Kingdom of Hawaii Coinage


Kingdom of Hawaii Coinage

by Dave Sevart

About 1000 years ago, Polynesians landed onto a group of islands in the Pacific Ocean now know as Hawaii.  Most people do not know that our 50th state had its own coinage or its own kingdom.   Hawaii is the only state that has a palace and is also the only state to grow coffee.  There are many little islands around the larger more well known ones and most were settled.  Each tribe had their own king or chief and of course there was skirmishes and fighting among some. This is how life was on the islands for quite some time.

Captain James Cook, a British explorer, discovered the islands in 1778.  During this time the islands were bartering and using a hodgepodge of coinage from passing ships. The Kingdom of Hawaii did not have a mint nor the metals needed to mint coinage, so as long as there was an adequate supply of coins from Spanish American colonies, Asia and the United States, commerce relied on the mishmash of coinage to get along.

In 1810, King Kamehameha I (Kay-may-ha-may-ha) unified all the islands, by force.  Soon after, American missionaries and planters began arriving in the 1820’s.  The planters started to develop plantations of crops like sugar cane, sugar beets and coffee. The creation of these large plantations created a larger demand for coined money for the islands. Some plantations had their own tokens produced.  They were used on the plantations for goods at the company store.  Even though this helped on the plantations, there was still a demand to adequate coinage throughout the islands. 

In the 1840’s King Kamehameha III (Kay-may-ha-may-ha) toured all the islands to improve his popularity. He met with President Ulysses S. Grant to open free trade between the two countries.  He also negotiated coins to be produced by the U.S.

In 1847, an agreement was made and the US was to produce coins for the nation of Hawaii  These coins were the size of the one cent coins (Small cents) used in the U.S. at that time. 100,000 were produced at the Philadelphia mint and were to circulate with the rest of the foreign coinage from Asia, Spanish American Colonies and the U.S already in the Islands.

Obverse had a portrait of the king with his name and title KA MOI, which means “the King”.  The reverse of the coin featured two laurel which formed a wreath.  Around this wreath was the legend AUPUNI HAWAII (AH-PooNEE Hawaii) which means “Kingdom of Hawaii”.

The denomination that was suppose to appear too which was HAPA HANELI (Hapa Han-nilee). This was money of 100. The diesinker mis-spelled and it came out HAPA HANERI (Hapa Han-eire)

The Kings portrait was more or less unrecognizable and the coins had other flaws By the time these coin travel from Philadelphia to the Hawaiian islands, which took about two years on a boat, and with the coins sitting in bilge water most of the trip, the native Hawaiians did not like them at all.  They viewed the new money with disgust and were know to throw the coins into the sea rather than accept them as payment. 

No more coins were produced for the islands until the 1880’s when King Kalakaua I (Ka-la-ka-oo-a) wanted to bring the islands up to Western standards.  He interviewed representatives from various foreign nations to have coinage produced for Hawaii.  The plantation owners convinced the king to used the mints from American as the kingdom would save money by using the same size coinage as the U.S.

In November of 1883, the mint started producing the coins of Hawaii and ended its production run in June 1884.

The denominations produced were the dime, quarter, half dollar and dollar.  The copper cent was not produced.  They also thought of producing a 1/8 dollar coin (12 ½ cent).  All the business strike coins carry the same date of 1883.   There was six, 4 piece proof set produced at the Philadelphia Mint and twenty, 5 piece sets produced at the San Francisco mint.  This was mainly to test the dies, but also to send some presentation sets to the king.  The king gave these sets to various Hawaiian dignitaries. The 20 proof sets minted at the San Francisco Mint all contained one of these 1/8 dollar coin. 

The master hubs and dies were prepared by Master Engraver Charles Barber.  All the coins have a common obverse, which is the portrait of King Kalakaua I (Ka-la-ka-oo-a) facing to the right as the main device.  The date is centered at the six o’clock position and above the portrait of the king is the legend that reads” Kalakaua I King of Hawaii.

The reverse of the dime displays a wreath with a crown on top.  Within the wreath are the words ”One Dime”.  The reverse of the other denominations all have the royal coat of arms of Hawaii and it is flanked by each particular denomination, ¼ D, 1/2D and 1 D.

The motto; UA MAU KE EA O KA AINA I KA PONO, WHICH MEANS The life of the land is Perpetuated by Righteousness, is found running the perimeter of the coin from 8 o’clock to the 4 o’clock positions.

