This page last updated: 3 May 2012


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Mateo Kekuanaoa (1794-1868)
Son-in-law of Kamehameha I, companion of Kamehameha II,
and father of Kamehameha IV and V

Owning hundred year old stamps from the days when Hawaii was its own independent country, starting with the days when it was ruled over by kings and queens is really, well, unreal. Stamps tell the story of transition, from a monarchy, to an interim revolutionary government, to a republic, to a United States possession, and finally to a Territory of the United States. Envelopes and letters tell of the people who lived there: teachers, businessmen, public servants, and clerics, and of the people who stopped there on their travels whalemen, merchants, fur traders, hide traders, and world travelers. It is no wonder Hawaii has been one of the most popular countries to collect since people began collecting stamps in the 1860's.

Here is what Mark Twain had to say in 1866 in Letters from the Sandwich Islands about Mateo Kekuanaoa, whose portrait is on the postage stamp shown above, the 18 Scott Number 34, issued in 1874:

He is an erect, strongly built, massive featured, white-haired, swarthy old gentleman of about 80 years of age or thereabouts. He was simply but well dressed, in a blue cloth coat and white vest, and white pantaloons, without spot, dust or blemish upon them. He bears himself with a calm, stately dignity, and is a man of noble presence. He was a young man and a distinguished warrior under that terrific old fighter, Kamehameha I, more than half a century ago, and I could not help saying to myself, 'This man, naked as the day he was born, and war-club and spear in hand, has charged at the head of savages against other hordes of savages, far back in the past, and reveled in slaughter and carnage; has worshipped wooden images on his bended knees; has seen hundreds of his race offered up in heathen temples as sacrifices to hideous idols, at a time when no missionary's foot had ever pressed this soil, and he never heard of the white man's God; has believed his enemy could secretly pray him to death; has seen the day, in his childhood, when it was a crime punishable by death for a man to eat with his wife, or for a plebeian to let his shadow fall upon the King and now look at him: an educated Christian; neatly and handsomely dressed; a high minded elegant gentleman; a traveler, in some degree, and one who has been the honored guest of royalty in Europe; a man practiced in holding the reins of an enlightened government, and well versed in the politics of his country and in general, practical information. Look at him, sitting there presiding over the deliberations of a legislative body, among whom are white men a grave, dignified, statesmanlike personage, and as seemingly natural and fitted to the place as if he had been born in it and had never been out of it in his lifetime. Lord! how the experiences of this old man's strange, eventful life must shame the cheap inventions of romance.

How do you start? An Oregon student named Brittany at Alliance Charter Academy recommends an article by Margery Stewart Baxter as a helpful way to begin. The article is on line at Red Envelope. Here are some other tips:

1. Become acquainted with the stamps by going to your library. Find a copy of Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers. Tucked away near the back of the catalogue is a section devoted to United States Possessions. Here is where you will find the most comprehensive and easily available catalogue of Hawaiian stamps. Although most Hawaiian stamps were issued and used before Hawaii was a part of the United States, the collection of Hawaiian stamps has in modern times been viewed by collectors as a sub-set of collecting United States stamps. If you prefer to own a copy of the catalogue, you can purchase one on-line through one of the established postal literature dealers: Leonard Hartmann and James E. Lee.

2. You will find stamps valued from $1.00 to $660,000. Even if you are someone with funds to buy the most expensive items, spend time studying the market and the stamps before investing. For those seeking less expensive material, there are plenty of options, especially in the lower value stamps printed in the 1880's and 1890's. Remember this, Scott Catalogue values are a reflection of dealer prices for retail stamps in what is called "very fine" centering and faultless "condition" more on the terminology next. Prices are shown for unused and used specimens. A point to remember is this - stamps of lesser quality cost far less than the prices given in the catalogue. If you are offered an off-center or faulty stamp priced at full retail, pass on it.

3. If you are new to collecting stamps or even if you have been collecting but haven't yet done it, turn to the beginning of the Scott catalogue. There you will find how catalogue prices are determined, definitions of "grade" and "condition" and illustrations of faults you will want to recognize before purchasing. Mysterious terms such as "perf", "imperf", "engr", "unwmk" are demystified in the opening pages of the catalogue. You will discover "grade" refers to how well a stamp image is centered between the borders or perforations and you will see how grade will affect the price you should pay. You will also discover "condition" thin spots, tears, stains, holes and other faults - will affect price. A general rule of thumb is to buy a stamp in the best grade and condition you can afford well centered and faultless, if it is in your budget. Set a budget for your stamp purchases so you keep balance in your life.

