A pawnbroker is an individual or business (pawnshop or pawn shop) that 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, 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.
Main article: 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.
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. 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 1603 an Act against Brokers was passed and remained on the statute-book until 1872. It was aimed at the many counterfeit brokers in London. This type of broker was evidently regarded as a fence. Queen Isabella of Spain pawned her jewelry to finance Christopher Columbus's first voyage to the New World.
Crusaders, predominantly in France, brokered their land holdings to monasteries and diocese for funds to supply, outfit, and transport their armies to the Holy Land. Instead of outright repayment the Church reaped a certain amount of crop returns for a certain amount of seasons, which could additionally be re-exchanged in a type of equity.
A pawnbroker can also be a charity. In 1450, Barnaba Manassei, a Franciscan monk, began the Monte di Pietà movement in Perugia, Italy. It provided financial assistance in the form of no-interest loans secured with pawned items. Instead of interest, the Monte di Pietà urged borrowers to make donations to the Church. It spread through Italy, then to 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 andKnight of Calatrava.