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Foreign Mail Postal History

Honolulu Straightline

Situated at the crossroads of the Pacific, Hawaii was at the heart of trade in one of the most remote and expansive regions of the 19th Century world. From Cook's encounter with the Hawaiians in 1778-1779 to the American invasion and occupation of the Philippine Islands in 1898-1900, Hawaii witnessed the full impact of commercial and social development of the Pacific Basin. The drama of these changes is one reason for the popularity of Hawaiian postal history.

Rates, routes and postal markings are the foundations of any study of postal history. Until 1850, there were no postal facilities in Hawaii and, thus, none of the mail originating there bore post office or rate markings. Letters sent to or from Hawaii before 1850 make up the Pre-Postal Mail. In the Pre-Postal Period, mail routes and rates charged in transit or on delivery are the primary points of interest in addition to the sheer fascination of reading glimpses of people's lives, commerce and history in the folded letters used at that time.

A full description of the principal mail rates affecting Hawaiian foreign mail is at the page titled Mail Rates. When Hawaii created its postal system, starting in 1850, it tied its rates to those of the United States through a Treaty of Friendship and Commerce, ratified in 1850. Article 15 of the Treaty allowed letters from Hawaii into the United States domestic mail at the same rates. From this point to the end of Hawaii's independent postal system on June 13, 1900, rates, routes and postal markings capture the philatelic interest along with the various stamps, postal cards and postal stationery used to pay Hawaiian or United States postage.

The period during which the Treaty applied is called the Treaty Period. During the Treaty Period, United States rates changed several times and sub-periods of the Treaty Period are defined by each of the changes in United States rates.

  • The initial part of the Treaty Period governed by the United States 1848 rate is the Inaugural Treaty Period. This Period started December 21, 1850 and lasted until July, 1851.

  • United States rates changed in 1851, creating the Early Treaty Period. This rate Period lasted from July 1, 1851 to May 16, 1855.

  • New United States rates were put in place in 1855, forming the Middle Treaty Period from May 16, 1855 to August 30, 1863.

  • Another United States rate change in 1863 gives us the Late Treaty Period from September 1, 1863 until July 1, 1870.

Postage rates became governed by a Postal Convention between Hawaii and the United States on July 1, 1870. While the Convention was in place, we have the Convention Period.

Finally, in 1882, Hawaii joined the Universal Postal Union and its foreign mail rates were set according to the UPU and we have the UPU Period. A significant sub-part of the UPU Period occurred when United States soldiers landed in Hawaii en route to the Philippines during the Spanish American War. Mail from soldiers and sailors from 1898-1900 make up the Soldiers Mail of the Spanish American War letters. Another significant element of the UPU Period is Registered Letters.

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This page last updated: 24 March 2013

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