The Malta Independent 15 August 2022, Monday

The 1984 zekkini banknote mystery: did Mintoff want to change Malta's currency?

Malta Independent Thursday, 29 May 2014, 09:00 Last update: about 9 years ago

Eyebrows were raised recently, and questions were asked, recently over whether Malta had been considering changing its currency from Maltese liri to Maltese zekkini, after two 1984 Maltese zekkini banknotes (a Z2 and a Z10) went under the hammer in London last month at Spink & Son’s auction house.

The auction house issued a catalogue to promote its auction of banknotes which included designs for a 10 Maltese zekkini and a two Maltese zekkini banknote. 

The seller was de la Rue, one of the world’s largest, if not the largest, printers of banknotes. The Z10 note had an estimated price of between £800 and £1,000 and the Z2 note was estimated at between £700 and £900.

But had former Prime Minister Dom Mintoff actually contemplated changing the Maltese currency to zekkini? The answer, according to the Central Bank of Malta, is a definite “No”.

According to the Central Bank, the zekkini notes and most of the other CBM note illustrations in the Spink catalogue are simply token notes with fanciful designs that were created by private individuals or entities, none of which had any association with the Central Bank of Malta.

Speaking to this newspaper about the monetary curiosity, Central Bank Governor Josef Bonnici explained that the only change that had occurred in the 1980s with regard to the denomination was that the word ‘pound’ had been dropped from the Fourth Series of the CBM notes launched in 1986, in contrast to the Second and Third Series notes which included both ‘lira’ (on the front) and ‘pound’ (on the back).

The zekkino concept was derived from the Venetian zecchino, which was also a Maltese gold coin that had been in circulation in Malta in the 18th century.

The uncirculated bogus currency notes put up for auction also included a portrait of then President of the Republic Agatha Barbara that had never made it to any Maltese banknote.

 

Zekkini rang no bells

The catalogue states that the Central Bank of Malta note, with serial number A/1000000, bears a signature at the lower centre, is green on multi-coloured under print, includes a portrait of President Barbara on the right, a sailing ship and map at the upper centre, a dove at the upper left, a reverse ship in harbour and a gondola, a shipbuilding worker and crane, and a ship in dry dock. The value of currency is ‘Z10’.

When contacted, Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici, who was appointed Prime Minister in 1984, said he knew nothing about the currency. Former Labour Finance Minister Lino Spiteri suggested to this newspaper that it may have been more of a case of someone toying with the design of Malta’s currency, in line with Prof Bonnici’s explanation. Former Central Bank governor Henry Degabriele had no clue about the banknote, either.

 

The history of the zecchino currency

The zecchino was a gold coin first minted in Venice in 1284 and its name was derived from the Venetian Mint, which was known as the ‘zecca’. The coin, which weighed 3.5 grams, was of almost pure gold. For more than 500 years the design of the coin remained unchanged. This meant that it was therefore considered a stable currency and was widely accepted as a means of payment. Consequently, many countries, especially those in the Mediterranean area – including Malta – adopted and issued gold coins similar to the Venetian zecchino.

The coin was introduced and minted in Malta by the Order of St John. It normally depicted on one side an image of St John, the patron saint of the Order, handing a banner to the kneeling Grand Master and on the other the figure of Christ holding the Gospel.

A recent Central Bank gold numismatic coin was designed and engraved by Noel Galea Bason and is of proof quality. The obverse shows the emblem of Malta and the year of issue 2014. The reverse depicts a zecchino issued by Phillippe Villiers de l’Isle Adam, the first Grand Master to rule over Malta.

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