Silver Cufflinks

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Charles Delicata

 

Silver Cufflinks

 

For aficionados of Maltese silver, the acquisition of one more item for the collection, is always an opportunity to rejoice.

Some collectors will be after a zukkariera, or a cafettiera or other big items. Others because of financial restraints or because of lack of adequate space prefer small silver items.

Amongst the smaller items that go down well with collectors, are first of all the balzamini, others collect menu holders, or filigree items especially card cases, or buckles, or boxes.

One’s enthusiasm however is always aroused by the finding of an unrecorded maker or an unrecorded hallmark, or of an item of Maltese silver that has never been recorded before. One such item I came across is a pair of cufflinks. You might say that cufflinks in Maltese silver have been around for a hundred years or so.

But what about a pair of cufflinks that were made more than two hundred years ago?

The first cufflinks appeared in the 1600’s , however their use however became more common by the end of the 18th century. The use of cufflinks became widespread by the middle of the 19th.century. The cufflinks shown in the accompanying picture are from the late Pinto early Ximenes period. The maker’s mark is SC probably Silvestro Camilleri. Their weight is a mere 3.8 gms.

The reference books about Maltese silver commonly used do not have any reference to cufflinks in Maltese silver. The pair of cufflinks shown are thought to be the earliest examples up to date, although input from our readers is welcome.

Maltese Silver filigree

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Charles Delicata

 

Silver filigree is the manufacture of artistic objects using fine wire, usually silver, but sometimes also gold or base metals. With fine movements and a great deal of patience the jeweller turns the filigree wire into jewellery or other objects according to his fancy, the fashion at the time , or to clients’ specifications.

Silver filigree is manufactured in various countries, particularly where manual work is not well paid, as the output is always limited because items in this trade is strictly hand manufactured.

However here we are concerned with items made of filigree made in Malta.

This trade goes back many centuries. The most common items seen are items that can be identified with the island of Malta, such as the eight pointed cross which was and still is incorporated in jewellery like brooches and pendants, decorative items like the Maltese dghajsa, letter openers, sugar tongs, or the Maltese cabby, and also usable items like trays and card cases. The latter is a favoured collector’s item with collectors of Maltese silver.

Maltese card cases come in three main shapes. The commonest one is rectangular with straight borders. These are usually late 19th century although they were still manufactured in the early 20th century.

Another notable item is the waisted card case which, invariably 19th century. The card cases with rounded edges were by and large 20th century. All these cases incorporated the eight pointed cross at least on one side, and some, though not all, were hallmarked. The denser the design the more desirable is the case. Below are examples of the straight-edged, and waisted Maltese silver filigree card cases.

 

Silver Filigree 1

 

 

 

Silver filogree2

MALTESE SILVER ASSAY MARKS – Emmanuel Azzopardi Part 3

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Emmanuel Azzopardi comes from a renowned family of jewellers. He is a recognized authority on antique Maltese silver and jewellery, and an ardent collector of Maltese coins. He contributed to various numismatic exhibitions and assisted international numismatists in preparing catalogues on Maltese coins. In 1970 he participated in the XIII Council of Europe Exhibition on the Order of St John and in 1988 he helped in the setting up of the Central Bank of Malta XX Anniversary Commemorative Exhibition, when coins from his collection were displayed. His collection of coins of the Crusader period was also displayed at an exhibition held in collaboration with Heritage Malta at the National Museum of Archaeology, Valletta, in September 2005. He is the author of two books: Malta, History of the Coinage (1993) and The Coinage of the Crusaders and the World of Islam (2006). At present he is working on nine volumes on coins of Malta. The first volume covers coins from the Punic period 7th BC up to the end of Byzantine rule in 870. The second volume continues with the Arab period up to the arrival of the Order in Malta in 1530. The other seven volumes are detailed studies on the different dies used during the Order’s rule starting with volume three, the gold coins, followed by the silver coins of the Order. The final volume will cover the bronze coins.

The next few blogs will cover the hallmarks throughout the period of the knights. 

 

Knights1

 

MALTESE SILVER ASSAY MARKS – Emmanuel Azzopardi Part 2

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Emmanuel Azzopardi comes from a renowned family of jewellers. He is a recognized authority on antique Maltese silver and jewellery, and an ardent collector of Maltese coins. He contributed to various numismatic exhibitions and assisted international numismatists in preparing catalogues on Maltese coins. In 1970 he participated in the XIII Council of Europe Exhibition on the Order of St John and in 1988 he helped in the setting up of the Central Bank of Malta XX Anniversary Commemorative Exhibition, when coins from his collection were displayed. His collection of coins of the Crusader period was also displayed at an exhibition held in collaboration with Heritage Malta at the National Museum of Archaeology, Valletta, in September 2005. He is the author of two books: Malta, History of the Coinage (1993) and The Coinage of the Crusaders and the World of Islam (2006). At present he is working on nine volumes on coins of Malta. The first volume covers coins from the Punic period 7th BC up to the end of Byzantine rule in 870. The second volume continues with the Arab period up to the arrival of the Order in Malta in 1530. The other seven volumes are detailed studies on the different dies used during the Order’s rule starting with volume three, the gold coins, followed by the silver coins of the Order. The final volume will cover the bronze coins.

