Knights of Malta Coinage
Knights of the Order of St Join coins (1530-1798 AD)
After a lot of disagreement between the Knights of the Order of St John and Charles V about the right for the former to continue minting their coins in Malta, they were eventually allowed to do so in 1534 during the reign of Grand Master Del Ponte. A strong link had remained with Sicilian coins and these continued to be used freely during the Knights’ initial years until they were eventually phased out.
During the Order of St John’s occupation a number of denominations were struck: gold was used to strike the 12,10,4 and 2 zecchini (zekkin or skud tad-deheb) and the 20,10 and 5 scudi. Silver was used for the 30, 16, 15, 12, 8, 6, 4, 3, 2, the 1 tarì, the 2 scudi, scudo, carlino, cinquina and half cinquina. Copper was used for the 4 tarì, 2 tarì, 1 tarì, carlino, cinquina, half-cinquina, grano, 3 piccioli and the picciolo (patakka, nofs patakka, irbiegħi, 10 ħabbiet, ħabbtejn u nofs, ħabba, tetlus u dinier).
Frà Philippe Villiers de L’Isle Adam (1530-1534 AD)
Grand Master L’isle Adam introduced to Malta the coinage they used to circulate in Rhodes. These consisted of the gold Zecchino and the silver Tarì and Grossetto. He also introduced copper coins but one is not sure of their denomination, in fact they are referred to as copper weights. Although it was the norm to have a kneeling Grand Master in front of St John on the obverse and Christ on the reverse, on L’Isle Adam’s gold Zecchino one finds his bust on the obverse and his coat of arms on the reverse.
Frà Pierino del Ponte (1543-1535)
Albeit the very short reign of this Grand Master it is important to note that it was during his reign that the Knights of the Order of St John were given permission to start minting their coins in Malta. Del Ponte’s zecchino again shows the Grand Master kneeling in front of St John on the obverse with Christ on the reverse.
Frà Didier de St. Jaille (1535-1536)
No coins from the reign of this Grand Master have ever been recorded.
Frà Juan de Omedes (1536-1553)
Dates on the coins were only introduced during the reign of De Omedes in 1538. He also introduced new silver Tarì denominations, the Four Tarì and Two Tarì and the silver Carlino. Most of his coins portray his coat of arms on the obverse and a lamb on the reverse. The Carlino on the other hand shows his coat of arms in a shield on the obverse and the arms of the Order on the reverse.
Frà Claude de la Sengle (1553-1557)
La Sengle introduced a smaller denomination, the Picciolo which was the equivalent of one sixth of a Grano. These coins show the La Sengle coat of arms on the obverse and the eight-pointed cross on the reverse. This Grand Master retained the other denominations but changed the Tarì iconography to show John the Baptist with the lamb on the reverse.
Frà Jean de La Vallette (1557-1568)
De La Vallette introduced the silver 6 Tarì and 3 Tarì coins. For the 4 Tarì coins he introduced a new type. Whilst retaining the figure of St John with the Paschal lamb on some of them he now started using the image of the head of St John on a plate. On the 2 Tarì the head is shown on an elevated platter. He struck the 3 Tarì with the eight pointed cross on the reverse, a symbol which was kept up by his successors until 1680.
Following the building of Valletta, De La Valletta issued over 40,000 Scudi worth of ‘Fiduciary coins’. He struck on them the legend NON AES SED FIDES, which means ‘not copper but trust’. The reverse of these coins showed two hands joined together symbolising an act of agreement. These coins were used as a replacement of the silver ones upon an act of trust.
Successive Grand Masters countermarked the 4 Tarì and 2 Tarì using specific symbols. To mention a few, Pinto used a Monogram or a Crowned crescent; Adrien de Wignacourt used a Fleur-de-Ls surmounted by a crown; and de Rohan used a Crowned mascle.
Frà Pietro Del Monte (1568-1572)
Del Monte introduced the silver cinquina, of which we have no specimen. This coin shows an encircled cross of the Order. The symbols on the other denominations remained the same - what obviously changed was the coat of arms of each Grand Master. The reverse side of the 1 Tarì coin now showed a lamb carrying the flag of the Order. The fiduciary coins continued to be used even by successive Grand Masters.