4. Study the pages of Post Office in Paradise to learn more detail about each of the stamp issues. At the "home" page or "Main Post Office", find the box entitled "Site Map" located at the center of the page. Click there and the entire table of contents for the site will open and you can go to any issue. Postage stamps are covered in the site pages shown in the left hand column. Scott Catalogue groups stamps by the year of issue and Post Office in Paradise groups stamps in chronological order by their popular collector names. If the stamps of 1894-1899 interest you, scroll down the left column, click on "Pictorial Issue" and you will find them. The 1893 stamps listed in Scott are listed in Post Office in Paradise as the "Provisional Government Issue". And so on. Most of the stamps shown in Scott with issue dates from 1864 to 1891 are listed in Post Office in Paradise as the "Bank Note Issue" because Bank Note companies in New York made them.

5. Where do you find stamps for sale? The days when retail stamp stores populated our towns are gone. Today, most collectors use the Internet or travel to nearby "stamp shows". Stamp shows feature dealer "bourses" dealers pay a fee to the show organizer and set up tables where they display their stocks of stamps. Don't be afraid to ask questions or look stupid. Most dealers are happy to help. If you run into a grumpy one, move on. Stamp shows are advertised in local newspapers and sometimes charge a small entry fee to help defray expenses. They are also listed in philatelic newspapers, such as Linn's Stamp News or by contacting Mekeels & Stamps. The closer you are to a metropolitan area, the better chance you will have of finding a local show nearby. Buying from Internet sites is convenient, but all you get to see before you pay for a stamp is a picture of it. Still, I have never been cheated on an Internet sale. On the few occasions when a stamp turned out to be different than as described, the dealer took it back and refunded my payment. If an Internet seller is offering a $500 stamp for $1, you should pass on it. You need to register to buy on an Internet site, but most sites will allow you to search current listings without registering. Registration typically is an easy process. One popular Internet site is eBay. Find "Stamps" in the "Categories", click on "United States" and then click on "Possessions". Another site to watch is Zillions of Stamps. Find "Hawaii" in the country list and click on it to see what is offered by participating dealers. If an item is listed without an image, ask the dealer to send you one. If you buy and expensive stamp ("expensive" to you), tell the dealer you intend to submit the stamp for an expert certificate so if it comes back "bad" that is, not as described you will have no trouble returning it for a refund. Expert services are listed at Expert Services.

6. Join a local stamp club. I used "Google", entered the name of the nearest big town and added "stamp club" to find information about local clubs. In stamp clubs, you will find people passionate about stamp collecting and anxious to teach useful lessons regardless of what you collect. If the first club you visit seems to lack what you want, try another one.

7. Join the American Philatelic Society. Membership gives you access to such things as its expert service, on-line stamp listings and other member benefits. You can join by accessing The American Philatelic Society.

8. Leave stamps on their envelopes and if stamps are on paper with the postmark or cancel partially on the paper, leave the stamp on the paper. People collect postmarks and cancels so if removing these stamps from their paper would destroy part of the postmark or cancel, you could lose significant value. At Post Office in Paradise, postmarks, cancels and other markings are shown on pages listed in the right-hand column of the Site Map.

9. How do I keep a stamp collection? Dry. Moisture will do more to destroy your stamps than anything else apart from carelessness in handling. Buy a pair of stamp tongs so you avoid handling stamps with your fingers. Fingertips contain oil, as well as dirt. Also, buy a good quality, acid free, stock book to house your stamps until you are ready to mount them in an album. When mounting, use only hinges or mounts made for stamp collectors. Do not make your own mounts out of things like Scotch Tape or glue. People in a local stamp club can help you with finding local outlets for supplies. One company offering supplies is Amos Advantage. Another is Subway Stamp Shop. Get them on the phone, tell them you are a beginner and you want an acid free stock book and a pair of stamp tongs. If you don't own a 10x (or higher) magnifying glass, also ask for one of those. When you find a local stamp show you can attend, go there and ask to see albums. Get a dealer to show you how to use stamp hinges and mounts. Album pages made specifically for Hawaii stamps are hard to find in the marketplace today. Sometimes they are offered on-line at eBay. I personally prefer to design my own arrangement from blank acid-free pages. Be careful about housing your stamps in plastic envelopes or cases because cheap plastics can harm your stamps. Envelopes made from "glassine" are safer.

Remember this stamp collecting is for your personal pleasure and for nobody else's. Collect what you enjoy and have fun doing it. A pastime is supposed to relieve stress and let your mind focus for a few hours on something other than compelling topics of the day. Collecting Hawaii will absorb your attention, take you back to a romantic time when the Pacific Basin was the frontier of the world, and hold your mind there until the pressures of the day eventually force themselves back into the fore and when that happens, your mind will be relaxed and solutions for all your worries will become obvious. Well, that's what I was told once.

Is collecting Hawaii a good investment? If you collect very fine examples in excellent condition and maintain them in proper fashion you should have value when you dispose of them. Will your stamps be worth as much as you paid? Maybe and maybe not. You will only know when you dispose of them. Meanwhile, they will give you joy and they will be worth more in your pocket than yesterday's movie.

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