 

In 1645, after failing to redeem the large number of these fiduciary copper coins, the order’s council decreed that all the silver in the Conservatoria and the Grand Master’s Palace should be melted down to redeem the copper coinage. Around 90,000 copper Scudi were withdrawn. This gives reason why so very few early Maltese silver survived prior to late seventeenth century, since there is very little early Maltese silver left.

Throughout the Order’s stay in Malta the knights commissioned silver for their use in their chapels and Auberges. Some knights imported silver which was hallmarked with the assay mark of their country of origin. We know of Sicilian silversmiths coming to Malta and certainly silver artifacts manufactured in Naples were imported to Malta. Among the silverware imported were flatware, which  were engraved with the coat-of-arms of the Knight. Today these pieces are very much sought after by collectors of Maltese silver.

 

Early 18th century fiddle pattern table spoon

 

An early eighteenth century fiddle pattern table spoon, engraved with the coat-of-arms in a baroque cartouche, surmounted by a coronet, with mitre and crozier supporters. Dole (Besancon) Circa 1735: Maker’s mark: IBR, fleur-de-lys above, demi-lion over sun below, struck three times.

 

To the collector of antique Maltese silver: the glove-tray called sottocoppa, the guantiera, the oil-lamp (lampier), the coffee pot, the sugar bowl or basin and the scent flask called locally balsamina, with their particular characteristic designs, the collector can identify the Maltese silverware.

Throughout the Order’s rule among the Maltese silversmiths, were silversmiths with French Italian/Sicilian and even German names, such as the Cannatacis, Pietro Paolo Troisi, the Lebruns and many others. During the eighteenth century the Maltese silversmith became influenced by Italian craftsmen who were using the techniques of repousse and embossing in silverware. Beautiful pieces of outstanding workmanships were manufactured after Italian or French designs, especially the Lampieri (oil-lamps) and the coffee-pots, which were of pure Italian inspiration throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries between the rules of Grand Master Antonio Manoel de Vilhena (1722-1736) up to the rule of Emmanuel de Rohan (1775-1797. It is possible that during the Order’s stay in Malta silver was imported to Malta by some silversmiths and then stamped locally with the Maltese assay-marks.

The early Maltese silver ‘Tazza or Sottocoppa’ of the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century, is plain and circular on a central trumpet-shaped foot. It is probably copied from the Italian shallow-footed ‘Tazza’, from which our Maltese silversmiths derived the sottocoppa. In the early years, the sottocoppa was used to serve food, but in later years it was being used as either as a cake or glove tray. During the Vilhena-Pinto periods, the circular plain salver was now with a mould border, and the plain central foot was fluted.

The earliest antique Maltese silver glove trays, ‘guantieri’ traced are of the Perellos (1697-1720) period. The centre is generally richly chased with scrolling foliage and flowers or fruit. Others were inspirited from German silversmiths designs and have a theme very different from the usual flowery pattern. These have the centre repousse and chased in the ‘German manner’ for an example with a ‘fisherman and a pipe smoker near a river’ refer to A. Apap Bologna: Ill. p.41 no.30. The prototypes are from Augsburg and in some cases have the German town of Augsburg mark ‘the pineapple’ together with the Perellos mark: MA surmounted by the eight pointed cross. (A. Apap Bologna: Ill. p.41 no 31).

 

 

 

MALTESE SILVER ASSAY MARKS – Emmanuel Azzopardi Part 1

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Emmanuel Azzopardi comes from a renowned family of jewellers. He is a recognized authority on antique Maltese silver and jewellery, and an ardent collector of Maltese coins. He contributed to various numismatic exhibitions and assisted international numismatists in preparing catalogues on Maltese coins. In 1970 he participated in the XIII Council of Europe Exhibition on the Order of St John and in 1988 he helped in the setting up of the Central Bank of Malta XX Anniversary Commemorative Exhibition, when coins from his collection were displayed. His collection of coins of the Crusader period was also displayed at an exhibition held in collaboration with Heritage Malta at the National Museum of Archaeology, Valletta, in September 2005. He is the author of two books: Malta, History of the Coinage (1993) and The Coinage of the Crusaders and the World of Islam (2006). At present he is working on nine volumes on coins of Malta. The first volume covers coins from the Punic period 7th BC up to the end of Byzantine rule in 870. The second volume continues with the Arab period up to the arrival of the Order in Malta in 1530. The other seven volumes are detailed studies on the different dies used during the Order’s rule starting with volume three, the gold coins, followed by the silver coins of the Order. The final volume will cover the bronze coins.

