#Valletta2018, History, Volunteering, Collection Highlights

Gold Coins

Museum of the Order of St John Jack Hanson, Collections Volunteer

Jack Hanson is an undergraduate at Queen Mary, University of London, about to start his dissertation on the Third Crusade. He has been volunteering at the Museum on a British Numismatic Society Bursary.

Gold coins, being of the highest worth, often demonstrate the most developed iconography. Over time the images on the Order of St. John’s gold coinage shifted from depicting purely religious symbols to the sole use of the image of the Grand Master.

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M6.37 and M6.53, both minted by Jean de Valette (r.1557-68 ©Museum of the Order of St John, London/Jack Hanson 2017

The coin above was minted by Jean de Valette, and is the oldest gold coin held by the Museum. As these early sequin coins are formulaic, aside from the inscription, it is nearly identical to that minted by L’Isle Adam. The coin depicts St. John the Baptist handing the flag of the Order to the Grand Master. On the reverse, Christ is depicted surrounded by nine stars. The symbolism of the number of stars is not known.

These are standard ‘Sequin’ (or Zecchino) coins minted by the Order of St. John in Malta. Although the earliest gold coins were circulated by Philipe Villiers de L’Isle Adam (r.1530-1534), the Museum does not hold any of these in its collection, as they are exceedingly rare. It is likely that this coin was minted in Rhodes, rather than Malta, as under L’Isle Adam, the Order was forced from the island by the Ottoman forces. There may be only one in existence. The inscription reads DA MIHI VIRTVTEM CONTRA HOSTES TVOS (Give me valour against thine enemies), which is a reference to the ongoing struggle against the Ottomans.

This design bears an extreme resemblance to Venetian coins of this era. It is known that Maltese coins circulated in Venice, and vice versa, and it is likely that the design was used as a sign of a legitimate sea power. However, the Venetians used the image of St. Mark, and the Order preferred their own patron saint of John the Baptist.

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M6.37, minted by Jean de Valette, and a modern pound coin ©Museum of the Order of St John, London/Jack Hanson 2017

The only gold coins minted for several years by the Order were quite small. Over time, they grew larger as the Order grew richer and more established in Malta. Eventually, several much larger denominations of gold coin would be minted on the island.

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M6.37, minted by Jean de Valette and M19.1, minted by Gregorio Carafa (r.1680-90) ©Museum of the Order of St John, London/Jack Hanson 2017

These are two really interesting coins, minted more than a hundred years apart. The coin on the left was minted by Jean de Valette (r.1557 – 1568) and the other by Gregorio Carafa (r.1680-1690). The reverses of both are nearly identical to that pictured above, depicting the Baptist and the Grand Master. However, within the oval, the image of Christ has been replaced over time with the arms of the Grand Master. The motivations for the change in iconography is not known. The Grand Masters have also added a coronet to their coinage, displaying their increasing idea of their own sovereignty.

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M14.61, minted by Jean Paul Lascaris de Castellar (r.1636-1657) ©Museum of the Order of St John, London/Jack Hanson 2017

This coin shows the arms of the Grand Master, Jean-Paul Lascaris de Castellar. The double-headed eagle, a traditional symbol of the Byzantine Empire, appears on the crest. Lascaris was a descendant of the Emperors of Nicea, a state formed after the fourth crusade captured Constantinople in 1204. The Lascaris family was later pushed aside by the Palaiologos following the recapture of Constantinople. The map above shows the borders in what is now Turkey, following the fourth crusade. The Byzantine empire had split due to repeated invasions. The majority of Byzantium became the empire of Nicea, as pictured above, ruled over by the ancestors of Grand Master Lascaris.

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©Wikipedia Commons Byzantine Empire after the 4th Crusade, Byzantium1204

The double-headed eagle was later adopted by Imperial Russia. It again became associated with the Order of St. John through Tsar Paul I serving as Grand Master after the Order was forced to leave Malta. This symbol also appears on the reverse of the coins of Ferdinand de Hompesch (r.1797-99), who served as the last Grand Master in Malta. The eagle can also be seen in various places in St. John’s Gate, which houses the Museum, along with a portrait of Tsar Paul.

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The portrait of Tsar Paul I (r.1796-1801) held in the museum collection ©MOSJ
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Decoration of a staircase in St. John’s Gate, the double-headed eagle and other symbols ©Museum of the Order of St John, London/Jack Hanson 2017












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M21.6, minted by Ramon de Perellos y Rocafull (r.1697-1720) ©Museum of the Order of St John, London/Jack Hanson 2017

This coin,  depicts a knight bearing the Flag of the Order aloft, along with a sword. This design appears to be unique to Rocafull. However, it demonstrates the increasing use of military, rather than religious, symbols on Order coinage.

M21.1, minted by Ramon Perellos y Roccaful (r.1697-1720) and M22.2, minted by Marc Antonio Zondadari (r.1720-2) ©Museum of the Order of St John, London/Jack Hanson 2017

These coins, minted only twenty-three years apart, are completely different. The traditional imagery of John the Baptist has been supplanted by a bust of the Grand Master, Marc Antionio Zondadari. The replacement of religious imagery continued on gold Order coinage until the end of minting there.

It is not clear why, like the replacement of Christ with the arms of the Grand Master, the traditional religious images used on coins have been replaced with symbols of the Grand Master. It certainly follows trends of coinage in Europe. The image of the monarch facing to one side, with the large wig, is very similar to gold coins minted in Britain and France in this period.

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A coin of Louis XV of France (r.1715-1774) ©National Numismatic Collection, National Museum of American History


M23.4, minted by António Manoel de Vilhena (r.1722-36) ©Museum of the Order of St John, London/Jack Hanson 2017

The use of the armour is unusual in European coinage, and reflects the military state of the Order of St. John. The development of minting practices is noticeable in that the armour is very detailed, even on smaller coins. The use of the bust of the Grand Master in armour became a common image on coinage until the Order left Malta. Better minting practices also meant that images could be shown in greater detail, and the obverse and reverse could be aligned. The seventeenth century saw a decline in the use of handheld dies, meaning that coins in better relief could be produced.

M27.2, M27.3 and M27.5, all minted by Grand Master Emmanuel de Rohan (r.1775-1797) ©Museum of the Order of St John, London/Jack Hanson 2017

Three denominations, from the reign of Rohan who minted an enormous amount of coins. The Museum holds an example of all of his gold coins, ranging from five, ten and twenty Scudi.

M6.37, minted by Valette, and M27.5, minted by Rohan ©Museum of the Order of St John, London/Jack Hanson 2017

Here the oldest and newest Maltese gold coins in the Museum collection are shown. It is easy to see how the gold coinage had developed between 1530 and 1797. The Order had come a long way from the first gold coins minted on the island. The ideology expressed on their coins had shifted from nearly entirely religious, devoted to Christ and John the Baptist, to using only the image of the Grand Master.

Although the Order continued to mint coins up to 1798, the Museum has no gold coins of the last Grand Master, Ferdinand von Hompesch. Following Napoleon’s rise to power, the Order were forced to leave Malta, and no more coins were minted after 1798. This ended nearly three hundred years of coin minting in Malta.

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