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Hawaiian Imprint Collection: A Resource Guide

About the Collection

Hiram Bingham. The Alphabet. 1822. Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division. View Library of Congress catalog record for this item.

The Rare Book and Special Collections Division holds an important collection of 275 early Hawaiian imprints, dating from 1822 when printing first started in the Islands to about 1860, with a few items printed in the Continental US about the early missions. The books and pamphlets forming the Hawaiian Imprint Collection provide an interesting look at the activities of the Hawaiian Royal government and the missions, as well as the earliest written forms of the Hawaiian language.

The collection contains important examples of early printing and bookbinding from the Hawaiian Islands. The Islands' first printer, twenty-year-old Elisha Loomis, was among the first group of American missionaries to arrive in the Hawaiian Islands in March, 1820. He had apprenticed with a printer in Canandaigua, New York before arriving and brought with him a second-hand Ramage Press that had been built before 1800. The press went into storage for nearly two years while the missionaries learned the Hawaiian language and worked out a written form. In January, 1822, a ceremonial broadside was printed in a few copies for the King, Kamehameha II, and several months later the first *book* was printed featuring the new Hawaiian alphabet. A second printing of this alphabet book in September, 1822, had several revisions, including the modern spelling of the word "Hawaii"; the Library of Congress owns a copy of this second edition as its oldest Hawaiian imprint, as well as a number of important early printed school books and religious works dating from the 1820s.

The type for many of these earliest books was set by Native Hawaiians, and there are numerous woodcut and even copperplate illustrations crafted by Native Hawaiians at schools set up by missionaries in Lahainaluna in Maui and in Honolulu on Oahu. Many of the books were even bound by natives using leather from local goats brought by missionaries.

The collection also contains important information for the study of Hawaiian and Polynesian linguistics, as the orthography and vocabulary of the language became standardized in the 1820s and missionaries introduced new vocabulary for American and European concepts such as religion, natural history, and even anatomy. The Library also holds early printed books in other Polynesian languages such as Samoan, Tahitian, and Maori.

The collection came from a variety of sources. Some bear the marks of ownership of early missionaries or their societies. Many seem to have come from The Smithsonian Institution, which transferred most of its book collection to the Library of Congress in 1866-67 and has continued to deposit in the Library quantities of material which it receives largely in exchange for its own publications.

Lorrin Andrews. O ke anahonua. [Geometry]. 1854. Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division. View catalog record for this title.

Education, both practical and religious, was the focus of the American missionaries who arrived in Hawaii in 1820, and many of the earliest books reflect this goal. The collection contains numerous early readers for Hawaiian students, teaching subjects ranging from hymns and Bible stories to geography and natural history.

Pioneer printer Elisha Loomis printed 500 copies of a primer in the Hawaiian language created by Hiram Bingham entitled, The Alphabet, in January, 1822, and in September 1822 he printed 2,000 copies of a second edition. The latter edition is the fifth recorded Hawaiian imprint, as well as the earliest to be found among the Library of Congress holdings. In 16 pages, without a title page or an imprint statement, it opens with a section headed "THE ALPHABET" and includes lists of syllables, words, and elementary Hawaiian readings of a religious character consistent with their missionary purpose.

https://lccn.loc.gov/65078350
Jerome V.C. Smith. Anatomia: he palapala ia e hoike ai i ke ano o ko ke kanaka kino. 1838. Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division. View catalog record for this title.

The Library's copy is bound with another rare primer in only four pages, captioned “KA BE-A-BA,” which Loomis printed in 1824. The small volume is in a black, half-leather binding, with an old Library of Congress bookplate marked, “Smithsonian Deposit.” Since the final text page is date-stamped “1 Aug., 1858,” the volume was probably received or bound by the Smithsonian Institution in that year.

Also included are several mathematics and geometry text books, as well as books on geography and natural history. These often included woodcuts created by Native Hawaiian students and new vocabulary for places, animals, and concepts.

One of the more unusual school books was created to teach human anatomy to adults and children: Anatomia he palapala ia e hoike ai i ke ano o ko ke kanaka kino, based upon Boston physician& Jerome V. C. Smith's popular Class-book of Anatomy. American physician missionary Gerit Parmele Judd translated Smith's book into Hawaiian for teaching purposes, but along the way he had to create numerous anatomical terms that Hawaiians did not already possess (especially for internal structures). He and other missionaries also taught Native Hawaiian students at the Honolulu Mission School to engrave copper plates in order to illustrate the book, a milestone in printing and book production on the Islands.

The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are included when available.

Bible. Hawaiian. Ka palapala hemolele a Iehova ko kakou akua / o ke kauoha kahiko i unuhiia mai ka olelo Hebera. 1838[-1839]. Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

Because the earliest Hawaiian printing presses were brought and operated by Christian missionaries, some of the earliest printing was of religious texts, including hymnals, prayer books, and translations of the New Testament (1835) and the entire Bible (1838-1839). One the Library's three copies of the Hawaiian Bible was presented to Congress in 1841 by one of the translators and early missionaries, Hiram Bingham. These books are often in the original covers, bound by natives in local goat skin, making them interesting pieces of material culture from that time and place.

One of the earliest religious books printed in the Hawaiian Islands in 1824 was, Na Himeni Hawaii, which "contains 47 'songs to Jehova, the true God.' A large proportion of the hymns were original, but among them were the translations of Watts' 50th Psalm, of Pope's ode, 'The dying Christian to his soul,' 'Owhyhee's idols are no more' (originally Taheite's), the Jubilee Hymn, and several choruses from Handel's Messiah. The book also contains translations of more than 40 selected passages of scripture, one as a heading to each hymn. It was used somewhat as a school book"--Forbes, D.W. Hawaiian national bibliography, 1780-1900, no. 566.

The rare book collection also contains the first complete printing of the New Testament in Hawaiian, translated by Hiram Bingham and other American missionaries from 1835, as well as three copies of the first complete printed Bible in the Hawaiian language, comprising over 2,000 pages; purportedly over 10,000 copies were printed, but few copies survive today. One of the Library's copies was presented to Congress July 20, 1841 by Hiram Bingham himself, one of the translators; note on front free end paper verso says it was printed and bound by natives of the islands. Printed letter from Bingham dated Hartford, March 17th, 1841 mounted on back ultimate flyleaf verso and back free endpaper recto.

Included elsewhere in the Rare Book Collection is the first translation of the Book of Mormon into Hawaiian, published in San Francisco in 1855.

The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are included when available.

Kingdom of Hawaii. The King's speeches. 1861. Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division. View catalog record this title.

The Hawaiian Imprint Collection includes a number of early printed government documents, including speeches by King Kamehameha IV and Parliamentary reports.

The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are included when available.

Ka lama Hawaii. 1834. Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division. View catalog record for this title.

Hawaii's first newspaper, Ka Lama Hawaii (The Hawaiian Luminary), was published by and for students as a teaching tool with essays about school subjects like geography, natural history, and religion. Its first issue came off the missionary press in Lahainaluna, Maui, on February 14, 1834. A similar newspaper, Ke Kumu Hawaii, began publication in Honolulu on November 12 of the same year. Both of these titles are available in the Hawaiian Imprint Collection in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division. The first two English-language papers printed in the Hawaiian Islands, The Sandwich Island Gazette and Journal of Commerce (began 1836) and The Polynesian (began in 1841) are both available in the Serials Division and online.

The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are included when available.