The History of Pawnbroking

Pawnbroking traditions stretch across the millennia, playing a bigger part in history than you may ever imagine.

Evident in China over 3,000 years ago, pawnbroking in the West dates back to the time of the Ancient Greeks and Romans, with the Roman Empire helping spread the practice across the rest of Europe.

Pawnbroking has been intrinsically linked to the symbol of three spheres suspended from a bar. This three sphere symbol is reputed to date back to the infamous Medici family of Florence, Italy and refers to the medieval practice of Lombard banking. Pawnbroking was, and is still, the form of banking that ensures that your assets work for you as, and when you need them. Known as Lombard banking, the practice of pawnbroking was formalised in the Italian province of Lombardy. The three globes hung in front of the houses of the Lombard merchants to represent the legend of a giant-slaying Medici, who had reputedly used three bags of rocks to fell a giant for Charlemagne.

Like modern-day branding, the Medici adopted the three-ball symbol, which was in turn adopted by other banking specialists as they believed it captured some of the Medici legendary financial prowess. As time progresses, the symbol of the three spheres came to represent the financial dexterity and monetary success which still enjoyed by today’s elite pawnbrokers.

We’re often not fully aware of how heavily pawnbroking was relied upon to fund European expansion, exploration and defence. In 1338, Edward III secured British borders through his war with France, pawning his jewels to fund his war coffers. King Henry V used pawnbroking to realise the value of his assets when he too went to war with the French in 1415. And when would we have discovered the US if Queen Isabella of Spain had not used her jewellery as security for Christopher Columbus’s first voyage to the Americas?

Modern day pawnbroking filtered down to the lower classes, with many poorer families surviving only because of the security and financial breathing space they got from their transactions with the local pawnbroker. Pawnbrokers have worked hard and deserve their modern trustworthy reputation, taking good care of the few precious items that families brought to them when in need and releasing them when the loan was satisfied.

Elite pawnbroking, which deals in luxury, high-end products and goods, has direct links back to the highly professional pawnbroking of the Medici days, where dynasties and legacies were secured and protected by the clever and astute financial management of family assets.