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Philatelic writers of the 19th Century labeled Hawaii's "Numeral Issue" the "plain border numerals" to distinguish them from the fancy bordered Missionaries. Early collectors recognized the many varieties presented in these stamps and began to "plate" them - assigning each stamp to its proper position on the ten subject plate of moveable type. This exercise is challenging because moveable type shifted in the frame and, compounding the problem, the printer disassembled the frame whenever a value change was made and things never got back quite the way they were.

Henry J. Crocker published his book "Hawaiian Numerals" in 1909, based in part on several 19th Century plating studies. This book was the plating standard until 1968 when J. Fred Westerberg published "Plating The Hawaiian Numerals." From the 1860's to today, these stamps have attracted widespread interest.

Numerals were printed in values of 1¢, 2¢ and 5¢. Variations in ink color, paper, type arrangements and values distinguish the various Scott Catalogue reference numbers. The Numeral Issue is assigned Hawaii Nos. 12-26 in the Scott Catalogue.

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Plate 1-A-IX 1200
2-A-IX 1200

First Setting, [Setting 1 - Plate A - Type IX] 2¢ Numeral, Scott No. 13, first issued in August, 1859 to pay the new 2¢ letter rate for delivery within the country.

Second Setting, [Setting 2 - Plate A - Type IX] 1¢ Numeral, Scott No. 12, first issued in August, 1859 to pay the new 1¢ newspaper rate for delivery within the country.


On August 1, 1859, Hawaii prescribed rates for local and inter-island mail. Until then, mail of all classes sent within the kingdom was carried free of charge. The new rate required 2¢ on letters and 1¢ on newspapers. For more detail on local and inter-island postage rates, see Local & Inter-island Mail Rates. By 1862, new 2¢ imperforate lithographed stamps (Scott Nos. 27 and 28) were available making the 2¢ Numerals obsolete. In 1864, the first perforated stamp of the Bank Note series (Scott No. 31) was issued, further eliminating need for the 2¢ Numerals. Need for the 1¢ value never developed. Nonetheless, fresh supplies of the 1¢ and 2¢ Numerals were printed in the mid-1860's to fulfill orders from stamp collectors and dealers. Scott Nos. 19, 20 and 23 were hardly used and Scott Nos. 24-26 are certainly "philatelic" printings. In 1865-1866, the Post Office ran short of 5¢ stamps to pay the Hawaiian rate on foreign mail (see Foreign Mail - Late Treaty Period) and printed new 5¢ stamps from the same form used to create the 1¢ and 2¢ stamps.


Printing of the Numerals was done using a single form of ten subjects, each subject composed with movable type and held in a cliché. The clichés were arranged two across and five down in parallel columns. A Ruggles Card Press is thought to have been used for printing.

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When the Post Office needed more stamps of a particular value, the form was disassembled and the clichés were opened to change the type for printing the particular value needed. Between July, 1859, when the first of the Numerals was printed, and early 1866, when the last of them was printed, there were twelve changes to the form. In plating terminology:

  • A "setting" refers to a change from one value to another during the printing sequence. The twelve distinct settings are numbered 1-12.

  • A "plate" represents the appearance of the printer's form at a given moment. Westerberg identified twenty-five distinct plates, each representing "the ten-subject form of movable type at one distinct period in its history." Plates are labeled alphabetically within each setting. Thus, the third "plate" of the third "setting" is referenced as Plate 3-C.

  • A stamp "type" refers to a cliché from which the stamp was printed - not to be confused with a piece of printer's type in this context. "Types" are labeled I through X. Because the cliché for a particular position could be moved from one place to another in the form, any "type" could change location within the form from setting to setting.

Taking into consideration all of the plates, there are 250 distinct stamp "types" within the Numeral Issue, based on Westerberg's study.

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Settings 1 and 2 are illustrated above. They are the 2¢ and 1¢ Numerals printed in blue ink on slightly bluish white wove paper (Scott Nos. 13 and 12). Accepted plating studies demonstrate the 2¢ stamp was printed first (setting I), followed by the 1¢ stamp (setting 2). Printing of the 2¢ value was started in late June or early July, 1859 (setting 1, plate A). The 2¢ value also is known in a darker blue ink shade than illustrated. After some stamps of the 2¢ value were printed, the form was dismantled and re-set for the 1¢ value (setting 2, plates A and B).


Later in July, 1859, more 2¢ stamps (setting 3) were printed. Additional supplies of the 2¢ stamps were printed as needed until 1863. During this time frame, no additional 1¢ stamps were needed so the form was not re-set and all of the stamps printed in this period are part of setting three.

