Author Topic: Malta's pre-1972 coinage  (Read 3304 times)

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Offline FosseWay

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Malta's pre-1972 coinage
« on: March 22, 2011, 04:52:23 PM »
What did Malta use for coinage before 1972?

I presume the answer is UK homeland issue £sd, but I know that Maltese-specific banknotes existed (I have one, for 2s 6d if memory serves, and I've recently seen a 1s advertised on eBay). For local banknotes to circulate alongside more widely used coinage is not in itself that odd (essentially it's the same situation as currently obtains in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and the reverse of the situation in the Eurozone), but it does seem peculiar that the local note issuer should have felt it necessary to issue notes for the same denominations as currently available coins.

Does the existence of (e.g.) 1s and 2s 6d Maltese notes imply a shortage of 'proper' coinage? Or was there in fact a variety of coinage in circulation (perhaps a mixture of £sd and Italian lire), which was deemed acceptable for relatively small sums but which needed replacing with something more standard at the shilling level?
« Last Edit: March 10, 2012, 10:12:13 PM by coffeetime »

Online Figleaf

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Malta's pre-1972 coinage
« Reply #1 on: March 22, 2011, 08:48:26 PM »
What did Malta use for coinage before 1972?

Local bronze Phoenician, Carthagan, Roman coins until the first century BC. Imperial Roman coins afterwards. North African coins while Malta was part of the emirate of Sicily. Coins of Sicily, Spain, Barcelona, Sardegna and the Frankish empire afterwards. The knights of St. John of Jerusalem acquired the island in 1530  from Charles V in his capacity of king of Sicily. Minting rights followed soon afterwards, based on the minting rights of the knights in Rhodes. The place of the mint is unknown, but from 1573, it was in Valetta.

From 1534, the coins of the knights, mingled with those of Rhodes (brought by the knights, who had been driven off Rhodes by the Turks), Venice and Genua. The knights introduced a system of  gold zecchini, silver tari and copper grani (the latter divided in 6 piccioli). The copper to silver tariff was the same as that of Sicily: 20 grano was equal to 1 tari, but the zecchino, an imitation of the Venetian ducat the knights already minted in Rhodes, came in at an awkward 39 tari.

In 1565, there was a major Turkish attack on the island. While it was repulsed, the coinage was devastated and the taro temporarily became a copper coin. More debasement followed. From 1727, a new silver coin was introduced: the scudo, tariffed at 12 tari.

The knights were casually dispossessed by Napoleon, en route to Egypt. Mistake. In 1800, the Maltese rebelled. The leaders of the rebellion turned to Britain for protection against the French. The British stayed on, making it official with the Treaty of Paris.

The British found a general lack of coins on Malta. The garrison commander devalued the Maltese currency, hoping this would attract more foreign coins to the island. The measure delighted the Sicilians. They took out all Maltese coins they could find, had it melted and re-coined in Sicily, exported the new Sicilian coins and pocketed the 20% difference. The net result was that Malta came to use Sicilian coins and Maltese silver coins became scarce, to the great chagrin of coin collectors.

Spanish and Spanish colonial silver also circulated to a great extent. They were augmented by shipments from Britain, undoubtedly "found" during the Peninsular war. While the governor experimented with Peso/grano rates, getting it wrong all the time, the Spanish money disappeared. An 1823 petition from local merchants claims that the copper coinage is depreciated by more than 95 per cent. and gold and silver supply is inadequate. "The present circulation consists almost entirely of Sicilian (coins), all of them much below their nominal value, and a great part of extremely old date, and reduced by use or clipping very far indeed below it." The army kept sending Spanish coins to pay the soldiers and these coins kept disappearing as soon as they touched the palm of a Maltese merchant.

In 1825, the British tried to introduce British coin, declaring all other coins invalid. At the urging of the governor, they added pieces of 1/3 farthing, as the penny was tariffed at 12 grani. As elsewhere, British copper successfully replaced the worn copper in circulation. As elsewhere, British silver was undervalued against local silver and therefore shipped back to Britain forthwith, which was a profitable transaction.

In 1834, the situation went from very bad to bad. An order in council fixed the value of Spanish colonial coins to sterling at 4/4, the rate of the Spanish home currency at the time. Merchants happily imported the lightest Spanish colonial coins they could find (they were recently forbidden to circulate in France, Italy, Sicily and the Levant) and sent back sterling currency, used to pay the garrison, to Britain. The coins were still undervalued, but at least less so. Only in 1844 did the British Treasury admit that Spanish colonial coins were lighter than Spanish homeland coins. They bluntly reduced the rate to 4/2, which almost caused a rebellion.

