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What's in a name?

Has anyone of you ever wondered what the abbreviations on the inscription and legend on coins mean? A specific recurring one is MHH and it’s variation MMHH. Why is sometimes one, and other times the other used? The first means Magister Hospitalis Hierusalem, Master Hospital Jerusalem. In the second version, the extra ‘M’ signifies Magnus or Grand. Although we always think of the head of the Order as the Grand Master, it was not always so. This self styled title was introduced by Jean de Lastic, the 36th ‘Master’ of the Order, who ruled between 1437-1454.

This title was retained by all the following rulers, that is until the fall of Rhodes. Philippe Villiers de L’Isle Adam, possibly in an act of humility, dropped the ‘Magnus’ again and restyled himself as simply Magister, Master

According to historic sources, the ‘Grand’ Master title was revived under Antoine de Paule (1623-1636). However, here, we have a problem because we start seeing the abbreviation on some 4Tari, and a unique Zecchino coins by Hugues de Verdalle (1582-1595). Again it is only found specifically on the very rare pre-Cardinal coins, and again, these obverses bear a suspicious resemblance to known counterfeits as described by John Gatt.

With the next ruler, Martin Garzes, the ‘Magnus’ title is only found on known counterfeits.

We next encounter the Grand Master title on the undated 3 Tari coin of Alof de Wignacourt.

The first time we find a dated coin with the title of Grand Master is in 1622, with the beautiful 4 Tari of Vasconcellos.

After that date, the title became permanent. As we can see, the story told by one letter on a coin, can prove the history books wrong. I thank John Gatt for once more allowing me to plunder the pictures from his indispensable catalogue.

Colin Formosa

Secretary General

Malta Numismatic Society

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