The dawn of pawn

PUBLISHED: 05:28 26 January 2015

Pawnbroker sign

Pawnbroker sign


James Hawkins of the Gold Shop at Diss reveals the history behind “the world’s second oldest profession”.

Let’s just ignore what is considered the world’s oldest profession . . . and skip to the second. Commodities have been traded since the dawn of man. Kingdoms, armies, castles, people and items have been used for security against loans for centuries. The profession thrived throughout the globe from ancient China, Greece and the Roman Empire. The Catholic Church placed restrictions on interest rates on loans, halting the growth of the industry until it was relaxed decades later.

Modern European pawnbroking is largely attributed to the Medici family of financiers originating from Florence, Italy. The family began a banking group under the name of Lombard Banking; they adapted a sign from the three spheres, discs or balls that was the heraldic symbol from the Italian Lombardy province coat of arms. Since the Medicis were so successful in the financial, banking and money-lending industries, most European towns called the pawn shop the “Lombard”. The three-ball heraldic symbol is today used globally as the sign of a pawnbrokers.

However it has been conjectured that the golden balls were originally three flat, yellow effigies of byzants, or gold coins, laid heraldically upon a sable field, but they were converted into balls so they appeared bolder to attract attention, and that they continue to appear in this style to date.

The European name pawnshop – from the word pawn – first appeared in England in the 15th century meaning “the state of being held as security for repayment of a loan”, usually in the form “at pawn” or “in pawn”, from the Old French “pan”, a variant of the Latin meaning “pledge”. By the mid-16th century in England, the verb “to pawn” appeared as part of the everyday language, and the profession of pawnbroker – with the meaning “a person who loans money on an item held as security” – appeared on official documents in the 17th century. The premises in which a pawnbroker operated became commonly known as a pawnshop.

Henry Fielding’s 1749 comic novel Tom Jones containing the line “My fine Clothes being often on my Back in the evening and at the Pawnshop the next Morning” is regarded as the earliest example that it appears in print.

At Juels’ Limited another variant of pawnbroking exists in the form of a Buy and Sell Back Agreement (B&SBA) regulated by several governing bodies, being The Sale of Goods Act 1979, Trading Regulations 2008, B&SBA FT15 2009 and the VAT Margin Scheme, however the principles are the same. The concept cannot be simpler, an item is valued and a cash pledge is loaned against the item. A contract is signed and then redeemed 28 days later.

For further information on our Buy and Sell Back Agreement, see www.thegoldshopdiss or contact James direct on 01379 644441.

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