The History of the Hawaii Overprint Note

June 02, 2018

The worst case scenario wasn’t an impossible one: in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack, Japan would invade Hawaii, overrun it, and use it as a launching point for an attack on the US mainland. As much as the United States was preparing itself to repel such an invasion, it also had contingencies in place should it fail to secure the Hawaiian Islands. One of them was the Hawaii overprint note.

First distributed in 1942, the Hawaii overprint note was a special series of banknotes that was issued during World War II with the intention not to further segregate the Hawaiian Islands from the mainland, but to prevent Japanese forces from getting hold of American currency.

A Sensible Precaution

The very real fear of an invasion started after the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Military officials drew up a worst-case-scenario where the Hawaiian Islands were invaded and taken by Japanese forces. Should that scenario unfold, the invaders would have access to an abundance of American money, which they could use to further fuel their war effort.

Lt. Gen. Delos Emmons came up with the idea for the Hawaii overprint note

Lt. Gen. Delos Emmons came up with the idea for the Hawaii overprint note

The military governor of Hawaii, Lt. Gen. Delos C. Emmons, took action on January 10th, 1942, issuing an order to recall all United States currency from the islands above set caps of $200 for individuals and $500 for businesses. Beginning on June 25th, 1942, residents were required to trade in their currency for new Hawaii overprinted notes. The new notes' most notable feature was an overprint of the word “Hawaii.” Two small overprints were placed on the front of the notes and a third, larger one was stamped over the center of the back side of the bill. There were four denominations produced: $1, $5, $10, and $20, all of them with the same “Hawaii” stamping.

By August 15th, 1942, no non-overprint notes were left in Hawaii and no other paper currency could be used in the islands without special permission.

As for the recalled, unstamped currency that remained in Hawaii, the United States military devised a plan to prevent having to ship it back to the mainland: the $200 million stockpile was burned.


The End of the Hawaii Overprint Note

$5 Hawaii overprint note

$5 Hawaii overprint note

On October 21st, 1944, though the war continued, issuance of the Hawaii overstamp notes ended. As the Allies continued to make considerable progress in the Pacific, pushing the Japanese forces further west, concern over a Hawaiian invasion dissipated. In April of 1946, a recall began, though many of the overprint notes were stashed away as souvenirs of a most trying time on the Hawaiian Islands.

Collectible overprint notes are still around today, with the $5 banknote being the most valuable due to the lower number that were produced compared to the other denominations.

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