Numerous coins were made for the Kingdom of Hawaii before it achieved statehood in 1959. Its first official coin was a copper one-cent Keneta, which was released for circulation in 1847. Minted privately in America, a total of 100,000 examples were struck and sent to Hawaii. This was meant to be the first of many deliveries, however, no more Kenetas followed because the copper coin was quickly rejected.
It wasn’t until the 1880s when new coins were made for the Kingdom of Hawaii. These later pieces were made of silver and struck in the U.S. to American standards. Unlike the copper Keneta, the silver Hawaiian Coins were embraced and remained in circulation after the Hawaiian Islands were officially annexed by the United States in 1893. The coins were eventually replaced with American coinage and many issues are now rare as a result.
The 1847 One Cent Copper Keneta
It was King Kamehameha III who commissioned the 1847 Keneta to alleviate the small coin shortage in the Hawaiian Islands. The copper coin was designed by engraver Edward Hulseman, struck by a private American minting facility, and valued at one cent of a United States Dollar. The first (and only) 100,000 pieces were coined in 1846 but dated 1847.
On the obverse of the Keneta is a bust of the third king of the Kingdom of Hawaii, surrounded by the inscription KAMEHAMEHA III. KA MOI. (KA MOI translates as the King). The date 1847 is stamped below, and the image and engravings are encircled by a ring of beads. On the reverse of this copper Hawaiian Coin is a wreath tied by a bow. Around the wreath is AUPUNI HAWAII, which translated into English is Kingdom of Hawaii. Within the wreath is HAPA HANERI but it should read HAPA HANELI to express “Money of 100.” The spelling error was the fault of designer Edward Hulseman.
When the Keneta entered circulation, the people of the Hawaiian Islands were more than displeased with the piece. Not only were they unhappy with the incorrect spelling on the reverse but also the portrait of the King, complaining that it lacked detail. The first delivery contained 100,000 examples and ended up being the only Kenetas to make it to Hawaii. Although a complete disappointment, the coin remained legal tender until 1884.
Silver Hawaiian Coins
In 1883, the United States Mint at San Francisco struck silver Hawaiian Coins matching the size of U.S. coins. Four different denominations were minted, all of which were valued the same as the U.S. coins they were based on. These silver pieces were also made to American standards and feature the same designs, courtesy of United States Mint engraver, Charles Barber.
The four denominations are the:
- Umi Keneta (One Dime)
- Hapaha (Quarter Dollar)
- Hapalua (Half Dollar)
- Akahi Dala (One Dollar)
Each piece features a right-facing bust of King David Kalakaua on the obverse, along with the date 1883 and the inscription KALAKAUA I KING OF HAWAII. Different images are displayed on each of the coin’s reverses. It’s also important to note that all the silver Hawaiian Coins are stamped with the 1883 date even though some were made in 1884.
Many of these regular-issue silver Hawaiian Coins were withdrawn and melted years later, dramatically reducing availability to today’s collectors. A small number of proof sets including all four denominations were created at the Philadelphia Mint, and also included an Eight Dollar coin which was dropped and replaced with the One Dime (Umi Keneta) before regular production began.
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