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The Man Behind the National Numismatic Collection

Prof. Salvatore Luigi Pisani MD (Melit), MD (Edin), LRCS (Edin), CMG

Prof Salvatore Luigi Pisani graduated MD Malta in 1850 and was the first Maltese physician to graduate MD from the University of Edinburgh, he was 1st in his course and awarded the Gold Medal with his thesis "On the Epidemics of Cholera in Malta and Gozo" and the second to obtain his Licenciate of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh in 1853 after Dr Vincent D. Portelli who obtained his LRCS in 1834.

During the Crimean War he served as surgeon under Dr French with Florence Nightingale who eulogised his medical capabilities with his superiors. Well-known for her strict nursing standards, Nightingale was so impressed with Dr. Pisani that she felt obliged to write a glowing reference to Sir William Reid, Governor of Malta, on 26 May 1856 from the Balaclava General Hospital. She wrote,

“I had the opportunity to witness his skill when serving under him and I have always heard Dr Pisani’s immediate medical superiors at Scutari speak most highly of his services both as to skill and attention in treating the cases entrusted to his charge when he accompanied Dr French to Scutari in October 1854.”

Prof. Pisani held the Chair of Anatomy and Histology (1858-76), Midwifery and Gynaecology (1858-69) and Surgery (1869-85) at the University. 1st July 1885 he was appointed as the 1st Chief Government Medical Officer on the re-organisation of the Medical and Health Department.

He was foremost in advocating the proper teaching of nurses and midwives. Besides delivering lectures in English and Italian on midwifery, nursing and infant care, he was also a pioneer in promoting the Maltese language to educate paramedics. To this end he published 2 books in Maltese, namely; “Ktieb il-qabla” and “Fuq il-mard tat-tfal u kif nilqghulu”. He also published his lectures to midwives in Maltese.

He was the authority on Cholera epidemics on which he had written several reports and was held in very high esteem by none other than the world renowned Prof of Hygiene at the Science University of Munich, Prof Max von Pettenkofer. Pettenkofer visited Malta in 1868 and presented a report on "The Cholera Epidemics in Malta and Gozo" which was translated from the German by Pisani.

Apart from being one of the outstanding figures of the intellectual and cultural scene of the 19th Century Malta, Prof Pisani was a major participant in the medical developments of his time.

Lord Grenfell, Governor of Malta (1898-1903), wrote that Prof. Pisani had adorned every post he had occupied. Sir James Young Simpson, who had lectured Prof. Pisani on Midwifery at the Edinburgh Medical School, remarked that Pisani “was an honour to his country and that Malta might well be proud of being the birthplace of Salvatore Luigi Pisani”.

In 1895, in appreciation for his long and meritorious service, he was made a Companion of the Most Distinguish Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) by Queen Victoria.

Prof. Pisani lived at his commodious and comfortable Villa Sans Souci situated in a lovely spot between Casal Zeitun and Marsascirocco where he quietly passed away on October 27, 1908. Among certain special features in the villa was a series of 3 gates situated in the staircase leading to the second floor. Specially designed by Prof. Pisani himself, these gates had a secret way of locking and unlocking for security reasons, since it was on the second floor that Prof. Pisani kept his magnificent coin and medal collection which he eventually donated to the Malta Museum, more than a century ago.

Priceless Coin Collection

In 1899 Prof. Pisani made a munificent donation to his country when he bequeathed a priceless collection of coins and medals which today forms the greater part of the Monetarium at the National Museum. In 1896 he had published a catalogue of his collection ‘Medagliere di Malta e Gozo dall’Epoca Fenicia all’attuale regnante S.M. la Regina Vittoria’.

