A Pawnshop offers secured loans to people, with items of personal property used as collateral.
The word pawn is derived from the Latin pignus, for pledge, and the items having been pawned to the broker are themselves called pledges or pawns, or simply the collateral.
If an item is pawned for a loan (colloquially, "hocked"), within a certain contractual period of time the pawner may redeem it for the amount of the loan plus some agreed-upon amount for interest. The amount of time, and rate of interest, is governed by law or by the pawnbroker's policies.
If the loan is not paid (or extended, if applicable) within the time period, the pawned item will be offered for sale by the pawnbroker. Unlike other lenders, the pawnbroker does not report the defaulted loan on the customer's credit report, since the pawnbroker has physical possession of the item and may recoup the loan value through outright sale of the item. The pawnbroker also sells items that have been sold outright to them by customers.
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The pawnbrokers' symbol is three spheres suspended from a bar. The three sphere symbol is attributed to the Medici family of Florence, Italy, owing to its symbolic meaning of Lombard.
This refers to the Italian province of Lombardy, where pawn shop banking originated under the name of Lombard banking. The three golden spheres were originally a symbol medieval Lombard merchants hung in front of their houses, and not the arms of the Medici family. It has been conjectured that the golden spheres were originally three flat yellow effigies of byzants, or gold coins, laid heraldically upon a sable field, but that they were converted into spheres to better attract attention.
Most European towns called the pawn shop the "Lombard". The House of Lombard was a banking community in medieval London, England. According to legend, a Medici employed by Charlemagne slew a giant using three bags of rocks. The three-ball symbol became the family crest. Since the Medicis were so successful in the financial, banking, and money lending industries, other families also adopted the symbol. Throughout the Middle Ages, coats of arms bore three balls, orbs, plates, discs, coins and more as symbols of monetary success. Pawnbrokers (and their detractors) joke that the three balls mean "Two to one, you won't get your stuff back".
Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of pawnbrokers. The symbol has also been attributed to the story of Nicholas giving a poor man's three daughters each a bag of gold so they could get married.
Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia