HomeThe History of Pawnbroking.

The History of Pawnbroking.

As mankind’s oldest financial institution, pawnbroking carries on a tradition with a rich history.  Pawnbroking can be traced back at leas 3000 years to ancient China, and has been found in the earliest written histories of Greek and Roman civilizations.


During the Middle Ages, certain usury laws imposed by the Church prohibited the charging of interest on loans, thus limiting pawnbroking to people who had religious beliefs outside of the Church.  Out of economic necessity and because of problems with the banking system pawnshops made a resurgence in later years.

The House of Lombard operated pawnshops throughout Europe.  Legend contends that they even counted royalty, such as King Edward III of England, among their clientelle during the 14th century.  The symbol of the Lombard’s operations was the three gold balls that up till today still remain the trademark.

Pawning has long been a source of capital for people in times of need, as well as a means of financing small business ventures.



The nursery rhyme “Pop goes the weasel” refers to pawning.  A weasel is a shoemakers’s tool and to ‘pop’ is to pawn.  “Thats the way the money goes…Pop goes the weasel”

Queen Isabella of Spain pawned the crown jewels to finance Columbus voyage to America.  The word pawn originates from the Latin word “patinum” which means cloth or clothing.  The French word “pan” refers to a skirt or blouse.  In the early centuries, the principle assets people had were their clothes and borrowed money by pawning their clothing.

The universal symbol of pawnbroking is three gold balls and is one of the most recognized in the world.  The Medici families in Italy along with the Lombards in England were moneylenders in Europe.  Legend has it that one of the Medicis in the employ of Emperor Charles the Great fought a giant and slew him with three sacks of rocks.  The three balls or globes later became part of their family crest, and ultimately the sign of pawnbroking.

Throughout history, pawnbrokers have been helping people.


The Least Known Legend

One of the most least known origins that has been researched is the coin known as the “SILVER SHEKEL” or “Shekel of Israel” which was issued in A.D. 68 after a Jewish revolt against the Romans.  One side of the coin depicted three pomegranates, with a common stalk.


Saint Nicholas – The Patron Saint of Pawnbrokers

Through his great acts of kindness and generosity, Saint Nicholas became the patron saint of many;  of seafaring men, of marriageable young women, of the falsely accused, of endangered travelers, of farmers, of children (of course), of merchants, and of pawnbrokers.

Bawnbrokers and bankers in northern Italy, who would look to Saint Nicholas as their patron saint, would hang three golden balls above their doors of their shops in tribute to, and for the good luck from their Saint Nicholas.



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