However, while the new rate effectively drove out Spanish coins, it merely brought the return of Sicilian silver, not £sd. By the time the Treasury reacted, in 1855, the whole silver circulation consisted of Sicilian coin, which was devalued to 4/-. This time, Maltese banks and merchants agreed to receive it at 4/2 for a six months transition period "notwithstanding any law that may be made to the contrary".
Even this measure did not bring in £sd. The Sicilians did not accept British coins and practically all of Maltese non-military imports came from Sicily. A report from 1845 states that Malta had six currencies (coins of the knights, British copper and silver, British gold, Spanish, Spanish colonial and Sicilian) and none of them can be had at the official rate. In practice, "only" two currencies mattered: British silver and copper for official transactions (mainly soldiers' pay and taxes) and Sicilian debased silver coins for the rest.

Another set of official rates was promulgated in 1851. The merchants reacted by ignoring it and agreeing on their own set of rates a week later. Interestingly, they tariffed against the pound: Spanish dollars, Sicilian dollars, Maria Theresa dollars and the French 5 franc (most probably as a representative coin of the Latin Monetary Union.) Their rates overvalued the shilling, with the predictable result that in no time, Malta's currency was dominated by £sd. This finally permitted the governor to report that British coins were now the sole standard of payment.

The report was in error. Sicilian coins had been debased further and crept back into circulation, until Italy unified and the Sicilian coin ceased to exist in 1855. Imports of Sicilian coin was hurriedly forbidden, but the government of Malta was forced to swallow the loss of the Sicilian coins in circulation. They were replaced by Italian and British coins. Only by 1886 was the monopoly of British coin complete.

The first world war saw the introduction of emergency notes and the withdrawal of the grano (1/3 farthing). There was a further emergency banknote issue in 1939 and 1940. This may explain the low value notes you have seen.

Peter

Note: my silly monologue on Gibraltar (I should go to bed earlier) has its own thread now.
« Last Edit: March 23, 2011, 11:52:24 PM by Figleaf »
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Offline FosseWay

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Malta's pre-1972 coinage
« Reply #2 on: March 22, 2011, 09:41:07 PM »
Peter, that's a fascinating account and it puts into perspective the periodic panics/fads these days about [insert low denomination coin of choice] being worth more as metal than as money and vast quantities of them supposedly being taken out of circulation and melted.

But one thing: it was Malta I asked about  :)

In Gibraltar, the obvious currency to use if you're not going to issue some specially or use homeland coins is Spanish. It's less clear what the obvious choice is for Malta. Also, I suspect that, apart from during WW2, the number of soldiers and others transiting between the UK and Malta was far lower than for Gibraltar, making it less likely that British coinage would be shipped back home for a profit.

One other thing: your comments about the relative value of currencies would have had a lot to do with the precious metal content. Presumably once both Spanish and UK coins had ceased to have any precious content, the problems would have diminished, and the same would apply to Malta. So what did the Maltese use for money in, say, the post-WW2 period up to 1972?

Offline africancoins

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Malta's pre-1972 coinage
« Reply #3 on: March 22, 2011, 11:32:14 PM »
A very nice answer for Malta here....

http://www.centralbankmalta.org/site/currency1e.html

...even with a mention of a very old "proposed design"....  Chard's (coin dealer) website seems to have copied the bank's text - that makes just two mentions I could find of this particular "proposed design".

Reading the account reminded me of the with situation involving Madagascar, French money and other monies during the 19th century.

Thanks Mr Paul Baker

translateltd

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Malta's pre-1972 coinage
« Reply #4 on: March 23, 2011, 04:13:17 AM »

But one thing: it was Malta I asked about  :)


At least they rhyme.


Online Figleaf

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Malta's pre-1972 coinage
« Reply #5 on: March 25, 2011, 10:01:14 AM »
Rare Maltese coins in Zurich auction
David Schembri, 24th March 2011

A significant collection of coins and medals minted in Malta by the Knights of St John and spanning nearly five centuries will go under the hammer next month.

Joseph Sammut, an authority on the subject, considers this collection of more than 400 pieces, put together by Italian Count Felice Restelli della Ratta, as the most complete set of Maltese coins offered for sale in years.

“The Restelli collection is rich in coins chosen both for their artistic merit and for their nearly flawless condition,” Mr Sammut, a member of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, said.

“Restelli’s collection is fascinating because of the Order of St John itself and also because the numismatic production was carried out in the Order’s mint at the top of Old Mint Street in Valletta,” he said.

The only collection of the same importance as the Restelli was that of Canon Calleja Schembri, author of “a monumental book” on Maltese coins, he said. His collection was sold in Lugano, Switzerland, in April 1932. What steals the collection is a 12 Zecchini 1725 piece, the highest denomination in the Order’s coinage, of which no more than four specimens are known, one of which is on show at the National Museum of Archaeology. The piece has been estimated at 150,000 Swiss francs (about €117,500).

An outstanding part of the collection is a section containing 22 gold and 24 silver coins of Grand Master Antonio Manoel de Vilhena, all of which are very rare.

The auction will be held at the Hotel Bauer, in Zurich on April 4.

Source: Times of Malta

Photo caption: Lot 256, a 12 Zecchino piece minted under the rule of Grand Master Antonio Manoel de Vilhena, estimated to cost a staggering €117,500. Photo: Numismatica Ars Classica
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.