Pawnbroking today is an established and thriving industry here in the UK with the biggest pawnbroker, H&T Pawnbrokers racking up almost two hundred stores up and down the country. But what’s behind the well known retail and credit based façade of the industry, where are it’s roots and how has it grown to be where it is today? Read on to find out how Father Christmas and a popular nursery rhyme have contributed.
What’s in a Name?
The word pawn originated from the Latin word platinum which means cloth or clothing and also the French word pan which can mean skirt or blouse. In times gone by the only real assets that most working people had were their clothes and it was upon trades of clothing for cash that the industry really took off.
Or a Song?
Everyone knows that most fairy tales and nursery rhymes have their roots in slightly less innocent places and this can be said of the nursery rhyme ‘Pop Goes the Weasel.’ The well known song, still popular with youngsters across the globe today was actually written about the trade of pawning. There are many versions of this tune but in all of them the phrase ‘pop goes the weasel’ refers to something being pawned or popped. Depending on which version you are looking at the weasel could refer to an old fashioned type of shoemaker’s tool or a coat.
Patron Saint of Pawn
Yes really! Pawnbrokers are not content with having only a Latin name and world renowned song, it has a patron saint too and none other than little Saint Nick. Again, yes really! There are many urban legends surrounding why he may have earned this title with the most popular one being that he brokered a deal of three sacks of gold to save some young girls. However, he wanted his identity to remain anonymous and so instead of handing the sacks over in person, instead he dropped them down the chimney.
As well as having Santa Claus behind the pawnbroking industry, they have also had the most powerful and richest family of Europe, the Medici. The Medici family were an important factor in many wide reaching areas of renaissance development including backing new and exciting artistic talents such as Michelangelo and Donatello as well as the development of the pawn industry as we know it today. The family split in two with one half banking and one half pawnbroking.
For more interesting background snippets see this article.