History of Pawnbroking

Since the time of Ancient China, pawning has been a popular way for those in need of fast cash to get instant loans by trading in items of high value as collateral. What began as a way for peasants to have temporary financial aid has become a full-blown industry and profession passed down from generation to generation.

Pawn shops are not only a part of history—with rare items such as antiques, jewelry, and furniture in their inventory—but have a long history going back centuries across wide oceans.


Before the widespread use of pawn shops, early pawnbrokers operated their businesses individually. The word “pawn” comes from the Latin word “patinum” meaning clothing or cloth. It was common practice among peasants to pawn items of clothing since it was the only thing of value they had. This was especially popular during the 19th century when the working class would pawn clothes on Monday and retrieve them on Friday when they would get their paychecks.

Today, this method of short-term credit is referred to as a “cash advance” loan or a payday loan; however, terms of repayment don’t necessarily have to be linked to a borrower’s payday.


The use of pawn shops is also common in the histories of ancient Greece and Rome. During this time, pawnbroking was a great way for merchants to get their shops running. By the 14th and 15th century, pawn shops continued being used by the poor, but they were soon changed to other uses. For entrepreneurs wanting to finance their next business ventures, pawn shops were key tools for their enterprise goals.

Pawning Royalty

It was also during this time that important families, such as the English Lombards and the Medicis of Florence, became known as powerful finance houses. These money-lending families traded with significant historical figures. The Lombards, for example, famously had England’s King Edward III as one of their clients, who pawned some of his jewelry to finance the war against France in 1388.

The New World


It has also been noted by some historians that Queen Isabella of Spain pawned her jewelry as collateral to sponsor Christopher Columbus’s expedition to the New World.

International Symbol

The traditional symbol of pawn shops is of three golden balls suspended from a bar, which symbolizes the mutual trust between pawnbrokers and borrowers and their financial success. It is rumored that the pawnbroker’s symbol was based on a Roman coin used in Israel from A.D. 68 and on.

The Lombards had used the balls as their trademark symbol for about 100 years before the Medicis finally incorporated them into their family crest in the 15th century. The symbol has been widely attributed to the Medici Family.

History of Our Shop

GEM Pawnbrokers was established in 1947 by the late Martin Kaminsky, and it has been a major pawnshop chain in the Greater New York area for over 70 years with 24 convenient locations. Long before U.S. pawn shops became an acceptable source for short-term loans back in the 80s, we were giving clients the best cash value for their items.

Quick Financing

If you are in need of a cash advance or a fast cash loan, contact our GEM Pawnbrokers 24/7 line at 718-596-5626 or fill out our online form to request more information.


  1. https://www.history.com/shows/pawn-stars/articles/pawning-through-the-ages
  2. http://scribol.com/anthropology-and-history/history/the-history-of-pawn-shops/

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