Icons above pawn shops

I was watching the movie ‘Lost Weekend’ the other day, and when our hero was trying to pawn his typewriter, I noticed a doodad above the pawn shops that kind of looked like a jesters hat-three bent cones with balls on them. My New York buddy says that those ‘signs’ are really common above pawn shops, but couldn’t give me a rundown on their origin.

Do they ‘mean’ something, or is it just an sign for ‘pawn shop here’?


“This is going to take a special blend of psychology and extreme violence.”

From Information on the Pawn Industry

“The House of The Lombards operated pawnshops throughout Europe. They even counted royalty, such as King Edward III of England, among their clientele during the 14th century. The symbol of the Lombards’ operations were the three gold balls that still remain the trademark of pawnshops.”

Pawnbroker Balls Legends of the Origin of the Pawnbroker Symbol

There you go.

  1. "“Silver Shekel” or “Shekel of Israel” which was issued in A.D. 68 after a Jewish revolt against the Romans. One side of the coin depicted three pomegranates, with a common stalk. "

  2. Medici coat of arms with three balls.

  3. “Saint Nicholas and his Three Gifts of Gold. The figure of Saint Nicholas is a legend from the Orthodox Russian Church. He was said to be very kind to the poor.” Follow the link for an explanation of the story of Saint Nic being the patron saint of pawn brokers

Wow, impressive! I think I’ll take the ‘Silver Shekel’ one. :> )


“This is going to take a special blend of psychology and extreme violence.”

Plus, with signage like that a person can say things like: “Meet me at the pawnshop, and I’ll kiss you under the balls.”

Your brain-in-a-jar,

Imbibo, ergo sum.

The one I have usually heard is the St. Nikolaus of Myra story (he IS the patron saint of pawnbrokers, so this might just be a little hint).
Fact: The Medici Arms has 6, count them, six, balls on it. Someone did some sloppy counting somewhere.

Well, spiffy. You put ‘St. Nikolaus of Myra’ in a search engine, and all the hits are in German. What anglicized spelling of Nikolaus in appropriate??

Great call, tho. I wouldn’t have thought of looking for the patron saint!


“This is going to take a special blend of psychology and extreme violence.”

Try “Nicholas” (then wade through 4,00 hits with Christmas themes).

According to this list of patron saints, Nick shares the duty with St. Bernadine of Feltre (of whom I have never before heard).

Nicholas of Myra (with reference to three bags of gold ransom becoming pawnbroker balls)

St. Bernadine of Feltre



Sorry about the spelling-- I study old Euro art, so my spellings always get funky (Birgitta vs Brigit, Katherine instead of Catherine, Charles/Carlo/Karl, etc.)