The Surprising Origins of Pawn Shops

Though we may view pawn shops as places to uncover nifty trinkets and possibly rare finds, the origins of these stores are more diverse than you’d imagine!

Throughout the centuries, pawning has been a preferred way of getting a quick and small loan, as opposed to borrowing money. After all, it won’t result in lingering, accumulating debt; if you can’t pay it back, the shop keeps your item. Nice and tidy!

But where did it start – and how was it different from now?

Ancient to Medieval China

Though they weren’t called a pawnshop, the first version of these stores appeared in ancient China, more than 3,000 years ago. In the 5 th century, medieval China had Buddhist monks and monasteries that participated in the pawnshop trade. Even wealthy families would invest in this form of commerce, as monasteries were exempt from taxes.

Appearances in Europe

The concept of loaning an item as collateral for money isn’t unique – so, it’s no wonder ancient Greece and Rome came up with the idea independently! The 14th and 15th centuries marked an uptake, since the Catholic Church loosened up restrictions on the practice of loaning money for profit.

What Used to Be Sold?

Since most people who used pawnshops to make it through the week were the poorer fringes of society, it was often clothes, not gold or jewelry. In fact, the word “pawn” is derived from the Latin word “platinum,” which means cloth or clothing – something very valuable before industrial manufacturing came around.

The Great Depression’s Pawnshops

During the Great Depression, our modern concept of pawnshops began to take root. Many families fell on hard times and needed money for food more than they needed a family heirloom.

In these times, clothes were beginning to be mass produced. Gold and jewelry more easily made their way into families during times of prosperity, investment, or courtship.

As such, in this era, families were more likely to pawn gold or pawn jewelry than their clothing. Furniture was also an option, but transportation costs or availability made it better to pawn items you could carry in a bag or pocket.

Modern Day America

These days, pawnshops are well-known for finding rare or unique items. The best part is that no two pawnshops will have the same collection. A pawnshop in Miami will offer vastly different items than one in New York or Las Vegas.

As such, if you’re on the lookout for a “pawnshop near me” with a certain item, don’t get discouraged after one or even two locations. Pawnshops are even a great alternative to antique shops, since the good ones put time and effort into the research and verification of certain items – especially when trading items, rather than pawning them. You’ll find loads of hidden surprises with enough hunting.




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