Am wondering if any of this is true (Hammett, The Maltese Falcon, p. 150).

"The archives of the Order from the twelfth century on are still at Malta. They are not intact, but what is there holds no less than three"—he held up three fingers—"referenees that can't be to anything else but this jeweled falcon. In J. Delaville Le Roulx's Les Archives de l'Ordre de Saint-Jean there is a reference to it—oblique to be sure, but a reference still. And the unpublished—because unfinished at the time of his death—supplement to Paoli's Dell' origine ed instituto del sacro militar ordine has a clear and unmistakable statement of the facts I am telling you."

"All right," Spade said.

"All right, sir. Grand Master Villiers de l'Isle d'Adam had this foothigh jeweled bird made by Turkish slaves in the castle of St. Angelo and sent it to Charles, who was in Spain. He sent it in a galley commanded by a French knight named Cormier or Corvere, a member of the Order." His voice dropped to a whisper again. "It never reached Spain." He smiled with compressed lips and asked: "You know of Barbarossa, Redbeard, Khair-ed-Din? No? A famous admiral of buccaneers sailing out of Algiers then. Well, sir, he took the Knights' galley and he took the bird. The bird went to Algiers. That's a fact. That's a fact that the French historian Pierre Dan put in one of his letters from Algiers.

Googling just turns up page after page about movie props.

Clarification: this question asks specifically the details about the falcon, starting with bare existance.

Addition: a book by Pierre Dan, unknown whether it contains the relevant letter.


It is not clear exactly how Hammett got his material. He is not known to have read French, medieval or otherwise, or Italian. His references must have been gleaned from a secondary source. I have been unable to locate a simple narrative of the rental agreement between the Hospitallers of St. John and Charles V of Spain that Hammett would have had available to him with all of the detail Gutman provides. I think there must be one; but what is clear, nonetheless, is that Hammett was reading widely, carefully and thoughtfully.

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    We don't signal edits, so I made a small clarification there. Other comment removed. May 21, 2019 at 15:01
  • FWIW there isn't a shred of a mention of this story on Philippe Villers de l'Isle-Adam's wiki page. May 21, 2019 at 15:23
  • J. Delaville Le Roulx's Les Archives de l'Ordre de Saint-Jean certainly exists, so if you brush up on your French you can probably check if the oblique reference exists ;-)
    – Jeremy
    May 22, 2019 at 7:52
  • And Paoli's Dell' origine ed i[n]stituto del sacro militar ordine also exists, but the unpublished supplement is probably harder to lay hands on - so your Italian can lay unpolished for now.
    – Jeremy
    May 22, 2019 at 7:57

2 Answers 2


While the "Maltese Falcon" itself is fictional the object might have been inspired by a real one - albeit one without the exciting Knights Templar and Pirates(!) backstory. The "Kniphausen Hawk" is a bejeweled drinking vessel dating to at least 1697 and is currently owned by the Duke of Devonshire, being ~15 inches high and literally covered in gemstones it would certainly fit the bill (pun intended!) but it has nothing to do with Malta or Algiers and I've not been able to find any evidence to show that Hammet was aware of the Kniphausen Hawk.

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    Actually, this wiki page says "The 'Maltese Falcon' itself is said to have been based on the 'Kniphausen Hawk'."
    – Tomas By
    May 21, 2019 at 18:05
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    And it's the Hospitallers not the Templars.
    – Tomas By
    May 21, 2019 at 18:06
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    @Tomas By - "is said" by whom? The Wikipedia article references a 2010 Daily Mail piece in which we find "the Duke in his study... cradling the fabulous Kniphausen Hawk", immediately revealing what "is said" about it. I'm happy to be contradicted, but I think I can be forgiven for suspecting that the only people this "is said" by are those with a commercial interest in such a thing being said...
    – Jeremy
    May 22, 2019 at 7:39
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    @Jeremy that ties with what I've always read about it - none of the various articles I've seen making this claim ever seem to be able to cite a source for the claim which makes it anecdotal at best. May 22, 2019 at 7:55
  • @Jeremy: I just noticed it when googling. But I don't think Hammett made the whole thing up, all by himself.
    – Tomas By
    May 22, 2019 at 8:42

These are facts, historical facts, not schoolbook history, not Mr. Wells's history, but history nevertheless. ...

I believe what this is saying is that the following information isn't written down in any history book anywhere, but (in Hammet's fictional universe) did actually happen.

Its meant to both lay out some background information to the reader, and to clue them in that this is stuff the author made up to make his story interesting, and help drive its plot.

As far as real world information goes, you should translate the quoted sentence above as "These are fictional facts my author made up, that are only valid within the confines of this book."

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    Yeah, it's not facts, that stuff is made out of dreams.
    – Ne Mo
    May 21, 2019 at 21:54

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