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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Wartime currency not so rare

By Bob Krauss
Advertiser Columnist


David Cheever on Kaola Way attended a family reunion in Salida, Colo., where he found some Hawaiian money. No, not from the monarchy days. It's from World War II. It's money that was good during the war only in the Hawaiian Islands and on Midway and Palmyra. The bills have "HAWAII" printed on the back in big letters and on the front in smaller letters in two places.

Salida is an old Western mountain town — a main street lined with historic buildings. Cheever was browsing in a collectibles store when he found this Hawaiian $1 bill. Curious, he bought it for $26 without knowing anything about its history.

Did Cheever get cheated?

Later, in Honolulu, he learned a lot from Don Medcalf at Hawaiian Islands Stamp & Coin on Bishop Street. Metcalf wrote a book on Hawaiian money. This is the story of the Hawaiian $1 bill:

After the Pearl Harbor bombing, people in Hawai'i hoarded money against an emergency such as a possible invasion. Fearing that the Japanese might capture Hawai'i and find all this money, the U.S. government on Jan. 2, 1942, made it illegal for individuals to own more than $200 in cash. Businesses could own $500.

Everybody was supposed to turn in their cash and securities. Patriotically, they did so — $200 million worth. Then the government had to burn all this money. It was taken to Nuuanu Mortuary, but the crematory there couldn't handle such a mass of paper currency and securities. So the rest of it went up in smoke at the 'Aiea Sugar Plantation mill.

To keep Hawai'i's economic wheels turning, the government printed Hawaiian money as described above. You couldn't spend regular money in Honolulu. It had to have "HAWAII" printed on it.

I remember this money from when I came through Hawai'i on an LST in the Navy. We were issued the money to use on liberty in Honolulu; I also spent it in other places like the Philippines.

On Feb. 27, 1980, a do-it-yourselfer was repainting an attic in a Manoa house when he found a stash of Hawai'i money, 1,793 bills in $1, $5, $10 and $20 denominations worth $100,000. According to the book, the lucky home-repairer turned the money over to the police. After 45 days, when nobody claimed the money, he was able to keep it.

Restrictions on spending Hawai'i money were removed on April 21, 1944. After that, the bills circulated worldwide, including the Mainland. In April 1946, the Hawai'i money was withdrawn here and replaced with regular U.S. currency.

Medcalf said that a few years ago, he found a woman in Wahiawa who had saved $45,000 of Hawai'i money in $20 bills. He advised her to spend it because it was worn and worth no more than its face value. Collectors want only crisp, unused bills.

It is still legal tender, and so much of the money was printed that it is still plentiful.

Corrections: Don Medcalf owns Hawaiian Islands Stamp and Coin. His name was misspelled in a previous version of this story.