Pawnbrokers: A History of the Trade
Summary: Pawn broking is one of the oldest trades in the world, tracing all the way back to almost 3,000 years ago. While the trade of pawn broking has evolved over time, responding to contemporary needs, it remains a strong and valued part of today’s society. Here is a brief history of the trade.
What is a Pawnbroker?
A pawnbroker is an individual or business (colloquially known as a pawn shop) that offers secured loans to people with personal items as collateral (jewelry, electronics, musical instruments, sporting equipment, clothing, antiques, power tools, etc.). Once an item is pawned to the broker (the pawnbroker), it’s called a pledge or a pawn.
While pawnshops are virtually ubiquitous in many of today’s societies, not many people realize that the history of the trade dates back to ancient times.
The origins of pawnbroking can be traced all across the world, from China to Greece to Italy. Indeed, evidence of pawn broking has been located in ancient Greece, Italy, France, England, Bavaria, and China, dating from Roman times to the Middle Ages. Pawnbroking is not only one of the oldest trades in the world; it’s also one of the most international! In the late 19th and 20th centuries, there were nearly as many pawn shops as there were pubs in Britain, indicating the level of the trade’s popularity and necessity.
The earliest pawnbrokers have been located in 5th century China. These early pawn shops were established, owned and operated by Buddhist monasteries before moving into secular and mainstream society. In some cases, wealthy laypeople would enter in the pawn broking business with the monasteries, forming partnerships that allowed them to open pawnshops, and subsequently avoid certain property taxes that Buddhist monasteries didn’t have to pay.
The Discovery of the (New) World
Pawn broking soon spread to other parts of the world, truly establishing itself as an international trade. In England, the history of pawn broking is tied to England’s monarchical history. The pawnbroker came in with William the Conqueror. In 1338, King Edward III actually pawned his jewels to the Lombards to raise money to finance the war with France. Henry V followed a similar strategy in 1415. Pawnbroking has a long and illustrious history of financing great moments and developments in history!
According to the National Association of Pawnbrokers, pawnbroking played a part in the discovery of the Americas, as the voyages of Niña, Santa Maria, and Pinta (led by no other than Christopher Columbus) were partially funded by Queen Isabella of Spain’s pawned jewels.
The Pawnbroker’s License
The pawnbroker’s license was established in 1785. In London, the duty for a pawnbroker’s licence was fixed at £10 in London and £5 in the country. In 1790, the interest rates on advances in England rose to 15 per cent. After many repeals and amendments, the pawnbroker’s license came to resemble (at least in the UK) shortly thereafter what the modern pawn broking industry looks like. Restrictions on interest rates and licensing costs vary from region to region and country to country. The rates in the US will not, for example, be the same as pawn broking rates in England, Canada or Spain.
The Patron of Pawn broking
Did you know? Pawn broking is such an esteemed and long-standing trade that it even has its own patron saint – Saint Nicolas (sound familiar)? Saint Nicolas is a rather busy guy, as he is not only the patron saint of pawnbroking, but also of children, sailors, broadcasters, archers, and fishermen, just to name a few!