Comparison of the value of British coinage in Malta and that of the Order of St John.


      This page contains information comparing the value of British (pre-decimal) coinage in Malta with that of the Order of the Knights of the Sovereign Order of St John (The Knights of Malta). 

      Why did I write it? I am certainly not an authority on Maltese coins, let alone coins of any sort. However I was puzzled and bemused by the fact that well over a century and a half after the Knights of St John stopped ruling Malta (having been thrown out by Napoleon) and well over a century after the colonial power (Britain) imposed its own currency on Malta, Maltese people still described some monetary values in terms of the long defunct coinage of the eighteenth century.  (This is perhaps analogous to two shillings having been referred to as a florin.) 

      It is possible to work out the arithmetic behind the British 'equivalents' to explain the vernacular descriptions.   I could not find an account of these equivalent comparisons on the internet. However I am not claiming that they were not 'on the web', and I expect that they would have been documented in learned papers.  Nevertheless it was possibly appropriate for the following brief description to be shared on the web:

      Historical background: 

      Probably the single most important concept to grasp is that since the cost of living in Malta in the nineteenth century was so much lower than in Britain, the smallest British denomination at the  time i.e. the farthing (one quarter of a penny) was not low enough in value to meet Malta's needs. Therefore if British coinage were to be successfully adopted in Malta, a smaller denomination than the farthing had to be minted. It so happened that the grano (plural: grani), or in Maltese 'habba' (plural: 'habbiet') was effectively worth one third of a farthing. 

      Thus special British copper coins worth a third of a farthing were struck solely for use in Malta, starting in the reign of King George IV in 1827 (number 3068 in Seaby's Standard Catalogue of British coins).  This coin continued to be minted occasionally until the last issue in the reign of King George V in 1913 (number 3290 in Seaby's).


      The equivalence of the 'grano or 'habba' to one third of a farthing or a 'British Grain' is therefore the basis of the link between the following Maltese vernacular terms and the British monetary equivalent.

      Maltese term ( Italian translation ) = British equivalent (alternative) [ explained ] 

      Tlett habbiet (3 Grani) = 1 farthing

      Sitt habbiet (6 Grani) = half penny (ha’penny)

      Tlett Karlinijet* (3 Carlini) = two pence ha’penny  [1 Carlino =10 grani (habbiet). So 2 ½d = 30 grani = 3 Carlini] 

      Skud (1 Scudo = 240 Grani)  = 1 shilling and 8 pence (20 pence)

      Tmintax ir-rbghejja (18 Tari) = two shillings six pence ('half a crown' or 30 pence) [Since ‘rbghajja’ = 4 Cinquine = 20 Grani or = 1 Tari, eighteen ‘rbghajja’ = 360 Grani / habbiet = 30d]

      (* I remember buying Mars bars costing '3 carlini' each)


                    The 'Habba' (= grano = third of a farthing) is the the 'common factor' between the coins of the Knights of St John and British coins.

Habba - Grano - Third Farthing Habba - Grano - Third Farthing  

                    The images show the obverse and reverse respectively of two coins of 1 grano each (dating from the period of Grand Master Emmanuel de Rohan Polduc) and two 'third farthing' coins (from the reigns of Queen Victoria and George V respectively).


       

      Summary of  coinage of the Knights of St John (of Malta):

      5 grani = 1 cinquina
      2 cinquine = 1 carlino (i.e. 10 grani)
      2 carlini = 1 tari (i.e. 20 grani)
      12 tari = 1 scudo (1.e. 240 grani)

      But note:
      1 grano in Maltese was called a "habba"
      1 tari was referred to in Maltese as an "rbghejja" - literally a "foursome" i.e. 4 cinquine or 20 grani 


      Summary of  British coinage prior to decimalisation:

      12 pence (12d) = 1 shilling (1s)
      20 shillings = 1 pound (£1) (i.e. 240 pence)

      But note also:
      5 shillings = 1 crown (60 pence), and therefore ...
      2s 6d = half a crown (30 pence)  

                    Footnotes: