Hawaii Notes (1942-44)

At the outset of American involvement in World War II, the Territory of Hawaii (as it was then known) was the home of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, there was deep concern among U.S. leaders that Japan would launch a full-scale invasion of Hawaii, and that Japan could succeed in capturing the islands. 

The potential for an enemy seizure of all of American cash circulating in Hawaii was a major concern. The loss and misuse of so much currency could do considerable damage to the American economy. The solution was a special series of notes, prepared for circulation only in Hawaii. These notes bore distinctive brown seals, along with bold black “HAWAII” overprints on both front and back. These notes were made as a precaution; in the event of a Japanese invasion of Hawaii, all of the distinctively marked notes could be repudiated; the cancelled money would thus be useless to the enemy. 

The new notes were first released in July of 1942. They were the only paper money legal for use in Hawaii from August 15, 1942 until October 1944. During that time, it was illegal in Hawaii to have any other type of U.S. paper money without a special license.

Hawaii notes were made in one-, five-, ten-, and twenty-dollar denominations. The one-dollar notes are silver certificates, while all others are Federal Reserve notes, bearing the imprint of the Federal Reserve branch bank at San Francisco. All one-dollar Hawaii notes are from series 1935A. The ten-dollar notes are all from series 1934A, while the five- and twenty-dollar notes can be from either series 1934 or 1934A. Series 1934 five- and twenty-dollar notes are somewhat scarcer than their 1934A counterparts. 

Of course, the feared Japanese capture of Hawaii never happened. As Allied victory appeared imminent, October 1944 saw all restrictions on note circulation in Hawaii lifted. Late in 1944 and in 1945, Hawaii notes saw use in other U.S. occupied areas in the Pacific. Hawaii notes remained legal tender after War’s end. Many soldiers returning from the Pacific theater brought the unusual notes to the mainland, as souvenirs. Hawaii notes remain an interesting memento from a trying and ultimately triumphant episode in American history. Although readily available, they can be a real challenge to collect in higher grades of preservation.