Frà Jean L’Evesque de la Cassière (1572-1581)
De la Cassière did not issue any new denominations and neither did he change any pre-existing iconography except the coat of arms on the obverse to reflect that of his reign.
Frà Hugues Loubens de Verdalle (1582-1595)
During his term, de Verdalle introduced the Silver Half cinquina, the copper Grano (which was the equivalent of 6 Piccioli) and the 3 Piccioli, with a large 3 struck on the coin. He also introduced the symbol of a crested crown known as a ‘ducal coronet’ on top of his coat of arms. Such a symbol remained in use by his successors for about 150 years, until the reign of Pinto (1741). At times, like in the examples shown in the 4 Tarì, this ducal cornet is replaced by a cardinal’s hat.
Frà Martin Garzes (1595-1601)
Garzes did not introduce any new denomination, on the other hand he made do without a few them such as the silver Carlino, Cinquina and Half Cinquina and the copper cinquina, carlino, 2 Tarì and 4 Tarì. He kept the same iconography as that of his predecessors and only changed his name and the coat of arms on the coins’ faces.
Frà Alof De Wignacourt (1601-1622)
During the reign of Alof de Wignacourt the Order set up a commission to ensure that the coins minted in Malta were of the same weight and standard as those which were being minted contemporarily in Sicily. Alof de Wignacourt reinstated the silver coins that Garzes had stopped minting as well as the copper Cinquina, Carlino and Tarì. He also changed the positioning of the denomination markings of the Tarì coins by placing the T-4, T-3 or T-2 on either side of the coat or arms on the obverse instead of underneath the symbol on the reverse like his predecessors.
Frà Luis Mendes de Vasconcellos (1622-1623)
Grand Master De Vasconcellos only had 6 denominations issued in his name, the Zecchino, 4 Tarì, 3 Tarì, Carlino, Grano and the Picciolo. He slightly changed his Zecchino by altering the figure of John the Baptist presenting the banner to the kneeling Grand Master to a frontal portrait rather than looking right.
Frà Antoine de Paule (1623-1636)
De Paule retained the same iconography on the Zecchino as his predecessor Vasconcellos but reinstated the silver 2 Tarì and the copper Cinquina and Carlino. Fiduciary coins were still being used as is evidenced by some of the copper coins dated from the reign of De Paule.
Frà Jean-Paul Lascaris Castellar (1636-1657)
Grand Master Lascaris Castellar, popularly known as Lascaris, was the first to introduce the gold 2 Zecchino, which was the equivalent of 40 Tarì. During his reign he minted around 250,000 scudi worth of fiduciary coins, which caused an unbalance in the rate of exchange between copper and silver coins. On the 2 Zecchino one finds his bust wearing magisterial robes on the obverse and his coat of arms on the reverse. This is the first time that a Grand Master minted a coin with his portrait.
Frà Martin de Redin (1657-1660)
De Redin only had three denominations minted during his reign, the silver 4 Tarì, the 3 Tarì and the Carlino. He also retained the same iconography, coat of arms, eight pointed cross of the Order and Head of John the Baptist on a platter
Frà Annet de Clermont Gessan (1660)
Gessan only minted one coin, the 4 Tarì. On the obverse it has his coat of arms and on the reverse one can see St John the Baptist’s head on a platter
Frà Rafael Cotoner (1660-1663)
Rafael Cotoner minted four denominations, the 4 Tarì, 3 Tarì, 1 Tarì and the Carlino. He made use of the Paschal lamb bearing the flag of the Order of St John for the reverse of the 1 Tarì
Frà Nicolas Cotoner (1663-1680)
Nicolas Cotoner retained the same denomination as that of his predecessor, who was also his brother. Since even the coat of arms is the same, the only difference is found in the Grand Master’s name which encircles the coat of arms on the obverse.
Frà Gregorio Carafa (1680-1690)
Carafa reinstated the gold Zecchino after an absence of twenty three years. He re-used the symbol of St John presenting the flag to the kneeling Grand Master on the obverse and his coat of arms on the reverse. He also made use of only four denominations, the Zecchinio, and the silver 4 Tarì, 3 Tarì and Carlino.
