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 Around 90,000 copper Scudi were withdrawn.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).




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