The first known postal documents of the Order of Malta date back to around 1530 and were letters between Grand Master Fra’ Philippe Villiers de l’Isle Adam and King Henry VIII of England, and between the Grand Master and the Bishop of Auxerre in France. At the time, postal services were managed privately and shipping was in all probability managed by the owners of small vessels on the route between Malta and Sicily.
In the early 1700s, the volume of trade and political postal exchanges increased and the expansion of the navy facilitated communications. The Treasure of the Order thus established an official postal fee to be paid on the basis of the weight, volume and destination of the correspondence. In 1708, the Grand Master was asked to appoint a Commissary of Posts to officially manage the postal service, and the first post office was created in the House of the Common Treasure of the Order of Saint John in Valletta. This activity ceased in 1798 with the loss of the Island of Malta.
The current Poste Magistrali of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta was established on 20 May 1966 by decree of His Excellency the Grand Master Fra’ Angelo de Mojana of Cologne (1963-1988). It was responsible for the administration of the Order’s postal service and managed the issue of postage stamps and coins, produced primarily for philatelic and collection purposes, allocating the relative revenues to the Order’s hospital, welfare and charitable works. The Order returned to minting coins in 1961, during the Lieutenancy of Fra’ Ernesto Paternò Castello di Caraci (1955-1962).
The Poste Magistrali has been based in Rome in the Magistral Palace since its foundation; the building is an extra-territorial property where the Order of Malta’s government is housed.
It is currently possible to send ordinary and priority mail to Italy and abroad from the Magistral Post Office counters, limited to the countries with which the Order of Malta has concluded bilateral postal agreements.
The first Postal Agreement was signed in 1975 with the Maltese postal administration.
The postal agreement with Italy is of particular significance. It was signed on 18 December 2014 and came into force on 26 March 2015. It gives Order of Malta postage stamps the same legal status as Italian stamps, thus ensuring that all correspondence sent by the Order to Italy or to one of the countries with which the Order has stipulated a postal agreement can be sent through the Italian postal system.
STAMP SETS ISSUES
The postal service and postage stamps are an expression and demonstration of the sovereign nature of the Order of Malta. Since the foundation of the Poste Magistrali, the stamp issues have been an important means of spreading the history, traditions and spiritual, social and humanitarian values of the Order. Over the years, the Poste Magistrali has issued both postage stamps (individual and series, sheets or booklets of stamps) and postal stationery (postcards and first day covers), supplementing them with a complete series of special stamp-related products conceived specifically for collectors, such as first-day covers, illustrated postcards and special postal markings. Together with each issue of stamps, the Poste Magistrali also produces a collection circular containing all of the technical information and a description of the stamp.
The first series of stamps issued by the Order of Malta dates back to 15 November 1966. It is a valuable series of stamps made using chalcography and depicting symbolic subjects close to the Order, such as the image of Our Lady of Philermos and St. John the Baptist, the Patron Saint of the Order, which have also figured regularly in the stamp sets issued in later years.
This initial series, and all the others until 2004, have individual face values expressed in grani, tarì and scudi, these being the ancient currency of the Order of Malta. All the Order of Malta postage stamps issued since 1 January 2005 use the euro as reference value, thus matching the tariffs used in Italy, applied to all Poste Magistral dispatches.
Since then, the Poste Magistrali has issued about 600 sets of postage stamps, most of them being dedicated to topics and subjects closely linked to the Order of Malta’s history, traditions and works.
STAMP SETS TOPICS
The postage stamps and stationery issued by the Poste Magistrali have always stood out because of their topical content and image, closely linked to the Order of Malta.
The recurrent topics include:
the traditions and symbols of Malta, such as the flags and emblems of the Order, effigies and coats-of-arms of the Grand Masters who have been in office through the centuries, and also of other members of historical significance, the uniforms, clothes and decorations of the Knights, locations of the Order, the magistral headquarters, historical maps and means of transport, especially in the naval sector, medals and coins, both ancient and modern;
religious icons, especially through the annual celebration of St. John the Baptist, Patron Saint of the Order, and Christmas, as well as the representation of Marian iconography and the Order’s saints and blessed at various times of the year;
the humanitarian and welfare work depicted on the Order of Malta postage stamps show its global hospital, health and social services, rescue and civil protection after earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters. There have also been stamp sets which, thanks to specific surcharges in addition to their normal face value, have raised funds for specific projects, especially following natural disasters; the arts, depicting the major works of the Italian and international artistic heritage, the visual arts, literature and music, of both a religious and lay nature and with specific regard to the works that are part of the artistic heritage of the Order.
There have also been commemorative issues of illustrious personalities who, albeit not directly linked to the Order of Malta, have been of great service to humankind, or the celebration of events and recurrences or historical interest or current events, such as the Order’s stipulation of new diplomatic or postal agreements. The latter in particular have on several occasions been the subject of joint stamp sets, thus further strengthening the bonds between the Order of Malta and the country with which the agreement was stipulated.
The Order’s first coins were minted during the government of Grand Master Fra’ Foulques de Villaret (1305-1327), after the capture of the island of Rhodes in 1310. From then until 1798, various Grand Masters issued new coinage during their governments, often inspired by Venetian coins, but depicting the symbols and images pertinent to the Order of Malta.
The first gold coin was a zecchino minted between 1346 and 1353, during the government of Grand Master Fra’ Dieudonné de Gozon (1346-1353), also an imitation of a Venetian ducato, a coin that had great credit and circulation and was among the most widely accepted in Europe.
The first silver coin was minted later, by Grand Master Fra’ Pierre d’Aubusson (1476-1503). In addition to its size and 13 grams weight, and to the fineness of its minting, it had such characteristics as to be considered the Order’s first real coin. On the obverse, it depicted St John the Baptist with the Order’s coat of arms and cross. On the reverse, the Grand Master’s insignia.
The following centuries saw a continuous line of innovations, such as the production of gold and silver coins, up to the introduction of the date and value of the coins as well as qualitative and aesthetic enhancements, until the highest level of elegance was reached with the reform introduced by Grand Master Fra’ Manoel de Villena (1722-1736).
The Order was forced to stop minting coins when the island of Malta was lost in 1798.
In 1961, the Order of Malta again began issuing coins during the Lieutenancy of Fra’ Ernesto Paternò Castello, after it acquired legal status as a subject of international law. The new series of coins were in scudo and the relative fractions (1 scudo equals 12 tarì, 240 grani and 480 Italian lire).
The first issue of the Order’s new numismatic era was made by the Italian Mint, designed by the engraver and medallist Pietro Giampaoli. This series of 4 coins, 2 in gold and 2 in silver, was inspired by the first scudo issued by the Order of Malta in the 18th century, which preserves the general characteristics of the ancient Maltese coins.
The Order of Malta’s mint was founded in 1964 and minted the Order’s coins until 2007. Since then, this has been done by external specialists.
Since 1962 the Order has issued a series of four gold and silver coins annually: two gold coins (5 Scudi and 10 Scudi) and two silver coins (1 Scudo and 2 Scudi).
Since 1967 another series of two silver and bronze coins has been minted: one 9 Tarì silver coin and one 10 Grani bronze coin.
In the same way as the postal stationery, the coin collections depict Order’s traditions and symbols, generally effigies and coats-of-arms of the Grand Masters or Lieutenants in office during the year of issue, St. John the Baptist, Patron Saint of the Order, historical and institutional headquarters and locations or other images celebrating the Order’s history.