National Pawnbroker Day: History of Pawnshops

December 6th is celebrated as National Pawnbroker Day. In recognition, we wanted to share some history of pawnbroking.

Pawnbrokers have provided cash loans in exchange for valuable items for thousands of years. Pawn shops first emerged in Ancient China over 3,000 years ago to grant short-term credit to peasants. Pawnbroking also thrived in ancient Greece and Rome, often giving merchants a way to fund their small shops. During the Middle Ages, restrictions were placed on charging interest by the Catholic Church, halting pawnshops’ growth. These rules were relaxed in the 14th and 15th centuries in Europe as short-term credit became an important way of financing business endeavors and granting temporary aid to the poor.

Prominent families such as the Lombards of England and the Medicis of Italy became known as money-lending families. England’s King Edward III famously pawned his jewels to the Lombards in 1388 to help finance war against France, and Queen Isabella of Spain is said to have put up her jewelry as collateral to fund Christopher Columbus’ expeditions to the New World.

The word “pawn” stems from the Latin word “patinum,” meaning cloth or clothing. For the working class, clothes were often the most valuable items they owned. Though most pawn shops have historically been privately operated, some public pawnshops were set up as charitable funds in Europe in the 18th century, offering low-interest loans to the poor to curb debt. The practice of pawning clothes on Monday and retrieving them on Friday–“payday”–was a common way for poor people to make it through the week during the 19th century. Since people in need of quick cash were more apt to be on society’s fringes during this era, protections were put in place to try to prevent the pawning of stolen items.

The Pawnbrokers Act of 1872 in England established regulations protecting pawnbrokers who inadvertently sold stolen items. This act also stipulated the amount of interest charged on pawned items and set out general guidelines for the industry, establishing a regulation pattern that exists even today. 

Oxford Pawn Shop is proud to continue to tradition of pawnbroking for Northern Mississippi and look forward to our continued success.