Did you know that visiting either Pawn World store in Kingman, Arizona in search of a gun, tools, or a deal on electronics is a unique shopping experience that can be traced to ancient Rome and China? We may be the largest gun store in northwestern Arizona, but we are also a tangible link to centuries of history.
The history of pawn shops can be traced back to ancient times when people borrowed money from lenders who accepted personal items as collateral. Indicative of just how old pawn shops are is the word “pawn.” According to linguists the Latin root word is “pignus”, which means pledge or security. It was a part of the Roman vocabulary.
Pawn shops were common in cities, farming villages, and even remote frontier outposts in ancient China, Greece, and Rome. They served as a source of credit for the poor and the middle class that did not have access to traditional financial institutions.
In The Beginning
Early pawn shops in China were regulated by the government. But they were operated by Buddhist monasteries. The monks would lend money to farmers and artisans who needed funds for their crops or tools, and they would accept various items such as jewelry, clothing, or household goods as collateral. The interest rates were low, or even nonexistent. The repayment terms were flexible. For the monks this was an opportunity to help people and so profit was not a primary concern.
Since pawn shops were an integral part of Roman society, it is surprisng that in Europe after the collapse of the empire they weren’t readily available until the Middle Ages. It was establishment of sanctioned churches that gave rise to the modern pawn shop.
As the Catholic Church prohibited usury, or charging excessive interest on loans there was a demand for institutioons that could provide an alternative source of credit. Of the early European pawn shops one of the most famous was the Lombard Bank. Established by Italian merchants in London in the 14th century, the bank’s symbol was three golden balls. In time this became the universal sign for pawn shops.
During the years of European, and American, emipre building and colonization pawn shops played an important role in the development of commerce and culture. They provided loans to merchants, explorers, artists, and inventors who needed capital for their ventures. Counted among the famous people who used pawn shops are Christopher Columbus who pawned jewels to finance a portion of his voyage to America. Legend has it that Isaac Newton pawned his books to pay for his studies. And there is evidence that Ludwig van Beethoven pawned his musical instruments to support his family.
Pawn World in Kingman, Arizona provides traditional services. But we also provide our customers with a unique, and even historic, shopping experience.
Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America