The collection of printed materials from and about the Hawaiian Islands is representative of the print culture of these mid-Pacific islands as impressed upon the native population by the American missionary movement of the nineteenth century. The collection includes bibliographies, biographies, Hawaiian history, Hawaiian language imprints, maps, newspapers, periodicals, and engravings. The extent and variety of the collection permit research about the political and cultural history of the Sandwich Islands as they became the Hawaiian Islands; the impact of the American missionary movement on an indigenous culture; and the study of the dissemination of American printing technology outside the continental borders of the United States.
The collection of Hawaiian materials at AAS began with the materials deposited in the mid-nineteenth century by one of the American Congregational missionaries, the Reverend Mr. Samuel C. Damon, who also was a member of the Society. However, the major thrust of the collection derived from the purchase, in 1937, of the Hiram Bingham Library. This acquisition was made possible through the interest and generosity of two descendants of American missionaries, Foster Stearns and James M. Hunnewell. While comprehensive in its coverage and broad in its scope, the Hawaiian collection at the Society is not as large as the collections housed on the Islands themselves at the Hawaiian Mission Children's Society Library or at the Bishop Museum. In the United States, the major collections, in addition to that at AAS, are held at the Houghton Library at Harvard and the Newberry Library. The Society's Hawaiian collection includes approximately 200 volumes of Hawaiian imprints from about 1820 to 1896. Most of these were printed on hand presses sent to the islands by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in the Pioneer Company in 1820 and in the Third Company in 1828. The incunabula for Hawaiian printing could be considered those materials produced in the period 1822-29 chiefly on the island of O’ahu; the earliest printed piece is The Alphabet, printed in O’ahu on the Mission Press in January 1822. Other printing locations represented in the collection are from the islands of Maui and Hawai’i, as well as New York.
Closely supporting the imprint collection is the extensive accumulation of almost 600 bound volumes, pamphlets, and the reports of the Hawaiian Historical Society, which provide historical perspective on the islands and the missionary movement. Most of this collection of material is filed together in the Society's Local History section.
Of equal importance to the collection is the broad array of newspapers and periodicals originating in the Hawaiian Islands. There are twenty-two English and sixteen Hawaiian-language titles in this collection. Most of these are listed in Gregory's American Newspapers, 1821-1939 or the Union List of Serials. Records for the Hawaiian newspapers and periodicals are accessible in the Society’s general catalog.
Bibliographic control of Hawaiian-language material was for years dependent upon an unpublished inventory compiled by Howard M. Ballou in 1908. However, through the urging and support of the late Clarence S. Brigham, a new and greatly expanded bibliography of Hawaiian imprints was begun in 1938 by Bernice Judd, librarian at the Hawaiian Mission Children's Society. In 1963, Janet E. Bell updated and revised Judd's work, and with the assistance of Clare G. Murdock, she was able to complete a new volume, Hawaiian Language Imprints, 1822-1899: A Bibliography. The Hawaiian Mission Children’s Society and the University Press of Hawaii published the volume in 1978. The collection of Hawaiiana at the Society includes more than 140 of the titles listed in this bibliography. Volume one of David W. Forbes’s Hawaiian National Bibliography, 1780-1900, which covers the years 1780-1830, was published in 1998 by the University of Hawai’i Press.