Stamps Impulse Buy

Sometimes you just come across something on Ebay that’s too cool and at a price that you kind of have to buy it. A while ago I was doing one of my occasional browses for old Hawai‘i cards and, while I didn’t find cards, I did come across some stamps.

I actually collected stamps and coins before I got into trading cards.* One of the things I liked about them is their connection to the past and the way they have tangible historic interest for how they were used and what they depict. As I got older I came to realize how intertwined they were with photography and how our visual collecting culture in many ways stems from our ability to capture portraits easily and then mass produce and distribute them. Stamps, paper money, photographs, and trading cards all share a significant amount of DNA.

*One of these days I’ll scan or photograph my stock book and coin pages. I’m not actively collecting either of these anymore (heck no one writes letters aside from holiday cards and TTM requests nor does anyone use cash) but I did at least upgrade the storage on my childhood collections.

Anyway, to the stamps. I grabbed four batches for a couple bucks or so a batch with an eye toward getting as many different stamps as I could. I ended up with nine stamps in seven different designs with an emphasis on the stamps that depicted the Hawaiian monarchs and were labeled in the Hawaiian language.

The first two are a pair of stamps depicting Kamehameha V. The blue one is ‘elima keneta or five cents. The green one is ‘eono keneta or six cents. I looked up a book which has printing detail of all of the stamps and while the blue one looks to be somewhat old it also looks like many of the stamps were reissued for decades so dating isn’t particularly easy.

From what I’ve been able to gather though, five cents was the price for mailing a letter to the United States. Also, it’s worth pointing out the bullseye cancellation which suggests the stamp went through a small post office.

Kamehameha V was the last of the traditional Hawaiian kings and, by refusing to name an heir, ushered in the era of democratically-elected monarchs when he died in 1872.

Three of the lots had an ‘elua keneta, two cent Kalākaua stamp. Kalākaua is an interesting character in how he presided over the first Hawaiian Renaissance while also increasing ties with the United States. He was also probably the monarch when my ancestors arrived in Hawai‘i and is responsible for rebuilding the ‘Iolani Palace which we visited last summer.

It’s worth mentioning here that the Hawaiian word for cent is keneta. This is basically a transliteration of “cent” but what’s interesting to me is how on Duolingo today cent is now keneka instead. One of the oldest transcriptions of the Hawaiian language is a late 18th century Spanish document about a captive Hawaiian named Matutaray (renamed by the Spaniards to José Mariano).

The resulting Spanish-Hawaiian dictionary* uses T when current words use K (and R where current words use L)** and has me wondering if the pronunciation shifted or if the actual consonant was something we couldn’t accurately describe.

*Page 25, or the 5th page of this PDF.

**In other words maybe “kalo” as the Hawaiian word for “taro” isn’t actually all that different.

The last batch of stamps are the ones I can somewhat accurately date. Lili‘uokalani only showed up on stamps once she became Queen in 1891 and when the kingdom was overthrown in 1893 the existing stamps were released with a “Provisional Government” stamp like the one on the Likelike ‘akahi keneta one cent stamp.

The last two stamps are from the short-lived Republic of Hawaii. More scenic but not as interesting to me as the stamps depicting the ali‘i. They do however represent the period of time between the overthrow of the Hawaiian government in 1893 and Hawai‘i’s annexation by the UnitedStates in 1898.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at, and the web at

3 thoughts on “Stamps Impulse Buy”

  1. I figured you’d be the sort to collect stamps as well. Taking up stamp collecting is what ended up leading me back to cards. The stamps had kind of fallen by the wayside in recent years, but with my interest in cards waning a bit, I’ve found myself starting to look through my stamp collection again, and have even started to look at some auctions again. I never collected Hawaii myself, but can appreciate the greatness of these, especially the earlier issues.

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