Plate 3-A-IX 1200

Third Setting, Scott No. 13, 2¢ blue on bluish white, Plate 3-A-IX

Plate 3-G-IX - 1200

Third Setting, Scott No. 16, black on grayish wove paper; five distinct plates for Scott No. 16 were identified by Westerberg [this illustration is Plate 3-G-IX]

Plate 3-F-X 1200

A grayish white paper variety, Scott No. 16d, is found among the Scott No. 16 plates [this illustration is Plate 3-F-X]

Plate 3-Gx-III 1200

Third Setting, Scott No. 14, black on greenish-blue paper, Plate 3-Gx-III

Eight distinct plates are identified within this setting, resulting from replacing a piece of printer's type or re-setting a misplaced or dislodged type piece. Printing of the third setting began at the Pacific Commercial Advertiser press (Plates 3-A and 3-B, Scott No. 13). In September, 1859, before the printing of Plate 3-C began, the printing work shifted from the Pacific Commercial Advertiser to the Government Press. The Government Press changed to black ink on gray paper (Plates 3-C to 3-G, Scott No. 16). Printing the 2¢ stamps continued to sometime in 1862. Sometime in 1862, near (or at) the end of the printings in Plate 3, the paper was changed from a grayish wove to a pale bluish green shade (the "robin's egg shade," Plate 3-Gx, Scott No. 14). Whether the paper change occurred at the end or was sandwiched between printings on gray paper is unclear. About this point in time, the 2¢ Boston Lithograph Issue became available and for a time relieved the need to print more 2¢ Numerals.

Scott Catalogue numbers assigned to the Numerals are inadequate and confusing to the Numeral specialist, inherited from a time before an accurate printing sequence was identified. Scott includes the Third Setting 2¢ blue on white paper in Scott No. 13 together with the stamps printed in the First Setting. All of the 2¢ black on gray paper stamps printed from August, 1859 to sometime in 1862 are assigned to Scott No. 16. The black on bluish-green stamp done in 1862 is assigned Scott No. 14.


Stamps of the 1¢ value were printed in 1863 in black ink on thin grayish wove paper (Scott No. 15, Plates 4-A and 4-B). The printer changed out the type for printing a new value and we assign these stamps to the Fourth Setting.

Plate 4-A-IX 1200

Fourth Setting, Scott No. 15, Plate 4-A-IX, black on thin grayish wove paper

Click Here to see a full pane of Plate 4-B, showing the layout of the Numeral form.


More 2¢ stamps were printed in 1863, after the new supply of 1¢ stamps was made. Again, the printer changed out the type to switch back to the 2¢ value and we have the Fifth Setting. This setting includes Scott Numbers 18 (Plate 5-A), 18 thick paper variety (Plate 5-Bx), 17 (Plate 5-B) and 20 (Plate 5-C), as well as a plate with stamps that fit no Scott Number (Plate 5-Ax). Plates 5-A, 5-Ax, 5-B and 5-Bx were printed in 1863. Plate 5-C was printed in 1864. Again, Scott Catalogue numbers fail to track the actual printing sequence, which was Scott 18, Scott 17 and Scott 20. Scott No. 18 (Plate 5-A) was printed in black ink on bluish-gray paper. Plate 5-Ax stamps were printed on the same grayish paper common to Scott No. 16, but the typography is that of Scott 18. Scott N0. 17 (Plate 5-B) was printed in dark blue ink on white wove paper. Plate 5-Bx stamps share the same typography as No. 17 but are printed in black ink on thick bluish gray wove paper. Scott Number 20 (Plate 5-C) was printed in black ink on moderately thick white wove paper. Scott No. 17 is considered the rarest of the Numeral Issue as the printing from Plate 5-B was quite small. However, stamps of Plates 5-Ax and 5-Bx are rarer. Used examples of Scott No. 17 outnumber the unused but used examples of Scott No. 20 are scarce. Unused examples of Scott Nos. 18 are uncommon and are rare for Scott No. 17. To my thinking, the Fifth Setting holds the most unsolved mysteries.

Plate 5-A-VIII 1200

2¢ black on bluish gray wove paper, Plate 5-A-VIII, Scott No. 18

Plate 5-B-VI 1200 Plate 3-A-I

Fifth Setting, the left image is 5-B-VI, unused, dark blue ink on white wove paper, and the right image is 5-B-X, used, dark blue ink on white wove paper - Scott No. 17.

Plate 5-C-VIII 1200

2¢ black on white wove paper, Plate 5-C-VIII, Scott No. 20


By 1864, stamp collecting had moved out of the schoolyards and was becoming a business for dealers and a hobby for more mature (and wealthier) collectors. Supplies of stamps had to be replenished just to fill orders to satisfy the collecting market. Thus, a philatelic need for new 1¢ stamps generated the Sixth Setting.

Plate 6-A-X 1200

1¢ black on white wove paper, Plate 6-A-X, Scott No. 19

The layout of Sixth Setting stamps is the same as that of the Fourth and the Eighth Settings. Used examples of Scott No. 19 are rare.


