Very Rare PR63 1883 Hawaii Half1883 50C Hawaii Half Dollar PR63 NGC. CS-4, "Hapalua." Upright 8s in the date. Very rare, just 26 proofs were struck in silver to honor King Kalakaua I. The fields are deeply mirrored on each side and the surfaces are mostly brilliant with just a hint of reddish-russet color around the margins. Don Medcalf (Hawaiian Money: Standard Catalog), lives in Honolulu and has studied sources in the state archives, explains that six silver proof sets were coined in September 1883, and another 20 sets were made the following year. Designed by Charles E. Barber. All pieces made for commerce were coined at San Francisco. Proofs were made at the proofing facility inside the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia. All interested collectors should read or re-read Walter Breen's account on pages 672-673 of his Complete Encyclopedia.
Proofs such as this pleasing specimen are indeed very special, above and beyond their tiny mintage number. Statehood was not even a remote thought in 1883, and the Philadelphia Mint's proofs were nothing but special pieces made on contract for a remote outpost, mostly dominated by an American fruit company. Thus, survivors of this rare issuance are nothing related to the lovely but more plentiful and often superb proofs of the regular U.S. coinage. Not at all. Few collectors saved them, and fewer still in America even had access to any, to acquire. They were portraiture commemoratives, in fact, and the portrait splendidly captured the Hawaiian motif. The king's "picture" is totally authentic.
David Kalakaua was elected by the Hawaiian legislature to replace the first elected king, Charles Lunalilo, who passed away in 1874 without successor. Kalakaua is remembered for wishing to bring his kingdom into the modern world, for his American leanings, and (for our purposes) even for wanting to cause a national coinage to be created. He took a European holiday in 1881, and out of his visits to various mints came a marvelously rare pattern struck at Paris, the so-called "5 Cent" piece. But nothing came of it. American foreign policy focused on the Hawaiian Islands at this time, for economic reasons (and potential military ones as well), and from this came the coinage of 1883. Sugar baron Claus Spreckels had more than the king's ear, and convinced him to contract with the United States to have a silver coinage made bearing his portrait. Barber produced master dies and hubs, and coins were minted to the same standards as regular U.S. silver, and paralleling the U.S. denominations although bearing Hawaiian names. Thus they were made from standard U.S. planchets.
The few proof sets were struck at Philadelphia, then operations were transferred to the mint at San Francisco for the commercial coinage beginning in November 1883 and concluded the following June. The last pieces made were additional proofs, created strictly for diplomatic purposes--to be presented to dignitaries (none for public sale). Each proof coin of this era is consequently a fascinating and very rare part of Hawaiian history, indelibly linked to the United States and to American numismatics. Opportunities to acquire one are rare today but not as rare as they were in 1883-1884, and it appears that relatively few collectors realize what a splendid opportunity each auction appearance truly is. (NGC ID# 26XJ, PCGS# 10993)
Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.
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