Grinnell Hawaiian Missionary Stamps
by Paul K. McCutcheon and Herbert A. Trenchard, PhD.

In the early days of philately, rumors circulated about a cache of very rare and valuable Hawaiian missionary stamps secreted away in New England. Were the Grinnell stamps this legendary hoard and therefore, one the greatest philatelic finds of the 20th century? Or were they expensive fakes?

According to George H. Grinnell, Charles B. Shattuck gave him a cache of 71 Hawaiian missionary stamps in 1918. Shattuck had inherited the stamps from his mother Hannah. Hannah corresponded with a Hawaiian missionary, Ursula Newell Emerson, for several years and amassed a sizeable collection of the stamps.

On December 5, 1920, Grinnell sold 43 of his stamps to John Klemann, a New York-based stamp dealer, for $65,000. Klemann resold 16 of the best stamps for $75,000 to Alfred H. Caspary, a prominent New York collector. Ten days later, Caspary told Klemann he was convinced the stamps were fakes. Klemann returned Caspary's money, flew back to Los Angeles and filed a lawsuit against Grinnell to recover his money. The case went to trial in June 1922.

At the trial, two collections of certified missionary stamps were produced so that the court could make its own comparisons. Stamp and printing experts testified that the Grinnell stamps were made by photogravure rather than by letterpress with moveable type, as the certified stamps had been made. Close examination revealed that there are significant differences between the Grinnell stamps and the certified missionaries. The letters and numerals have slightly different shapes and the ornate borders have small but unmistakable variations.

Also, the Grinnell postmarks did not match the postmark used at the Honolulu Post Office in the 1850's. Furthermore, the Grinnell stamps appear to have been printed on a different type of paper than the certified missionaries. Others note the ink color is generally too blue, without the tint of green characteristic of the certified stamps. Also, the postmarks are bright red rather than orange-red. In addition, there was no known provenance for the Grinnell stamps at the time. Grinnell did little to counter the testimony. Instead, he argued that Klemann, an expert, bought the stamps without warranty.

On June 29, 1922, the Honorable J.P. Wood ruled in favor of Klemann. He declared the Grinnell Hawaiian missionary stamps to be fake, and awarded the plaintiff $65,000.00. The testimony and lack of provenance undoubtedly influenced the judge in making his decision against Grinnell.

In 1927, Grinnell returned approximately half of the missionary stamps to Shattuck's descendants. Grinnell spent the rest of his life trying to prove the stamps were genuine. However, it was very difficult to document the provenance, to prove that the stamps were typeset-printed and that the paper and ink were manufactured in the 19th century. Mainly, it was very difficult to overcome the staunch opposition to the Grinnell stamps. Opponents of the Grinnell stamps vehemently expressed their opinions in philatelic books, journals and other professional publications.

Some time later, forensic examination conclusively determined that, like the certified missionary stamps, the Grinnell stamps were typeset. They were printed by letterpress from lockups of individual type elements to forms that were disassembled and rebuilt as needed. According to Grinnell's proponents, there were multiple printings of the missionaries, which would account for the variations in the letters, numerals, and border designs.

Proponents also argue that postmaster Whitney ordered several different canceling devices, some of which were used on the Grinnell stamps. Others argue that the differences are so radical that the devices must have been made by a different process and manufacturer than the devices ordered by Whitney. They point out that all four devices Whitney ordered of style 236.11 are seen on the genuine stamps but none of them are seen on the Grinnell stamps. However, one of the devices of style 236.05, also ordered by Whitney, has never been detected on a certified cover or stamp.

Grinnell proponents argue that the differences in paper and ink are to be expected in multiple printings and usage over many months or even years. Others argue that the period in which the Grinnell stamps, if genuine, could have been produced is a mere six months and the demand was too small to justify multiple printings or extended usage. However, modern spectrographic analysis has shown that the paper and ink (including the cancel ink) are appropriate to 1851. In fact, the paper and ink are identical to the certified missionary stamps in the Tapling collection in the British Library.

Vincent and Carol Arrigo (Grinnell's granddaughter) provided the following information on the provenance of the Grinnell Hawaiian missionary stamps. William Emerson, a teenager from an early Hawaiian missionary family, apprenticed under Henry Whitney, newspaper publisher and Honolulu postmaster. In his capacity as postmaster, Whitney created the missionary stamps in 1851. Emerson worked in the post office and print shop during the autumn of 1851, when the missionary stamps were being printed. Emerson sent his mother some of the stamps, urging her to use them on her letters.

In late 1851, Emerson returned to his parents' home in Waialua, suffering from ill health. The Arrigos believe that Emerson brought some stamps and marking devices with him. In Waialua, he functioned as an unofficial sub-postmaster. He stamped and marked mail sent from his family to friends and relatives in New England. This explains the unusual cancels found on the Grinnell stamps. The Arrigos also speculate that the Emersons sent mint missionary stamps to their New England correspondents to aid in pre-payment of postage on return mail. Such westbound uses of the missionary stamps are documented. This would explain the unused stamps in the Grinnell collections.

Emerson stayed at Waialua until March 1852, when his health worsened. Seeking cooler weather, he sailed off in a whaler. Sometime later, he died at sea. All the dated Grinnell stamps were cancelled during the months Emerson lived in Waialua, and ceased when Emerson left. A few years later, his brother Samuel became the first official postmaster at Waialua.

The primary recipient of the disputed stamps was Hannah Shattuck, a childhood friend of Ursula Emerson, William's mother. Both women were from the small town of Nelson, New Hampshire. They grew up together, went to school together, and worshipped at the same church. After Ursula married and moved to Hawaii, the two women corresponded extensively. Hannah Shattuck died in 1856. Her son Charles later moved to Los Angeles and brought a few family possessions, including a book of sermons. The stamps were tucked between the book's pages, leaving faint impressions. Shattuck sold the stamps to Grinnell in 1918.

All of the Grinnell stamps, along with reams of forensic and documentary evidence, were sent to the Royal Philatelic Society for authentication. An opinion is expected in late 2003.