The Mint of Malta
Little is known of the first
mint in Malta before the time of Grand Master La Vallete. And
even for some time afterwards, only fragments of information
have been unearthed. Bosio, in his 'Storia della Sacra Religione'
wrote in the year 1684 that the Master of the Mint in 1566
(shortly after the Great Siege) was a Fleming named Simon Prevost.
He engraved and struck the special coins and medals which were
placed in a copper urn under the foundation stone of the new
city of Valletta.
The site of the first mint of the Order
of St. John in Malta is also unknown. Numismatic historians,
believe it was probably first located at either Fort St.
Angelo or in Birgu (Vittoriosa). Shortly after 1573, the Mint was
transferred to the tower of the Grand Master's Palace in
Valletta. After 1604, it was installed in St. Sebastian Street in Valletta,
today known as Old Mint Street. In 1778 the Mint was moved
again, this time to the "Conservatoria" (today
the Royal Malta Library), still in the capital city of Valletta,
and remained there until it ceased to function in 1800.
Under the rule of the Knights, the Grand
Master himself was responsible for appointing the Master
of the Mint who, in turn, had jurisdiction over all goldsmiths
and silversmiths operating in Malta.
Between 1722 and 1727, Grand Master Antonio
Manoel de Vilhena (1722-1736) struck no less than 200,000
Zecchini pieces but these quickly began to disappear from circulation
as, through prejudice or lack of expertise in the art of
they were issued at well below their real value when compared
with foreign gold coins whose value had risen on the market.
Large quantities of these Zecchini were exported, mainly
to Naples and Sicily where gold was rated at a higher value
in Malta and where they were subsequently melted down at
a profit. Vilhena had in the meantime also made a complete
in the silver coinage by issuing new denominations and because
the silver standard had also been raised it became just as
profitable for speculators to export the Order's silver coins.
To check the constant flow of the coinage
of the Order outside Malta the Mint was ordered to stop striking
Zecchini and in 1730 a strict prohibition of the exportation
of local gold and silver was imposed. These measures were
partly successful until Vilhena's death in December 1736. However,
two years after the election of Grand Master Ramon Despuig
(1736-1741) it was again found out that the 2 Scudi and Scudo
silver coins were being exported by speculators or melted
by the local silversmiths. In spite of the reimposition of
heavy fines and harsher penalties for those who either exported
or melted down the coinage, silver coins continued to disappear
from circulation. In March and April 1738 Despuig withdrew
from circulation all silver coins of the Order and coined
them into new coins of inferior fineness thereby making it
for speculators to export them. Though this drastic measure
saved the Order from a total disappearance of the silver
coins of the Knights from Malta and increased the amount of
it also resulted in the extinction of a large number of Vilhena's
beautifully executed silver coins.
In March of the succeeding year, again through
lack of expertise in financial matters, the Order committed
the grave error of arbitrarily raising the value of foreign
coins and leaving the rate of the Island's standard coin,
the Zecchino, at the old rate. An immediate exportation of
Order's gold and silver coins took place and within a short
while Malta's currency practically consisted of its over
abundant copper token coins which at that time were worth about
less than their nominal value.
On his election, Grand
Master Emmanuel Pinto (1741-1773), faced with a great shortage
of gold and silver
coins, quickly struck a good amount of Zecchini but these
were afterwards replaced with new denominations of 10 and 5 Scudi
gold pieces (Single Louis and Half Louis - Lwig u nofs Lwig)
as the former coins proved to be unpopular due to their inferior
fineness. Although Pinto also introduced new denominations
in silver including the 30 and 15 Tari pieces (L-Uqija u
Nofs Uqija) he was unable to restore confidence in the Order's currency.
In 1762 or 1763, unable to find a remedy he sought the competent
advice of Zanobio Paoli, a former Master of the Mint in Florence.
When Paoli arrived in Malta he found the local Mint in a
deplorable state and in an elaborate ' 'Trattato della Zecca' ' submitted
soon after his arrival, he made various recommendations including
the introduction of new denominations, the striking of new
Zecchini of 22½ carats and the withdrawal of the fiduciary
Unfortunately no records exist as to what
measures were taken to reorganise the Mint after Paoli's
report during Pinto's rule. Apart from prolific issues of certain
denominations and the introduction of the gold 20 Scudi or
Double Louis of Malta (Lwig doppju) in 1764 very little appears
to have been adopted from Paoli's report and the local Mint
continued to be run at a loss. During the short rule of Grand
Master Francisco Ximenes de Texada (1773-1775) matters remained
just as bad, for the Commissioners of the Mint in 1774 blamed
the Mintmaster for the issue of a debased and discredited
Within the period 1766 and 1776 minting had in fact been
very erratic and the accounts for the Mint show a loss of just
In 1777 the Treasury of the Order, to reorganise
the Mint and to stop it from operating at a loss, decided
to adopt Paoli's recommendations with regard to the method of
work and the various duties of those employed in that establishment.
To restore confidence in the Order's coinage it was also
recommended that the standard gold coin, the Zecchino, was to be restored
to its original fineness of 22 ½ carats and 3 1/6
deniers in weight and its value regulated periodically according
the rate at which Spanish Doubloons were bought by the mints
of Naples and Palermo. The standard silver coin, the Maltese
Scudo, was also to be restored to the fineness of 10 ozs.
12 grs. fine silver per pound and the Commissioners of the
were also to issue periodically a tariff showing the purchase
price of foreign coins Amongst other matters it was also
recommended that Pinto's debased Zecchini and the copper
were to be withdrawn.
Many of these recommendations,
though approved by Grand Master Emmanuel de Rohan (1775-1779)
for instance Pinto's Zecchini were never withdrawn and the
copper pieces were only countermarked against forgery. However,
there is no doubt that necessary measures and changes in the
Mint's administration were carried out, as the coins of de
Rohan are most exact in weight and purity. The financial records
of the mint also reveal that this establishment, though losing
in certain years, made an overall profit of over 25,000 Scudi
over the period 1778 to 1788. Nevertheless, during De Rohan's
rule the financial position of the Order deteriorated further
and seriously chiefly because of developments occurring overseas.
The economic affairs of Malta depended to a large degree on
the steady inflow of capital from abroad. Much of these funds
originated from responsions or remittances in connection
with property income from the large number of land holdings
in Europe belonging to the Order. During the French Revolution
however, much of the income-producing property owned in France
was confiscated and many Knights fled to Malta. With little
money available, the Order was forced to incur huge debts in
Malta and abroad to maintain its operations, and to make up
for the loss, it was obliged to coin the silver plate of its
galleys as well as much of the silverware in the Grand Master's
Palace, the Hospital and other places.
The Mint of the Order
continued to function during the two-year reign of Ferdinand
von Hompesch (1797-98)
who relinquished Malta without any serious effort to defend
it from the French who landed on the Island in June 1798.