In the wake of the Japanese air attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States command was faced with the prospect of a full-scale military invasion of the Hawaiian Islands. While it was determined after the war that in 1941 and early 1942, the Japanese armed forces had no real intention of such an operation, it was a supposed inevitability when viewed from the contemporary American perspective. If the Japanese had invaded the Hawaiian Islands, then they would not only have had access to a massive quantity of military materiel but would also potentially capture a considerable quantity of US currency. This money, which would be indistinguishable from the rest of the circulating US currency, would help fuel the Japanese war machine and make it that much harder for the Allies to beat Japan.
General Delos Emmons, Military Governor of Hawaii, addressed this issue on January 10, 1942, by ordering an involuntary total recall of all American currency. To maintain the economy, however, Emmons allowed individuals to retain up to $200 and businesses up to $500. Replacing the recalled bills would be the Hawaii Overprint types. Called “Emmons Money” by Emmons’s chief of staff Major General Thomas H. Green, these overprint notes came in four denominations ($1, $5, $10, and $20), of which the 1$ was by far the most common. All examples of the $1 denomination are from the 1935A series silver certificates, and examples of the original printing run of 35,052,000 still survive.
In total, the government exchanged almost 200 million dollars’ worth of standard currency with the new overprint types. In order to not be required to ship these notes back to the continental US, the military decided to burn them on the island. There is some controversy as to exactly where the notes were incinerated, with historian MacKinnon Simpson stating that the Oahu Cemetery was used as the main incinerator and Jeremy Uota stating that the Nuuanu Mortuary crematorium was the actual location.
Yet, as Uota wrote, regardless of how or where the bills were destroyed, “It is difficult to comprehend how many Hawaii national bank notes and other rarities were incinerated” at a great historical loss.
All four denominations of “emergency” or “substitute paper money” were printed with a brown seal, a large, outlined HAWAII covering most of the reverse vignette, and two small HAWAII stamps on the front towards the edges. Such clear markings would allow the US Government to easily de-monetize these bills if they were to fall into enemy hands, thus making them worthless to all foreign powers.
The government continued printing and issuing these bills from July 1942 until October 1944 when the threat of a Japanese invasion of the Hawaiian Islands became clearly impossible. The military also mandated that no other US paper currency could be used, and starting on August 15, 1942, it was in fact illegal to use any other type of paper currency without special dispensation from the government. Shortly thereafter it was believed that there was no non-overprint regular currency left in the Hawaiian Islands although this was probably false. These notes were also used as military payment certificates in the Pacific Theater, with troops on Midway and other islands receiving examples as part of their salary. As such, these bills were collected extensively by servicemen, with some examples even being made into short snorters. These could be single bills, or a series of banknotes taped end to end, that would be signed by all members of a soldier’s platoon or crew and kept as battlefield keepsakes.
An interesting side note: Collectors should look out for 1935A one dollar Hawaii star notes. While star note versions of standard US currency starts from 00000001A*, the Hawaii $1 overprint star notes actually start at 64812000*. Even though there are a total of around 200,000 star note examples, they still sell for a premium.
All overprint notes were accepted on the continent as legal tender, but since the government recalled the bills in 1946, they are quite collectable.
In Today’s Market
Uncertified examples of the 1935A one dollar Hawaii star note in low grades can be purchased for between $125 and $175. In higher grades, these pieces can be worth significantly more with examples selling for over $1,000 to $1,500.
Examples with regular serial numbers, however, are relatively common, and certified pieces can be purchased with ease. While very-low-grade (10 to 15) examples are worth $25 to $50, certified mid-grade examples (35 to 50) sell regularly for $100 to $175. Examples in high grade (64 to 65), that are not quite top population pieces, can be purchased for $200 to $275. Of the few examples that survive in 68PPQ, the top population slot, collectors should expect to pay upwards of $1,500.
The 1935A series silver certificate, the type that hosts the Hawaii overprint design, is a simple progression from the first small-size silver certificate. On the obverse, the central design is the right-facing portrait of George Washington as seen on the current $1 Federal Reserve Note. The treasury seal in the right-hand field was changed to brown from the standard blue and moved slightly lower. The large denomination “ONE” that was superimposed over the seal was shrunk and moved up to its position and changed to “ONE DOLLAR”. A small vertical “HAWAII” overprint is stamped at each edge of the field. The entire design is edged by the standard scrollwork border first introduced with the 1928 series.
The front features the signatures of Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr. and United States Treasurer William Alexander Julian.
The reverse, however, was a new design that featured the denomination “ONE” in the central field. This is flanked by the great shield on the right and a pyramid on the left. This design has been used ever since on the 1$ denominated silver certificates and treasury notes to the present day. “HAWAII”, in large blank letters is superimposed over the entire tableau.