Where does the symbol of the pawnbroker originate? The three gold balls, a universal symbol of pawnbrokers, once again grace our high streets as pawnbroking experiences a resurgence in the past decade. The symbol is closely associated with the Italian region of Lombardy, just like the pawnbroking industry itself.
Pawnbroking has a history spanning over a thousand years, but it gained prominence in major European cities thanks to Lombard banking in the 15th century. Many European cities still have streets named after this practice, including Lombard Street in the City of London.
Why Are There Three Golden Spheres On The Symbol?
Lombard bankers in the Italian region of Lombardy and beyond hung the recognisable symbol outside their premises to attract customers. It is believed that the symbol was originally three golden coins – a reference to their trade – but was later changed to spheres to make it easier to see.
Medici Family Influence
Another theory attributes the creation of the pawnbrokers’ symbol to the Medici family. Some argue that the family was the wealthiest in Europe at their peak, and used their wealth to buy political influence. Several pawnbrokers in Florence contributed to the wealth of a family who made their fortunes in banking.
According to some, the symbol was adapted from the crest of House Medici, which contained spheres. The three lowest spheres on the crest below correspond to those on the modern-day pawnbroker symbol.
As a result of the Medicis’ influence on the banking industry, a portion of their crest became synonymous with the finance industry in general, before becoming associated with pawnbroking exclusively. In any case, House Medici did run the Medici Bank, which for a long time was Europe’s wealthiest and most respected financial institution.
Modern Day Influence
Regardless of the truth, the enduring symbol used in medieval and Renaissance Italy owes its existence to the Medici family’s financial influence. Undoubtedly, the symbol’s origins are deeply entwined with the rich financial history of Lombardy, an affluent region in Italy. While the Medici family played a significant role in its development, the precise details of its origins remain a mystery.
As with all history, there are different theories regarding the origins of the pawnbroking trade. There is no doubt, however, that the industry is undergoing a resurgence, and the symbol is following suit.