Frà Adrien de Wignacourt (1690-1697)
Grand Master Adrien de Wignacourt was the first one to issue the 4 Zecchini in 1695 using the same motifs as the Zecchino. One Zecchino at this time was equivalent to 43 Tarì. During Wignacourt’s reign a number of Venetian Zucchini were found to be of inferior weight and quality and these were re-minted into Wignacourt’s Zecchini.
Frà Ramon Perellos y Roccaful (1697-1720)
Grand Master Perellos, as he is more commonly referred to, reinstated the use of the 2 Zecchini which only Grand Master Lascaris had issued before him. Perellos’ 2 Zecchini were struck with his coat of arms on the obverse and on the reverse a Knight yielding a sword in his right hand and a shield in his left. The other denominations retained the same iconography as previous ones. The copper fiduciary coins were still being circulated.
Frà Marcantonio Zondadari (1720-1722)
Grand Master Zondadari only had four denominations minted in his name, the 4 Zecchini, Zecchino, and the silver 4 Tarì and Carlino. Zondadari made some changes to the iconography used on the coins’s faces. On the reverse face of the 4 Tarì he struck the words QVI DAT PAVPERI NON INDIGEBIT with the date 1720 underneath. On the Carlino he struck a rose bush on the reverse side.
Frà Antonio Manoel de Vilhena (1722-1736)
During Vilhena’s reign, the minting of the Order’s coins reached new heights. He introduced new denominations: the gold 12 and 10 Zecchini, the silver 2 Scudi, 16 Tarì, 12 Tarì (equivalent to 1 Scudo), and 8 Tarì. None of his successors continued minting the 12 and 10 Zecchini. In a span of seven years, between 1722 and 1728, around 200,000 zecchini were minted. The obverse of most of the gold and silver denominations was struck with the bust of Grand Master de Vilhena wearing a long wig. The 8 Tarì coin was minted using the same die as the 4 zecchini but after a while this was retrieved from circulation when the 8 Tarì coins were being gilded and used as 4 Zecchini.
Frà Ramon Despuig (1736-1741)
Grand Master Despuig made away with the gold coinage and only had nine denominations issued in his name, the largest being the 2 Scudi and the smallest being the Grano. The iconography on his coins does not vary from that of his predecessors.
Frà Emanuel Pinto (1741-1773)
Pinto added on to the repertoire of the gold coins of the Order by adding the 5, 10 and 20 Scudi. He also introduced the silver 30 Tarì (known in Maltese as Uqija) and the 15 Tarì (Nofs Uqja). In all of his denominations, which totalled sixteen, he replaced the Ducal Crown with the Royal Crown on top of the arms of the Order. Considering the duration of Pinto’s reign of thirty two years, it is reasonable that the silver coins had a number of variations one of them being different positions of St John the Baptist. One particular coin of which we have an example has the date 1759 with the 9 struck in reverse.
Frà Francisco Ximenez de Texada (1773-1775)
Ximenes de Texada only had six denominations minted in his name. He continued using the Royal Crown on top of the coat of arms. He also jointly portrayed his coat of arms alongside that of the order on the reverse of some of his denominations.
Frà Emmanuel de Rohan (1775-1797)
De Rohan has the most number of denominations issued in his name. To the ones issued by his predecessors, he added the copper half cinquina. For the Tarìs he chose to strike his coat or arms on a headless eagle. This symbol is what sparked the controversy about the 1778 20 Scudi.
These scudi (which we have isolated for the display) show the date 1778, therefore falling under Pinto’s reign. However the coat of arms on the obverse is struck on a double headed eagle with a Tau cross in each beak, a symbol which was used by Grand Master Hompesch. Some scholars attest that these coins belong to Hompesch and that there was a mistake in the date.
Frà Ferdinand Von Hompesch (1797-1798)
During Hompesch’s reign only two denominations were struck, the 30 Tarì and the 15 Tarì. Many varieties of these Tarìs exist, mainly being in the Gran Master’s wig and the studs on the breast plate. In the next showcase we shall see more examples of the 30 Tarì coins which were used during the French occupation.
Courtesy of the National Museum of Archaeology