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.

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