A Short History of the Pawnbroker

A Short History of the Pawnbroker
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p>The public’s fascination with the pawn business has grown significantly in the past few years, in part due to the success of such shows as “Pawn Stars”, “Hardcore Pawn” and “Final Offer”, and in part due to the dwindling stigma that pawn shops only cater to the poor and desperate. While collateral lenders may be in the spotlight now more than ever, the history of pawnbrokers is long and fascinating. 3,000 to 2,000 years ago in Imperial China, it was quite common to see pawn shops. In Greece and Rome, it was also a familiar sight, though Romans prohibited the use of some items as collateral, such as clothing, furniture and tilling implements.

There are many mentions of pawn broking in history. Queen Isabella of Spain supposedly had to pawn some of her crown jewels to pay for Columbus’s voyages. King Edward III of England is reported to have frequented Lombard’s pawnshop in the 14th century. The Nursery Rhyme “Pop Goes the Weasel” refers to pawning; a weasel is derived from “weasel and stoat”, meaning coat. When people hit hard times, they would pawn their suit, or coat from their ‘Sunday Best’. Pop was a slang term for pawning. Hence the phrase: “That’s the way the money goes, Pop goes the weasel”.

There are many legends and stories as to how Pawnbrokers gained their famous three sphere symbol. Some attribute it to a symbol found on a roman coin used in Israel. The “Silver Shekel” coin was used from A.D. 68, after a revolt against Roman invaders and featured a picture of three pomegranates.

The most common legend comes from the patron saint of pawnbrokers and bankers, St. Nicholas. Known for his selfless acts of generosity, it’s said that he gave three bags of gold to a man struggling to save his daughters from poverty. Bankers and Pawnbrokers started to hang three golden balls above the doors of their shops to tribute him. The English Lombard’s and the Medici’s of Florence, both moneylenders in Medieval Europe; adopted the three balls as part of their family crest. The three golden balls became a symbol of ethics and stability because of these two powerful finance houses.

Early pawn broking was unregulated, and usually at very high interest rates, which gave collateral lenders a bad name. Since the 1980’s pawnbrokers have become an accepted extension of the bank system, providing clients with short term collateral loans that don’t require the same hurdles that are experienced at a traditional bank. According to the National Pawnbrokers Association there are more than 30 million pawnshop customers each year. “Today pawn shops are appealing and welcoming places to do business,“ Jordan Tabach-Bank, CEO of Beverly Loan Company, explained “The stigma that has followed us around for centuries is being replaced by the reality of our profession. We’re here to help clients who need a short term cash infusion, without putting their credit at risk.”

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