The year is 1642. It is 77 years after the Great Siege of Malta and exactly 300 years before the peak of Malta’s second siege of 1942. In Malta, the 82 year old Italian Grand Master Giovanni Paolo Lascaris is in his sixth year of a reign that was to last until his death in 1657 at the venerable age of 97. Lascaris was elected Grand Master of the Order of the Knights of St John following the death of Grandmaster Antoine de Paule, founder of Paola and builder of San Anton Gardens in Attard.
Lascaris was the second Grandmaster to continue building a series of coastal watchtowers around the coasts of the three main islands to act as an early warning system against marauding enemy ships adding to the ones built by Alof de Wignacourt. Lascaris is also known for having purchased four Caribbean islands from France for a 14 year period giving Malta its only ever colonial possessions. Unfortunately for him, however, Lascaris remains forever linked with an unpopular decision he took three years before the minting of this coin wherein he banned women from wearing masks or attending masked balls during Carnival. This unpopular move caused widespread dissent including arrests and the ransacking of a Jesuit property until the Grand Master eventually expelled the Jesuits from Malta for a short period to restore calm. The Maltese never quite forgave him for this and to this day, a killjoy is described as a “Wicc Laskri”, a person possessing Lascaris’ sour face.
When this beautiful bronze coin was minted in Valletta in 1642, a lot was taking place elsewhere in a turbulent world. In England, the first hostilities of the Civil War between Royalists and Parliamentarians took place in 1642 while the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman was busy sailing around the newly discovered lands of Van Diemen Land (Tasmania) and New Zealand. 1642 was the year of Cardinal Richelieu’s and Galileo Galilei’s deaths and that of the birth of Sir Isaac Newton. During the same year, Rembrandt had completed his painting of The Night Watch and the amazing Maltese architect Giovanni Barbara was also born. The city of Montreal in Quebec was established as a permanent settlement in 1642.
At the other end of the world, in 1642, 300,000 people died when a Ming Dynasty army intentionally broke down dams and dykes along the Yangtze Kiang, China’s Yellow River, to break a siege by the rebel forces of Li Zicheng. Closer to home, three years after Lascaris’ ban on women’s carnival participation, Cromwell’s Parliament ordered London’s theatres closed and suppressed all stage plays in theatres in all of England.
The coin itself is a beautiful piece. The obverse shows the Grandmaster’s coat of Arms with the text F.IO.PAULUS.LASCARIS.CASTELLAR.M.M.H.H.+ meaning Fra Ioannes Pavlus Lascaris Castellar Magnus Magister Hospitalis Hierosolymta (Brother John Paul Lascaris Castellar Grand Master of the Hospitallers of Jerusalem). The obverse also shows a very artistic representation of the sun (inclusive of facial features) and the moon (including a sickle for the harvest moon) implying that the currency was constantly steady and strong during day and night (i.e. 24/7 in today’s parlance). The reverse shows two shaking hands, the date the coin was minted and the T4 value of 4 Tari. The legend “Non Aes Sed Fides” (not money but trust), is due to the fact that the 4 Tari coin was normally a silver coin but was being minted in cheaper base metal due to the economic problems of the period. Interestingly, the reverse also shows two very sharp countermarks, the top one showing the double headed eagle Lascaris coat of arms and the bottom one showing the Head of the beheaded Baptist on a plate. Countermarks were used to extend the validity of a coin as legal tender.
Committee member MNS