The 1899 deed of donation stated that the collection was to be held in perpetuity at the Public Library of Valletta. On 23 September 1901, Pisani sent an envelope with sealed instructions for the opening of the cabinet containing the Collection of Coins, which was to be opened after his death, to the Acting Chief Secretary to Government. Pisani died at 4.30am on 27 October 1908 and the sealed envelope with the instructions was opened that same morning by Prof. Temi Zammit in the presence of the Acting Lt Governor and the Crown Advocate.

When, in 1903, the government was transferring the Museum articles from the Public Library to the Casa Industriale in Piazza San Giovanni, where the new Museum was housed, the Lt. Governor E. M. Merewether wrote twice to Prof. Pisani, on 3 and 21 July 1903, asking for permission to have his collection placed in the new Museum building instead of the Public Library, after his death. Pisani insisted that a new deed of donation has to be drawn up to record the transfer. The new deed of donation was entered into on 23 April 1904 in which it was stated among other conditions:

· “That the collection is preserved in perpetuity in the Malta Museum instead of in the Public Library of Valletta, provided the coins be kept in the said Museum as similar coins are kept in the British Museum”;

· “That the said collection of coins shall be kept and preserved, in perpetuity, and shall at no time and under no circumstances be transferred elsewhere”;

· “That in case of any breach of the said conditions, the said donation shall be dissolved and have no further effect and in any such case, the said collection of coins shall revert to the Cathedral Church of Malta by the same title of irrevocable and gratuitous donation“.

Unfortunately certain conditions have been breached during the last decades.

The bequest of Prof. S. L. Pisani was handed over to the Curator of the Museum, Prof. Temi Zammit, by the executors of his will Prof. Colonel Lorenzo Manché MD and Major Henry Engerer KOMRM on 28 January 1909 and a Notarial Act of Receipt was signed on 19 March 1909.

Prof. Pisani’s bequest consist of the following:

1. A collection of decorations of the Order of St

John of Jerusalem;

2. A collection of 48 commemorative medals of

the Order of St John of Jerusalem;

3. A collection of Punic coins found in Malta,

including coins from Carthage and Maltese

coins of a punic type with Phoenician, Greek

and Roman inscriptions as well as coins from

Cirene, Imperatori d’Oriente (12 gold coins),

Arab, Norman and Aragonese – 83 gold, silver

and bronze coins in total;

4. A collection of 938 Roman coins of which 5

gold, 271 silver and 112 bronze belonging to the

Consular period and 23 silver and 563 bronze

to the Imperial period;

5. A collection of 927 coins of the Order of St

John from Grand Master L’Isle Adam to

Hompesch consisting of 185 gold, 418 silver and 324 copper. Amongst these coins are some extremely rare

examples such as the Pietro del Ponte gold Zecchino which was found with other gold coins during the

construction of a house in Valletta in 1865 and the Vilhena gold 12 and 10 Zecchini and 28 pieces of 4


6. Coins of the French Republic during the French occupation: 6 gold, 3 silver and 8 copper;

7. A collection of 395 British coins from George III to Victoria consisting of 129 gold. 154 silver and 112

bronze. Among the gold coins there are 2 examples of the extremely rare 1839 ‘Una and the Lion’ £5 proof

gold coin.

Writing in his sixth report in 1909 as Curator of the Museum, Sir Temi Zammit stated

“One of the noblest gifts made in the financial year under consideration was that of the peerless collection of coins and medals by the late Prof S. L. Pisani. Its numismatic worth cannot be overestimated. Thousands of pounds could not have purchased the Pisani collection. But the late distinguished Professor, who had served his country so well during his life-time, willed all as a free inheritance to his fellow countrymen”.

In 1907 he also donated 75 pieces of pottery and other objects found in rock-cut tombs in Malta and two models of warships of the Order of St John which are now housed at the Malta Maritime Museum.

Louis Borg Manche

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I conduct die studies of Roman Republican ancient coins, currently concentrating on the stuck bronze. Are images of the 112 "Consular" bronze coins in the Malta National Collection available? Posted online, or in a catalog?

Dr. R. W. Schaefer

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