Collection, Hawaiian, History

Collections: Hawai‘i Overprints During WWII

APA Collections Update from Noriko Sanefuji:

When I visited the Numismatic collection at the National Museum of American History, I found some interesting currency with the word “HAWAII” printed on them. I got curious and wanted to find out the history behind it.

It turns out that this Hawai‘i overprint currency dates back to World War II. These notes were issued after the attack on Pearl Harbor to serve as emergency currency on the Hawai‘i Islands. These bills ($1, $5, $10 and $20) were distributed on July 15, 1942. The bills have “HAWAII” printed on the back in big letters and on the front with smaller letters in two places on the side. These measures were taken to easily identify the money.  Just in case currency falls into the enemy’s hands during an invasion, it would be easily rejected as counterfeit money. This currency stayed in effect until October 1944.

Hawai'i Dollar Bill

The U.S. Treasury donated these notes to the museum along with 800 pieces of currency, many of which are very rare. These pieces of currency had a face value of nearly $600,000 back in 1978.


Arthur L. Friedberg.  A Guide Book of United States Paper Money: Complete Source for History, Grading, and Prices, 2005.

The Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine, August 1942


4 thoughts on “Collections: Hawai‘i Overprints During WWII

  1. Marie says:

    My father served in the Navy during WWII and he gave me a $1 bill that has this imprinted on it “Hawaii on the front on the left & right sides in small solid black print & large open font in black across the back, looks brand new off the presses. Can anyone tell me the value of this bill?

    • Noriko says:

      Hi Marie,

      The Smithsonian does not do appraisals but you can refer to Robert Friedberg’s catalogs on U.S. paper money. It lists everything the U.S. ever printed, including the Hawai`i emergency notes. They were produced in Washington, and sent to Hawaii for use there. The overprint and brown seals are there to make them conspicuous, so that if Japan invaded and took the islands, this special currency could be disavowed by the U.S. government.

  2. Richard Wong says:

    Great story, Noriko! According to author Stanley Peter, Japan came into possession of some $20.5M in US currency when the Americans surrendered the islands in 1942. To prevent the Japanese from capturing a similar hoard if Hawaii were to fall, the US Treasury forced Hawaiians to exchange their dollars for the marked notes and prohibited possession of more than $200 of it. Hawaiians, being as resourceful as they are, squirreled away any larger amounts so every once in a while you’ll read about somebody coming across a jar or can of Hawaii bills when remodeling a house or digging their backyards.

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