Coinage of the Knights in
In 1530, Emperor Charles
V of Spain donated the Maltese Islands in fief to the
Order of St John of Jerusalem, officially known nowadays
Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem,
of Rhodes and of Malta. Through the intercession of Pope
Clement VII, the Order, in spite of strong insistence
by the Master of the Mint at Messina to deny it the right
of mintage, obtained the privilege of striking coins
Malta. The first coins which appear to have been minted
in Malta by the Knights were struck during the brief
reign of the second Grand Master, Pietro del Ponte (1534-35).
The Order of St John minted coins in gold, silver and
during its 268-year rule in Malta.
After their arrival on the Island the
monetary system was adapted to that of Sicily. In 1609,
the Council of the Order also appointed a Commission
to study the new regulations issued for the Sicilian Mint
at Messina to ensure that coins struck in Malta would
future conform in weight and fineness to those of Sicily.
From time to time foreign coins, including Spanish Doubloons
and Piastres, Venetian Zecchini, Livournine, Genovine
and Louis d'Or were allowed to circulate with the local coinage.
of the critical financial difficulties following Malta's Great
Siege of the Turks against the
Knights in 1565, and to have funds to pay the several
thousand labourers engaged in the building of the new city of Valletta,
the Order found it expedient to strike fiduciary copper
coins. The reverse side of these coins depicted clasped
hands surrounded by the legend 'NON AES SED FIDES', (Not
Money But Trust). According to Giacomo Bosio, historian
of the Order, Grand Master Jean de La Valette (1557-1568)
promised to redeem these copper coins in "noble metal" and
also fixed their rate of exchange at par not only with
Maltese silver coins but also with Sicilian silver pieces.
Fiduciary copper coins, struck by other
Grand Masters continued to pass current in Malta at par
with Sicilian silver and to maintain their value with
local silver coins until the death of Grand Master Antoine
Paule in 1636 as the amount put in circulation had remained
more or less proportionate to the internal needs of the
Island. But when Grand Master Jean-Paul Lascaris Castellar
(1636-1657) struck these fiduciary pieces in excessive
quantities, the rate of exchange between copper and silver
was completely unbalanced and increased rapidly from
year to year to such an extent that in 1764 local copper
reported to be losing the amount of 107% in exchange
The Knights' minting art reached its
peak in the gold and silver coins issued during the office
of Grand Master Antonio Manoel de Vilhena (1722-1736).
Vilhena was the first to coin the 12 Zecchini gold piece,
the highest denomination in the Order's coinage. He also
introduced the silver 2 Scudi and the 8 and 12 Tari pieces.
highest value silver coin minted by the Order was the Maltese
dollar, known as the "pezza", "oncia
d'argento" or "uqija" This was first issued
during the long reign of Grand Master Emmanuel Pinto
(1741 - 1773).