History of Pawnbroking
In the west, pawnbroking existed in the Ancient Greek and Roman Empires. Most contemporary Western law on the subject is derived from the Roman jurisprudence. As the empire spread its culture, pawnbroking went with it. Likewise, in the East, the business model existed in China 3000 years ago no different than today, through the ages strictly regulated by Imperial or other authorities.
Modern pawnbroker storefront.
In spite of early Roman Catholic Church prohibitions against charging interest on loans, there is some evidence that the Franciscans were permitted to begin the practice as an aid to the poor. Pawnbrokerage arrived in England with William the Conqueror, but known by the Italian name, Lombard. In 1338, Edward III pawned his jewels to raise money for his war with France. King Henry V did much the same in 1415. The Lombards were not a popular class, and Henry VII harried them a good deal. In the very first year of James I Stuart an Act against Brokers was passed and remained on the statute-book until Queen Victoria had been on the throne thirty-five years. It was aimed at the many counterfeit brokers in London. This type of broker was evidently regarded as a fence. It is also known that Queen Isabella of Spain pawned her jewelry in order to send Christopher Columbus out to what he believed was the Indies.
A pawnbroker can also be a charity. The Monte di Pietà movement was begun in Perugia, Italy, in 1450 by Barnaba Manassei, a Franciscan monk. It had the aim of providing financial assistance to people in the form of no-interest loans, secured with pawned items. Instead of interest, borrowers were urged to make donations to the Church. It spread first through Italy then in other parts of Europe. The first Monte de Piedad organization in Spain was founded in Madrid, and from there the idea was transferred to New Spain by Pedro Romero de Terreros, the Count of Santa Maria de Regla and Knight of Calatrava. The Nacional Monte de Piedad is a charitable institution and pawn shop whose main office is located just off the Zocalo, or main plaza of Mexico City. It was established between 1774 and 1777 by Pedro Romero de Terreros as part of a movement to provide interest-free or low-interest loans to the poor. It was recognized as a national charity in 1927 by the Mexican government. Today it is a fast-growing institution with over 152 branches all over Mexico and with plans to open a branch in every Mexican city.