More stamp collector demand created a need for additional printings in 1865. First to be printed was the 2¢ value, Scott No. 24, followed by the 1¢ value, Scott No. 23. These stamps are printed in black ink on white paper. In a departure from all of the other Numerals, laid paper was used instead of wove paper. An interesting item in the Tapling Collection is a laid paper envelope, folded in quarters and printed with a single 2¢ Hawaiian Numeral. By plating it, I was able to state it is a hybrid of plates 6-A and 7-A. In some ways the placement of the rules more resembled their position in Plate 6, but it was a 2¢ stamp. In my opinion, the envelope represents a test by the printer to see how well he could print on laid paper and in that sense it is a form of proof.

Plate 7-A-_ 1200

2¢ black on white laid paper, Plate 7-A-III, Scott No. 24

Plate 8-A-V 1200

1¢ black on white laid paper, Plate 8-A-V, Scott No. 23

Plate 7-A is the 2¢ value (Scott No. 24) and Plate 8-A is the 1¢ value (Scott No. 23). The lay-out of type remained the same as in prior settings, however the location of the clichés was scrambled when Plate 8-A was put together. The clichés of the left column were moved to the right and those from the right were moved to the left. Unused examples from these settings are common but used examples are rare. Cancels found on No. 23 were used for normal postal purposes but cancels I have observed on No. 24 are favor or bogus cancels. A single cover bearing Scott No. 23 is recorded used in the foreign mail. Interesting varieties happened in setting 8 when the type slipped out of plate position IX, forcing it to be re-set.


For foreign mail rates, the 5¢ stamp was the workhorse. These stamps were ordered from Boston and were a part of the Boston Engraved Issue. The iteration of 5¢ stamp in use in 1865 was Scott No. 9, but supplies were becoming exhausted and the new perforated 5¢ stamps (Scott No. 32) would be some time in arriving from the New York Bank Note Company. To solve this emergency, Hawaii used the Numeral form to print a supply of 5¢ stamps. The first 5¢ value (Scott No. 21) was printed in 1865. The earliest known use is April 29, 1865. The location of the clichés was changed from the Eighth Setting so those formerly on the right column are once again on the right column. However, they were reversed top to bottom. The stamps were printed in blue ink on blue paper. For Numerals, these stamps are relatively common either used or unused. Thirty-three covers bearing Scott No. 21 are recorded and most of them are combination covers also bearing stamps of the United States.

Plate 9-A-II - 1200

Ninth Setting, Scott No. 21, Plate 9-A, 5¢ blue on pale blue wove paper issued in 1865 to fill an emergency need for 5¢ stamps to pay the foreign mail rate. This illustration is Plate 9-A-II.


Continued stamp collecting demand drove a decision to print more 1¢ and 2¢ stamps late in 1865. This time, perhaps to make them more appealing, they were printed in dark blue ink on white wove paper: Scott Nos. 26 (the 2¢ value) and 25 (the 1¢ value). On this occasion, the words "Hawaiian Postage" on the left side of the stamp were replaced with the word "Interisland." So far as "used" examples are concerned, I have observed only bogus cancels.

Setting 11 boasts the most valuable Numeral variety in today's market. An inverted impression of Scott No. 21 was lightly printed on the face of at least one pane. Only three examples of this variety are recorded.

Plate 10-A-VIII 1200

Tenth Setting, Plate 10-A, Scott No. 26, dark blue on white wove paper. This illustration is Plate 10-A-VIII.

Plate 11-A-IX - 1200

Eleventh Setting, Plate 11-A, Scott No. 25, dark blue on white wove paper. This illustration is Plate 11-A-IX.


A new order of 5¢ Numerals was printed in 1866 (Scott No. 22). When the form was opened to change the value, the printer neglected to replace the word "Interisland" with the words "Hawaiian Postage." As the 5¢ value was intended only for the foreign mail rate, the word "Interisland" was inappropriate. Nonetheless, the stamps were placed in use. The earliest known use is March 22, 1866. Only eleven covers bearing Scott No. 22 are recorded (See Scott No. 22 Covers). Used examples off cover are scarce. Because of the error in using the word "Interisland," this stamp was considered bogus for most of the 19th century. Today's catalogue price remains depressed in part as a result of this early suspicion.

Plate 12-A-_ 1200

Twelfth Setting, Plate 12-A, Scott No. 22, dark blue on deep blue wove paper, issued in 1866 to fill a second emergency need for the 5¢ stamps. A variety exists on grayish white wove paper, Scott No. 22b. This illustration is Plate 12-A-V.


Westerberg, J. F., Plating The Hawaiian Numerals, The Mission Press, 1968, Honolulu. The current authority on the Numerals and how to plate them. This book is essential for anyone who owns or desires to own any stamps of this Issue. Westerberg presents photographic images of each of the 250 stamp types he has identified, classed according to the plate and plate sequence he developed after studying countless Numerals and with the assistance of virtually every specialist active in collecting these stamps in the 1950's-1960's. This book proved the plate reconstructions described by Henry J. Crocker were incorrect in some respects and made Crocker's book on the subject obsolete (but still fascinating). See Crocker, Henry J., Hawaiian Numerals, published by Crocker at San Francisco, 1909.

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