The most expensive item in a sale is not always the most interesting.
That is not to say that an $18,000 opening bid on a $30,000 to $50,000
estimate isn’t notable, but sometimes the story is as impressive as
the price. A set of six rare Hawaiian notes from 1843 to 1844, the
oldest Hawaiian paper currency extant, in the Sept. 6 Heritage
Currency Signature Auction in Long Beach, California, is such an example.
They are from the Lahainaluna Seminary, a Protestant missionary
school established in 1831. When the founding missionaries landed in
Hawaii eight years earlier, they found neither a written language nor
an educational system. The language they established is still used,
and the seminary is now Lahainaluna High School on Maui. It is the
oldest public school west of the Rockies.
The Reverse Proof American Buffalo, a model of
Also in this week’s print issue, we explore a cluster of Lincoln
cents found while searching two rolls and ponder their origin.
In 1834, the Hale Pa’i, (house of printing), was built to house
Hawaii’s first printing press. It was used to make Bibles in both
English and Hawaiian, books and newspapers, and in 1843, says
historian Peter Morse, Hawaii’s first paper money.
The notes were done by intaglio engraving and six denominations were
produced — ekolu keneta (3 cents), hapaumi ($1/16), hapawalu ($1/8),
hapaha ($1/4), hapalua ($1/2), and hookahi dala ($1). Their original
purpose was to pay students for work done, and the designs reflected
the school’s curriculum: industry, law, science, geography, and
education. The hookahi dala note had a map of the Hawaiian Islands and
the kingdom’s flag.
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These notes being offered are actually Hawaii’s second series of
notes. By May 1844, a student had been expelled for counterfeiting,
and Morse assumes “that the ‘forgery’ was actually a further printing
from the original plate,” created by some individuals for their own
use, and indistinguishable from the originals.
The solution was to destroy all the originals that could be found,
and re-engrave the original copper plates with a distinctive “secret
mark,” such as a small added line, for each denomination. Morse states
that all currently known examples contain the secret marks.
“The Lahainaluna Money Forgeries,” by Peter Morse (1968) in the
Hawaiian Journal of History, offers the full, fascinating story of
this historic issue.