The first Hawaiian stamps came out in 1851. It was King Kamehameha III’s response to the missionaries needing a reliable postal service for letters to their friends and family east. The first post office was part of the government’s newspaper, the Polynesian. In 1855 no less than 24,984 pieces of mail left the islands and 23,940 answers returned!
These first stamps, with a floral border and a number, were aptly called “the Missionaries”. Valued at $150,000 to $250,000 (way back in 1990’s) the rare two-cent blue stamp now belongs to a few lucky collectors. It is the only stamp in history for which a collector was killed and the only stamp once accepted by two sovereign nations, Hawaii and the US.
Around the same time, a stamp was printed with the image of King Kamehameha III. But a few years later, the government issued a series of plain numerals, seemingly forgetting how much a picture can explain to the world. Where was the image of the Great King Kamehameha I? What about Kamehameha II?
In 1864 a new series came out presenting the Hawaiian royalty. But neither Queen Kaahumanu or Princess Kinau was represented. On stamp, also, appeared King David Kalakaua, Hawaii’s merry ruler, who had started himself out as a postmaster and became king due to a lack of royal heirs. Probably the only king in the world with such a career, Kalakaua made sure to be on millions of colorful stamps while still alive. Kamehameha I finally appeared in print in 1883.
In 1893, the Hawaiian people, unhappy with Queen Liliuokalani’s rule, abandoned the monarchy. Hawaii declared itself a republic. The stamps reflected the change only through an overprint.
The following year Hawaii officially became a republic and seven new stamps came out. Among them one of Star and Palms, expressing already the idea of annexation which occurred in 1898.
At the turn of the century, Hawaii was declared US territory. From now on, stamps were US postage with or without a Hawaii theme. In 1959 Hawaii became the 50th State.
Over the 20th century many stamps continued to reveal Hawaii’s unique position.