As mankind’s oldest financial institution, pawnbroking carries on a tradition with a rich history. Pawnbroking can be traced back at least 3,000 years to ancient China, and has been found in the earliest written histories of Greek and Roman civilizations. Pawnbrokers, also known as collateral loan brokers, make loans based purely on the intrinsic value of the collateral. Checking the customer’s credit history is not necessary because only the value of the item being pawned is considered. If the loan, or at least the interest, is not paid off during the specified term (usually three or four months), the item is forfeited and may be resold by the broker. A typical transaction begins with a potential borrower coming into a pawnshop with the item he or she wants to pledge. The pawnbroker then determines how much to loan the patron for the item. Loans are paid out at a rate of about one-third to one-half of the price the broker can expect to receive for the sale of a good during the worst of times. This assures that a profit will be made.
All items received by a pawnbroker must be listed with the city and/or state’s police department, therefore reducing the chance of a consumer receiving stolen property. The pawn industry is one of the most regulated in the country. Most regulation has been initiated, sponsored and supported by pawnbrokers. Regulatory agencies include the Office of Consumer Credit and Law Enforcement on a local and national level. Pawnbrokers have state, regional and national industry associations which work at self-policing the industry. In the case of public companies, the Federal Securities and Exchange Commission oversee their operations.
The Nursery Rhyme “Pop Goes The Weasel” refers to pawning. A weasel is a shoemaker’s tool and to “pop” is to pawn. “That’s the way the money goes… Pop goes the weasel.” Queen Isabella of Spain pawned the crown jewels to finance Columbus’ voyage to America. The word pawn originates from the Latin word “patinum” which means cloth or clothing. The French word “pan” refers to a skirt or blouse. In the early centuries, the principle assets people had were their clothes and borrowed money by pawning their clothing.