honolulu all forgot Article 15 in the Fall of 1864. The confusion began in Washington, D.C. when United States Postmaster General Blair issued a directive stating the 1864 foreign mail 10 rate applied to mail between Hawaii and the United States. Word of this decision reached San Francisco in late August, 1864, and reached Honolulu on September 13, 1864.

Starting September 3, 1864, San Francisco began to tax prepaid letters from Hawaii as underpaid 5 because they were prepaid only 5 according to the rate established in 1863. Both San Francisco and Washington understood the new 10 rate included the ship fee. Before the error in applying the 1864 10 rate to Hawaiian mail was discovered and word reached Hawaii in late November, 1864, multiple errors confused the rates. Collectors of by-gone days referred to this time frame as the "Kalakaua Error Rates" but responsibility really rested with the United States Post Office Department for attempting to apply the 10 rate to Hawaiian mail in the first instance.

SECOND SUB-PERIOD OF THE LATE TREATY PERIOD: September 3, 1864-September 30, 1864

To reflect the underpayment, San Francisco applied a rate mark with the amount of deficient postage (usually a "5") and also applied the word "FOREIGN" in large, bold letters to show the 10 foreign mail rate of 1864 was applied to the letter. These markings first appear on mail postmarked September 3, 1864 at San Francisco and carried by the American bark Onward, departing Honolulu August 13, 1864 and arriving San Francisco August 31.

Three other mail shipments were sent from Hawaii before word of the rate change reached Honolulu. Two shipments arrived at San Francisco on the same day. Those shipments were by the American bark Young Hector, departing Honolulu August 28, 1864 and arriving San Francisco September 22, and also by the American bark Yankee, departing Honolulu September 6 and arriving the same day as the Young Hector, September 22. Mail by the Yankee and the Young Hector was processed in San Francisco together on September 23. The fourth and last shipment of this sub-Period was carried by the American bark Smyrniote departing Honolulu September 7 and arriving San Francisco September 30. None of the 71 covers carried in the Smyrniote letter bag have been recorded but presumably its letters were also taxed as underpaid.

64 - Aug13 Mason cover FOREIGN
64 - Aug13 Mason cover FOREIGN back

Front and back of a Civil War patriotic cover, carried aboard the ship Onward and postmarked August 13, 1864 at Honolulu and September 3, 1864, at San Francisco. Hawaiian postage was prepaid in cash and U.S. postage was paid with a 2 Black Jack (U.S. Scott No. 73) and a U.S. 3 rose (U.S. Scott No. 65). San Francisco applied a "5" for the amount of postage taxed and to be collected upon delivery, based on the erroneous application of the new 10 rate to Hawaiian letters. Also, San Francisco applied the large FOREIGN handstamp to explain the surcharge. The letter received a straightline Charlestown Mass handstamp. On the back is an embossed eagle and shield with the words "Union and Constitution" above it and a wreath around the bottom. Honolulu merchant Aldrich Walker & Co. applied its handstamp on the back.

64 - Aug 27 Wilkins FOREIGN

Postmarked August 27 at Honolulu and September 23, 1864 at San Francisco and marked with a "5" and "FOREIGN" to show the letter was underpaid. This cover was carried to San Francisco by the American bark Young Hector, the second mail shipment to be treated as underpaid.

Only eight covers are recorded from the Second sub-Period. The American clipper ship Mary L. Sutton arrived at Honolulu September 13 bringing United States Postmaster General Blair's directive to apply the 10 rate to Hawaiian mail. We thus conclude the Second sub-Period on September 30, with the arrival of the Smyrniote at San Francisco.

THIRD SUB-PERIOD OF THE LATE TREATY PERIOD: September 21, 1864-November 10, 1864

When news of the 10 rate reached Honolulu by the clipper ship Mary L. Sutton on September 13, 1864, Postmaster General David Kalakaua forgot Article 15 of the Treaty made the 1864 rate inapplicable to mail from Hawaii. He also made two incorrect assumptions. First, he assumed the 2 ship fee was to be added to the 10 rate. Second, he thought collect mail to the United States was now prohibited. He thus required all mail to be prepaid, held collect letters and charged 12 United States postage.

64 - Nov 9 Murdoch 12

Postmarked November 9 at Honolulu and November 29, 1864 at San Francisco and franked with 12 United States postage (US Scott No. 69). This letter was carried to San Francisco on the American bark Yankee, departing Honolulu November 10, 1864 and arriving San Francisco November 28.