At the 6 o’clock position is the denomination for the coin in Hawaiian language.

These silver coins were far more successful in being used then the earlier copper coins and they remained in circulation until the American annexation of Hawaii in 1898.

At that time many of the coins were returned to the USA and melted.


                        Minted        Melted

Dimes       250,000  ---     79

Quarters   500,000  ---     257,400

Halves      700,000 ---      612,245

Dollars      500,000 ---      453,622


As a result of the melting of the coins, all denominations are fairly scarce in circulated condition and extremely rare in Mint State or Proof.

It is no wonder that the silver coinage of the Kingdom of Hawaii is considered a numismatic treasure.  The values of the coin vary by denomination and condition.  Quarters are the more common followed by the dime.  If you do want to put this one year type set together, it can be done.  Dimes can be found with prices starting around $60 -$65 and up. Quarters, being they have more silver, can start around $75 to $85 and up.  Halves can start anywhere from $100 to $150 and up.  Dollars will start anywhere from $150 to$300 and on up as they are the more scare of all the coins.


Hawaii Dime
        Hawaii Dime


Early Hawaiian Cent
                      Early Hawaiian Cent


Hawaiian Half Dollar
           Hawaiian Half Dollar


Hawaiian Dollar
                        Hawaiian Dollar

Hawaiian Coinage

by Dave Sevart

Most people — other than coin collectors — do not know Hawaii issued its own coinage. 

In 1847, King Kamehameha III issued one-cent coins the size of United States copper cents. About 100,000 were minted, and they circulated for the rest of the century alongside many types of foreign coins.

The Kingdom of Hawaii did not have a mint nor the metals needed to mint coinage, so as long as there was an adequate supply of coins from Spanish American colonies, Asia and the United States, commerce relied on a mishmash of coinage to get along.

Various tokens issued by several plantations, including the Wailuku, Thomas Horton, Waterhouse and Haiku, served as minor coinage along with foreign coins. These tokens, all of which are quite rare, were valued in either Spanish denominations such as "half real" or U.S. denominations such as "35 cents."

These tokens were issued from 1860-91, and many were dated the year of issue. Today the few remaining specimens catalog from $550 for a Horton 12-1/2 cent token of 1879 to $1,500 for the 1860 Waterhouse token.

In 1883, under King Kalakaua I, Hawaii contracted with the United States Mint in San Francisco to produce coins of the same size and fineness (.900 silver) as the current United States coins in the denominations of 10 cents, quarter dollar, half dollar and one dollar. These coins were the official coinage until 1900, when the United States annexed the Hawaiian Islands after the Spanish American War. A five-cent piece dated 1881 was minted but never authorized, and the few known specimens catalog for $25,000 in mint condition.

A pattern 12-1/2 cent coin was designed, and only 20 were minted in proof condition. These pieces catalog for $65,000 and rarely show up in major coin auctions or estates.

The most common of the 1883 coins, the quarter, catalogs for $65 in fine condition and $275 in mint condition. The dime is the next most commonly available coin and catalogs for $70 in fine condition and $1,500 in mint condition. The silver dollar catalogs for $400 in fine and $4,500 in mint condition — although MS-63 (choice uncirculated) specimens catalog for $11,000.

Approximately 20 proof specimens of each denomination were made and are quite rare today, with catalog values ranging from $12,500 for the dime to $20,000 for the silver dollar.

In 1900, the legal status of these coins (and all other foreign coins in Hawaii) was revoked; all such coins that passed through the banks and post offices were removed and melted. Fortunately for collectors, enough survived.

The late Dick Yeoman (original author of "The Guide book of United States Coins," aka "The Red Book") found a Hawaiian silver dollar about 60 years ago made into a colorful enameled love token which his wife wore at many coin shows as a pendant on her necklace. Many of the quarters were also made into love tokens or engraved coins.

Around the 1960s, souvenir shops in Hawaii started selling replicas of the one-cent piece of 1847. These are made of brass (not copper) and often have inscriptions different from the original coin.

At an estate sale of coin collector Bill Braithwaite at the Orange County executor's office some years ago, one of the lots was one of these tokens, and the catalogue simply listed it as "Hawaiian One Cent 1847." The unlucky bidder paid $75 for a token worth 10 cents.

"The coins and tokens of Hawaii are not sold in souvenir shops, and if any show up at an estate sale, let the buyer beware."