A consignee letter sent free of postage to the consignee of cargo aboard a ship waiting
to unload at Honolulu Harbor. It is postmarked on the back on April 24, 1894.
Until August 1, 1859, all domestic mail was carried free of charge. This total
government subsidy lead to abuse as people delivered to the post office bags of fruit,
flammable liquids, bulky hats and other objects expecting them to be carried to some
other place and for the most part the post office complied.
AUGUST 1, 1859
A standard letter rate of 2¢ per ½ ounce prepaid was fixed on August 1, 1859, when laws
affecting the Post Office and postage rates were added to the Civil Code as sections 397
to 415. The need to charge something for domestic mail had become increasingly apparent
in the face of an escalating use of the mail. Even so, the decision to impose a postage
rate on domestic letters was attended with considerable debate and much doubt existed
over whether the rate would be repealed. Certainly if the new rate had resulted in
diminished letter writing it would have been abandoned. However, letter writing
flourished despite the new postage rate. This letter rate remained in place until June
14, 1900, when the United State postal system took over the delivery of mail in Hawaii.
Throughout the period, prepayment of at least a single letter rate was required or the
letter was to be refused.
Letters were to be prepaid with stamps but if there were no stamps a postmaster could
accept a letter with payment in cash and mark it "Paid." All "individuals" were
prohibited from carrying unstamped letters outside the mail. The law was written
broadly to prohibit both express companies and friends from taking a letter from one
place to another unless it was stamped. Three exceptions were written into this
prohibition against carrying unstamped letters outside the mail: 1) free postage was
conferred upon the king and queen, royal ministers and official correspondence; 2) drop
letter and 3) consignee letters could be taken free of postage outside the mail direct from a ship
in a harbor to a consignee located at the same harbor.
Additional rates set out in Section 406 or elsewhere in the 1859 Act became effective
August 1, 1859, as follows:
- 15¢ to register any kind of mailable matter;
- free for newspapers sent from the office of publication to subscribers;
- 1¢ for all other newspapers;
- 1¢ per ounce for bound books;
- 2¢ each for pamphlets under 200 pages and 4¢ for pamphlets of 200 pages or more;
- 2¢ per ½ ounce for sealed packages;
- 1¢ per ounce for parcels of small bulk without letters, papers, liquids in glasses
or anything injurious to the contents of the mail bag;
- free for drop letters mailed at the office of "delivery" (no city or town carrier service existed
then so "delivery" was at the post office when someone called for their letters);
- free for the king, queen, royal ministers and official correspondence;
- consignee letters could be carried free of postage outside the mail direct to a
ship's consignee at the port where the ship was waiting to unload (a letter rate was
charged if the consignee letter was delivered through the post office).
The only rate where a single 1¢ stamp might be used as a practical matter was on
transient newspapers, those sent to anyone from a source other than the office of
publication or from that source to a non-subscriber. Other rates calling for 1¢
involved articles usually weighing more than an ounce so the rate in practice worked out
to some multiple of 1¢, but could require an odd value necessitating a 1¢ stamp in
addition to one or more 2¢ stamps. These rates explain the sparse need for 1¢ stamps
such as the 1¢ Numerals and Scott No. 30a.
Effective January 10, 1865, the free frank privilege for the king, queen, royal
ministers and official correspondence was ended and fines were added for conveying "any
letter from port to port."
Some changes were made to these additional rates as time wore on. Thomas G. Thrum began
publishing the Hawaiian Almanac and Annual in 1875 and in 1876 began including a table
of inter-island postage rates. The table included in 1876 shows some changes since 1859.
By 1876, in addition to the 2¢ per ½ ounce letter rate, the rates reported in Thrum's
- 15¢ to register any kind of mailable matter;
- 2¢ per ½ ounce for newspapers sent from the office of publication to subscribers if the overland carrier routes on Hawaii, Maui or Kauai were used;
- free for newspapers sent from the office of publication to subscribers other than via the overland routes mentioned above;
- 1¢ each for all other newspapers or printed circulars;
- 2¢ for printed music, pamphlets or magazines under 50 pages and 4¢ for the same from 50 to 200 pages;
- 1¢ per ounce for bound books, patterns or samples, limited to 4 pounds each.
In 1878, the legislature enacted comprehensive changes in postal rates, effective August 1, 1878:
- First class:
2¢ per ½ ounce for letters, sealed packages, "mail matter wholly or partly in
writing, printed matter, so marked or interlined as to convey other information than
that of the original print, all matter not otherwise chargeable with letter postage
but concealing any written memorandum; and all matter so wrapped or secured as to
prevent its examination without breaking or destroying the wrapper;"
- Second class:
> 1¢ per 4 ounces for newspapers, pamphlets, almanacs, calendars, corrected
proofs, hand-bills, magazines, maps, sheet music, occasional publications (not bound),
posters and other publications, (not bound) designed primarily for advertising
purposes or for free circulation;
> free for newspapers published in the Hawaiian Islands and mailed from the office of publication to subscribers;
- Third class:
1¢ per ounce for bound volumes including books, blank cards, book manuscripts,
card boards, engravings, merchandise, models, samples, seed, cuttings, roots, bulbs,
photographs and all other matter not otherwise described in the first or second class.
A new 1¢ per ½ ounce drop letter rate replaced the previous
free rate. Postal cards were authorized and a 1¢ rate for them was fixed (but the
postmaster general did not purchase postal cards until 1882). The right to send
consignee letters outside the mail free of postage and the 15¢ registry fee were
continued. A four pound weight limit was put on second and third class mail. "Disloyal,
lewd, indecent or obscene mail" was prohibited along with live animals, liquids,
explosives, poisons, sharp instruments, sugar and glass.
On August 7, 1882, the fee for registering a letter was reduced to 10¢.
According to Thrum's Annual, printed
circulars were charged at the same rate as drop letters, increasing the cost from 1¢ per
4 ounces, under the former second class rate for advertising circulars, to 1¢ per ½
I have no record of changes to domestic postal rates after 1887 and Thrum's Annual for
1900 continues to reflect the rates stated in 1887.
Hawaii required at least one rate to be prepaid and if the letter was underpaid, the
recipient was charged double the amount of the deficiency. I am uncertain when this
practice began but it is mentioned in Whitney's July, 1885 postal regulations.
DOMESTIC POSTAGE RATES ILLUSTRATED ON COVER
2¢ LETTER RATE