 

Originally, the first records of Antique Maltese Silver were those left by Valentino Lupi Xerri, who was consul for Silversmiths and later for Goldsmiths in 1863. His work on Maltese marks is at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Valletta. He was able to copy and sketch from the records of the Guild of St. Helen the drawings of the very early assay marks of the Order of Saint John starting from 1536, some years after their arrival in Malta, throughout the French occupation up to the British rule, concluding up to his time in 1880. The records of the Guild of St. Helen were destroyed during the Second World War. Although the Lupi records show that assay marks were struck on antique Maltese silver as early as 1536, the first maker’s marks recorded are dated 1715 (Maniscalo Domenico, Pace Andrea, Pianta Michele, Troisi Carlo, Tridenti Carlo and others), that is nearly one hundred and eighty years after.

The first book on Maltese silver by the late Victor F. Denaro, ‘The Goldsmiths of Malta and their Marks’ Olschki-Florence 1972, besides giving a detailed list of assay and maker’s marks based on the original unpublished work by Lupi, listed a full maker’s marks up to 1969. The second book on Antique Maltese silver by Jimmy Farrugia ‘Antique Maltese Domestic Silver’ published in 1992, included all the maker’s marks up to 1991.

Although not a single silver article manufactured by Maltese silversmiths has ever been traced before the arrival of the Order of St. John to Malta in 1530, the art of silversmiths must have been practiced before the coming of the Order. It is recorded that old silver was melded and struck into coinage. Gio Antonio Vassallo in 1890 wrote in his book ‘Raccontata in Compendio’ that in 1420 when Malta was under the feudal Lord Don Gonsalvo Monroy, who was treating the Maltese very badly, there was open rebellion.
The Maltese insisted with the Aragonese King, Alphonse V, to be released from their bondage and that the Maltese Islands would be incorporated within the Royal domain again. When this request was finally accepted, the Maltese had to pay the sum of 30,000 gold florins, the sum of which the Feudal Lord had paid to acquire the administration of the Islands.

Gold Florin front

Gold Florin Obverse

Gold Florin of King Alfonso V (1416-1458) similar to the one of 30,000 florins the Maltese paid back to be incorporated within the Royal domain. The obverse shows St. John, standing and the reverse has a Lily, having the mint mark an M, for Mallorca mint.

All the population contributed by donating what valuables they possessed among which there were many silver artifacts. One of the four local Giurati, the notary of the Assessor of the Captaincy together with a priest, who represented the Bishop, were chosen to gather the collection from the Maltese. Many gold and silver objects were collected and converted into currency. This was the customs in those times when people were in financial needs.

After the loss of Rhodes in 1522, the Order of Saint John came to Malta in 1530. The Knights, who were the younger sons of the aristocracy of Europe, came from different countries, which included France, Italy, Spain and Germany. They must have brought with them their personal possessions, which included their silverware. The Knights were accompanied to Malta with about one hundred Rhodian families. Amongst them were silversmiths as all the early Masters of the Mint were Greek. This continued until the Maltese became skilled at the trade themselves. The Master of the Mint was appointed by the Grand Master.

Following the siege of Malta of 1565 and the building of the new city of Valletta, copper fiduciary coins, with the legends NON AES SED FIDES (not copper but trust) were minted instead of the silver coins, to be redeemed at a later date. The exchange rate was fixed at par not only with the Maltese silver coins but also with the Sicilian silver Tari pieces. To prevent forgery the four and two Tari pieces began to be countermarked. In all there are there eight countermarks used by six Grand Masters. Some of the attributions of the assay marks listed by Denaro, recorded previously by Lupi Xerri, seems to be these stamps used to countermark the copper coins.

Silver. Why silver?

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Why silver?

Silver is an extraordinary metal with remarkable properties. It is one of the earliest metals to be used by man, as it requires very simple technology to extract it.

The ancient Greeks were among the first to commercialise this metal. It would be the discovery of a new seam in the Athens area which paid for a new fleet, and hence was fundamental to their very existence, and arguably that of all known civilisation at the time. 

It is an extremely malleable and ductile metal; i.e. it can be beaten out into sheets and drawn out into  wires with ease. The properties of silver mean that a craftsman may work it into almost any shape or form that may take the fancy of his or her imagination. Once a shape or form has been formed, it will retain this shape or form under most circumstances.

If you add to the fact that the colour of polished silver is extremely attractive and reflects light better than any other material known to man, it is easy to see why it has been so appealing to so many men and women throughout the millennia.

I hope to use this blog to offer readers some information and insights with regards to some of the beautiful works of fine craftsmanship which our ancestors enjoyed throughout the last few centuries.