There are few professions in the world which have the long and dignified history of pawnbroking. In fact, without it, America’s history would probably be completely different to the one we know today. It’s actually a pawnbroker who made Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the Americas a reality. While there were a number of backers, a large percentage of the funding for Columbus’ voyage came from the money received by pawning the precious jewels of Queen Isabella of Spain.

15th century Italy 

To find the roots of the history of pawnbroking, we have to look back to Italy in the 15th century. Italy’s Medici family were known for their financial dominance and the power associated with it. Half the family chose to go into banking, while the other half became pawnbrokers. The two professions aren’t a million miles apart either since it was effectively just another way of doing your banking. If you’ve ever been to pawnbrokers, you’ll see the distinctive symbol of three golden balls. Depending on who you believe, this symbol originates from either half of the Medici family’s crest, or is the symbol of Saint Nicholas. The legend of St Nicholas states that he rescued three young women from a life of poverty by giving each girl a bag of gold.

As word of this trade spread, entrepreneurs across the world realised that there was a market for pawnbroking services where they were located, and pawnbrokers opened up in cities across the globe.

19th century Great Britain and America

If you’d taken a trip to Great Britain towards the end of the 19th century, it was said that for every pub you saw, you’d also see a pawnbroker. These early pawnbrokers were a versatile lot, offering customers money for anything from their best clothes to their kitchen utensils. As crazy as that may sound, it was the only way that some families could raise money for their essential needs. The poorest members of society lived in fear of being sent to live in the workhouse, a gloomy institution for the homeless and desperate who couldn’t afford their own home. They would sell anything to avoid the workhouse.

On the American side of the Atlantic, manual workers were finding it harder and harder to bridge the gap between low wages and living costs, and turned to pawnbrokers to help them make it to payday. A New York pawnbroker’s records from 1838 showed that he offered $1 for a pair of pants, $4 for a violin, and $4 for a coat.

The arrival of The Great Depression and rising levels of immigration did nothing to help the situation. It was a time of hardship, with families across America short on money. The pawnbroker was there to offer loans against what was left in the family home – clothes, jewels, tea sets and tools were all popular assets to pawn. It was boom time for the pawn industry, while banks and other financial institutions went bust, taking their customers’ assets with them. Distrust in the banks was rife, and the pawnbroker became a popular way to raise some cash until society could rebuild itself.

The 1980s and widely available credit

The next stage in the history of pawnbroking – the 1980s – brought us widely available credit, and the pawnbroking industry wasn’t left behind in this. We were encouraged to live in a material world, and people had plenty of assets which they could pawn. Visiting the pawnbroker was just as acceptable – and a lot quicker – than visiting the bank and asking for a loan.

The 21st-century pawnbroker 

These days, with 44 million Americans not having a checking account, the pawnbroker is very much a part of the community, providing services which would be out of reach to them otherwise. The pawn shop is also an emporium of rare and unusual items which you wouldn’t find in a shopping mall. Visit a pawn shop and you’re sure to see electrical goods, unique pieces of clothing or jewellery and even seemingly priceless antiques.

The pawn shop has come a long way from its European origins. It offers both buyers and sellers a regulated experience, protecting everyone’s best interests. Items are logged and checked to ensure that no stolen goods are handled, and each state has stringent rules which pawnbrokers must adhere to. The pawnbroker has become an expert in everything from fine furniture to collectable vinyl, able to determine an item’s value and history after just a short examination – and knows how to identify a fake.

Modern American pawnbrokers provide a secured loan to their customers, in a fraction of the time it would take to arrange at a bank. Customers don’t need to worry about being blacklisted for credit, because all they’re really doing is borrowing from themselves. Friendly, knowledgeable and without fuss Pawnbrokers of Rode Drive provides loans on diamondsjewelryluxury carsFine watchesantiquesfine art, or fine wines collections.