64 - Nov 9 Tinker front

Also carried aboard the bark Yankee is this rebacked cover front addressed to Daniel G. Tinker and franked with six U.S. Black Jacks (U.S. Scott No. 73).

Only four covers are recorded from the Third sub-Period. Mail sent from Honolulu by the A. A. Eldridge on September 21, the Whistler on September 22, the Onward on October 12, the Comet on October 13, the Yankee on November 10 and the Smyrniote on November 10 all should have been affected by the 12 rate. Letters from the Onward and Yankee are recorded, but none from the other shipments.

By November 18, 1864, Honolulu learned the 2 ship fee was included in the 10 foreign rate. The Third sub-Period thus ends November 10, 1864, when the Yankee and Smyrniote sailed, because the next mail shipment was after November 18.


Upon learning the 2 ship fee was included in the 10 rate, Kalakaua dropped the rate to 10. Kalakaua also learned collect mail could still be sent to the United States.

64 - Nov 23 10 cover

Postmarked November 23 at Honolulu and December 8, 1864, at San Francisco and franked with 10 United States postage (US Scott No. 68). This cover was carried to San Francisco by the American bark A. A. Eldridge, departing Honolulu November 23, 1864, and arriving San Francisco December 7.

Only one mail shipment, by the A. A. Eldridge, was sent before Honolulu learned the 10 rate was rescinded for Hawaiian mail. Three covers are reported from that sailing of the A. A. Eldridge. One is shown above, bearing 10 United States postage. Another was sent collect (see Advertiser lot 3056). By the time the A. A. Eldridge reached San Francisco, that office had reverted to the 1863 rate, so the collect cover was unaffected by the error. The third cover was sent through the United States to Europe (illustrated at Tows, lot 58; Siegel auction #397, lot 505; and Letters of Gold, p. 144). Throughout the error rates, it was understood in San Francisco and Honolulu that the 10 rate was inapplicable to mail sent in transit through the United States, so this letter was rated in conformance with the 1863 rate. Thus, only the cover shown above was affected by the 10 rate.

The American clipper ship Seaman's Bride arrived at Honolulu on December 3 with news that the 1864 10 rate was a big mistake and the 1863 rates were restored.


By its terms, the July 22, 1864 rate applied also to mail addressed to foreign countries. Thus, while postal authorities were mistakenly applying the July 22, 1864, rate to mail received from Hawaii, they were also applying it to mail sent to Hawaii.

Inward error rate

Sent from Holmes Hole, Mass. on August 26, 1864, this letter probably arrived in San Francisco in late September by overland coach or Panama steamer. The bark Yankee brought the mail down to Honolulu, arriving October 23. Hawaii's rate on inward mail was 7, collected upon delivery. This cover paid the ordinary domestic U.S. rate of 3 but was taxed the 7 deficiency on the new 10 rate for letters addressed to foreign countries. The taxed amount was charged to the Honolulu Post Office on its account held at the San Francisco Post Office and Honolulu marked the letter 14 to be collected - covering the ordinary Hawaii rate plus the 7 deficiency taxed by the U.S.

Inward and Outward error rate

Missionary stations in Micronesia were serviced from Honolulu by the missionary ship Morning Star and schooner Pfiel. These ships would leave Honolulu, tour Micronesia on voyages lasting several months and return. Mail bound for the missions typically was sent to an agent in Honolulu for transshipment. The cover illustrated above was sent September 30, 1864, from New Haven to Apiang, Micronesia, care of Messrs. Castle & Cooke, Honolulu. It probably arrived at San Francisco in late October and was brought down to Honolulu on the ship Oracle or bark Whistler - arriving November 10 or 11. Honolulu did not indicate its inward 7 rate, probably because Castle & Cooke called for letters at the Honolulu Post Office where the clerks knew to collect the inward fee. Due notations I have seen on inward letters in the mid-1860's are on letters addressed to an outer island destination. Castle & Cooke would have paid the 7 taxed by the U.S. plus the inward Hawaii rate of 7. Unfortunately for this letter, it missed the Fall of 1864 sailings of the Morning Star and Pfiel and had to wait until July, 1865, for the missionary ship Morning Star to return, make a trip to the Marquesas mission and then make its next run for Micronesia.

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