Do you have an old cigar box or wallet that Grandma and Grandpa tucked away with money and mementoes from World War II and the post-war years? You might very well find a curious $1 bill with the word HAWAII splashed across the front and back.
Where did these unusual notes come from?
“After the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, December 7, 1941, the future of the Hawaiian Islands was uncertain,” write Q. David Bowers and David M. Sundman in 100 Greatest American Currency Notes. “The navy of the Japanese emperor controlled the far reaches of the Pacific, and many islands and territories had been conquered.”
The United States was concerned that if the Japanese captured Hawaii, the enemy would seize a financial windfall in American cash. To solve this potential problem, the Treasury made a special issue of $1 Silver Certificates (and related $5, $10, and $20 notes in other series) overprinted with the word HAWAII on the face and back. The idea was that if the islands fell to the Japanese, the easily distinguished currency could be repudiated by the U.S. government. That way, these American dollars would be unspendable on the world market.
In his monumental 900-page Whitman Encyclopedia of U.S. Paper Money, Bowers says this: “Citizens of the islands were commanded to exchange all older notes and receive these, which resulted in many collectible large-size National Bank Notes being quietly preserved when attention was called to them (although most were indeed redeemed and destroyed). Although the HAWAII notes were distributed as intended, after 1944 large quantities remained in Treasury stocks and were put into general circulation on the mainland.”
The $1 HAWAII note is ranked as No. 65 among the 100 Greatest. Bowers and Sundman describe it as “a popular ‘show and tell’ note, available in all grades of preservation.” If a family member served in the war or grew up in that era, they might have a piece of HAWAII currency set aside in their belongings.