German auction firm Fritz Rudolph Künker recently sold a comprehensive collection of coins and medals of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem in its auction No. 246 on March 11.
About 160 lots of Maltese coins were offered for sale, and realized hammer prices totaling €300,000 (about $416,364 in U.S. funds), more than double the total estimate, according to the firm. The buyer’s fees vary depending on lot and location of the winning bidder and may range from 15 to 23 percent so are not reflected in the totals here.
The catalog offered a comprehensive historical introduction of the group written (in German) by theologian Michael Autengruber. In addition to a detailed commentary about the pieces, the catalog features images of all crests and portraits of the grand masters whose coins or medals were offered in the sale.
One highlight in the sale was a rare 4-tari piece of Grand Master Martin Garzes, one of two examples of the silver coin known.
Garzes was elected grand master of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem on May 8, 1595, at the age of 70.
“He accepted a grave inheritance since the Mediterranean Sea had stopped being the center of the world by then,” according to the auction firm.
Italians lost control over the trade of spices and luxury goods after Vasco da Gama discovered the direct seaway from Europe to India. After the conquest of Cyprus, despite the victory of the Christian fleet near Lepanto in 1571, the Mediterranean Sea was firmly in Muslim hands.
The knights based at the island of Malta had, in effect, almost entirely lost their raison d’être. There was no longer fighting in the Mediterranean Sea area, and the grand master prohibited the pirate raids that some Knights of St. John conducted against Muslim trading vessels.
At the same time, the order was stripped of the right to give spiritual counsel to the residents of the island of Malta. These conditions posed large problems for Garzes.
His solution: First, new blood was needed. The grand master reduced the requirements for admission. From then on, a noble descent was no longer compulsory for a knight; it was considered sufficient if one had been born in wedlock and been raised a Catholic given one’s father had already been an officer.