Tonga - Travel/Philately/Numismatics/Memorabilia Profile

Tonga, an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean comprising 176 islands spread over 270,000 square miles of ocean has a total land area of 289 square miles and a population of around 104,000. Its economy is dependent on a non-monetary section, a small manufacturing sector, and on remittances from its citizens living abroad. The development plan to improve its economic condition include privatizing the public sector, improving agriculture, developing the tourism industry, and exploring options to diversify the economy into fisheries and timber. Tonga is committed to decreasing dependency on fossil fuels by pursuing renewable energy options.

Travel Resources: 

May to October is the best time to visit Tonga. The major attractions are the Waterways of Vava’u, Blowholes of Tongatapu, Haapai, Cliffs of Eua Island, and the Nukualofa Market. Major activities include snorkeling, whale watching, game fishing, surfing, and hiking. Tonga cuisine is meat and seafood based and sauced in coconut milk. Other items are taro, cassava, yams and banana. Traditional food is cooked in an underground oven called umu.


ResourceISBN or ASINBest PriceDescription
Lonely Planet Samoa and Tonga978-1741048186$12Traveler’s introduction of about 20 pages followed by sections on Samoa and Tonga. Tonga is covered in about 80 pages and includes chapters on Tongatapu, Ha’Apai Group, Vava’u Group, and The Niuas.
Tonga Islands Travel Reference Map by ITM Canada978-1553414346$12Average Scale is 1:25,000. Includes inset maps of Neiafu and Nuku’Alofa.
Tonga Grounded Adapter Plug Kit – GUA and GUCB0016ZM6OG$14

Philatelic Profile:

The first stamps of Tonga were a set of five stamps released between 1886 and 1892 showing a head portrait of King George I. The set (Scott #1 to #5) catalogs for around $180 mint and around $50 for used. A few varieties of the King George I design, a Coat of Arms design, a King George II design, and several surcharge overprints formed the primary stamp issues of Tonga till 1897. Tonga released a set of fifteen stamps showing local scenes between 1897 and 1934. The set (Scott #38 to #52) catalogs for around $350 mint and around $300 used. The designs show Coat of Arms, ovava tree, King George II, prehistoric trilithon at Tongatabu, breadfruit, coral formations, view of Haabai, red-breasted musk parrot, and view of Vavau. The ovava tree issue from the set (Scott #40) was reissued in 1899 with the ‘T L’ and ‘1 June, 1899’ overprint. The stamp (Scott #53) catalogs for around $35 mint and around double that for used. The stamp was issued to mark the marriage of King George II to Lavinia. There is an error variety with the overprint reading 1889 instead of 1899 and that one catalogs for around $225 mint and around $400 used. Tonga became a British-protected state under a Treaty of Friendship on May 18, 1900. It was the only island nation in the region to have avoided formal colonization.

Tonga issued a set of nine stamps between 1920 and 1935 showing a portrait of Queen Salote. The set (Scott #54 to #62) catalogs for around $40 mint and around double that for used. A number of issues portraying Queen Salote in different designs along with several common design types formed the primary stamp issues of Tonga during the period till 1951. The Treaty of Friendship and Tonga’s protectorate status ended in 1970 through steps initiated by Queen Salote before her death in 1965.

Other issues of Tonga enjoying good philatelic interest include:
  1. A set of fourteen stamps released on July 1, 1953 showing local scenes. The set (Scott #100 to #113) catalogs for around $45 MNH and around $25 used. The designs show Royal Palace at Nukualofa, fisherman, canoe and schooners, Swallows’ Cave at Vavau, Map of Tongatabu, Vavau Harbor, Post Office at Nukualofa, Fuaamotu Airport, Wharf at Nukualofa, Beach at Lifuka at Haapai, Mutiny on the Bounty, Queen Salote, and Arms of Tonga, and Map of Tonga Islands. Starting in the early 60s, Tonga issued a number of stamps that look like labels in odd shapes. Many of the sets catalog in the five-to-ten dollar range. The practice continued until the 80s.
  2. A set of four stamps released on March 12, 1984 showing Navigators and Explorers of the Pacific and their Ships. The set (Scott #559 to #562) catalogs for around $20 MNH or used. The designs show Abel Tasman the Discoverer of Tonga and his Zeehan, Samuel Wallis and Dolphin, William Bligh and Bounty, and James Cook and Resolution.
  3. A set of four stamps released on October 25, 1990 to mark the 40th anniversary of the UN Development Program. The set (Scott #760 to #763) catalogs for around $25 MNH or used. The designs show pictures representing tourism, agriculture and fisheries, education, and Healthcare inside ‘UNDP’ inscription which forms the main design. Tonga’s economy consists mainly of handicrafts, subsistence agriculture, tourism, sale of postage stamps, and heavy dependence on remittances from a majority of the population that lives abroad in Australia, New Zealand, and the United States.
  4. A set of five stamps released on May 19, 1999 showing Scenic Views of Vava’u. The set (Scott #1018 to #1022) catalogs for around $8 MNH and a little less for used. The designs show Neiafu, boats on water, Port of Refuge, aerial view of Port of Refuge, sunset at Neiafu, and Mounu Island. Vava’u is a popular spot for whale watching, game fishing, and surfing making it a player in the South Pacific tourism market.
Numismatic Profile:

The first coin of Tonga was a Kingdom Standard Coinage (16 Pounds = 1 Koula) one-fourth Koula 0.2395 troy ounce gold coin issued in 1962 showing a head portrait of Queen Salote in Obverse and Crowned Arms in Reverse. A Platinum version of the same coin along with other denominations were also issued the same year. Mintage for these issues are very low (less than 1000) and they trade at a premium over bullion value. Decimal Coinage (100 Senti = 1 Pa’anga, 100 Pa’anga = 1 Hau) Bronze Senitis debut in 1967. The first issues had mintage of 500K and catalogs in the dollar range for UNC. Distinct rectangular Copper-Nickel FAO issues debut in 1977 and they catalog in the $10 range for BU. The first gold coin was a 0.7666 troy ounce Pa’anga gold proof in the Christmas theme with seven sides released in 1982. The issue had very low mintage (250) but remarkably catalogs only at a very slight premium over bullion value.

Numismatic items of Tonga include:


ItemPrice RangeDescription
Coins$1 and upCommon UNC Senitis starts around $1. Proof Year Sets from the 1960s onward, FAO Sets in UNC, Rectangles and seven-sided coins in VF+, etc start around $10. Commemorative Silver Proofs from the 1980s and 1990s, Coronation Mint Box Proof Set of 1967, etc start around $50. Silver Rectange Proofs, Gold Proofs, etc go well into the 100s.
Paper Money$3 and upCommon UNC Pa’angas starts around $3. UNC Year Sets, Consecutive Serial Numbers with 5-pieces or more in UNC, etc start around $10. Rare Complete Specimen Sets from the 1970s, Early Banknotes from the 1930s in VF+, etc start around $50 and go well into the 100s.


Collectible Memorabilia:

Tikis, masks, baskets, mats, tapa, etc are souvenirs from Tonga.


ResourcePrice RangeDescription
Miscellaneous Collectibles$2 and upPatches, Collector Spoons, Patches, Magnets etc start around $2. Wood Carved Tray Abalones, Tapa Cloth Paintings, etc start around $30.

Last Updated: 12/2015.

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