The Hawaiian "Missionary" stamps
Henry M. Whitney
First Postmaster of Honolulu 1850-1856
There was little demand for postal services in Hawaii prior to 1820, because the number of foreigners was so small. The first missionaries arrived on April 4, 1821, and contacting family members on the east coast of America was a difficult and chance arrangement at best. By 1840, American missionaries and traders were sufficiently numerous that letters were being sent home to New England. At that time, anyone in Honolulu wishing to send a letter to America, looked for a ship preparing to sail. He would ask the captain to post the letter when he reached his port of call. The captain did not collect any money, because practically all letters were sent collect. Most such letters reached the United States at some Atlantic port, for prior to 1849 there was no reason for ships to port on the Pacific coast, and no way to get the mail from there to the eastern states. Upon reaching some Atlantic port, the captain took the letters to the post office and received 2 cents per letter for his trouble. The remanding postage would then be affixed to each letter. If the final destination was not over 30 miles from the Atlantic post office, an additional 6 cents was added. From 30 to 80 miles, 10 cents. From 80 to 150 miles, 12.5 cents. From 150 to 400 miles, 18.75 cents. And over 400 miles, 25 cents.
The postal treaty of 1849 established a more systematic postal arrangement between the United States and Hawaii. And on December 28, 1850, Honolulu Postmaster General Henry M. Whitney published a decree in "THE POLYNESIAN" newspaper announcing the new postal union treaty and postage rates. Three new stamps would be printed in Honolulu (2 cent, 5 cent, and 13 cent). Newspapers and printed circulars would cost 2 cents postage. Postage for letters to any west coast city would be 8 cents (5 cents for Hawaii, 3 cents for the U.S.) Postage for letters to east coast cities would be 13 cents (5 cents for Hawaii, 8 cents for the U.S.).
On October 1, 1851 the first Hawaiian stamps, the so-called "Missionaries," were placed on sale. The stamps took on the name "Missionaries" because they were nearly always found on correspondence from American missionaries in Hawaii to their families back in California, New York, Connecticut, or Massachusetts. The new stamps were crudely made from type-set material obtained from "THE POLYNESIAN" newspaper and printed on very thin paper. There are only 16 examples of the 2-cent value that have survived, making the 2-cent "Missionary" one of the most valuable stamps in the world today.
The valuable 2-cent "Missionary" created a tale with a Sherlock Holmesian twist to it back in 1892. Gaston Leroux, a man of means living in Paris, was found murdered in his home. The police were baffled; they could find no motive, for jewelry, gold and a large sum of money were left untouched. But one detective on the case was by chance a philatelist and he found that the victim had a very valuable collection of stamps. He also observed that the 2-cent blue Hawaiian in the collection was missing. Contacting every stamp shop in Paris to see if the stamp had shown up produced no results. He then sought out Leroux's friends, and - voila - he found one who was also a stamp collector. One step led to another, with the result that after gaining the acquaintance of one Hector Giroux, he found that Giroux too had a collection including Hawaiian stamps, one of which was a 2-cent blue. Under questioning, Giroux confessed, and he was hanged for his crime, all due to his uncontrolled desire to have a 2-cent Missionary stamp at any cost.