universal pawn shop symbol

Where, when and why did the universal symbol for pawn shops evolve? You know, the three rings or three balls. I’ve seen it in centuries-old paintings and still see it on signs today.

The common story is that it’s from the coat of arms of the Medici’s, for example:


FYI, its not universal. I’ve never seen it here in Japan.

(sorry to be picky, but you DO want to know the facts, right? :slight_smile: )

I live in Alberta, and there are many pawnshops downtown in the city I live in, but I’ve never ever even seen that symbol before. I agree, it’s definitely not a universal symbol.


Am I the only one who sees an amazing similarity between that Pawn Shop symbol and This Famous Glyph ???

:smiley: :wink:


This actually came up in some of my doctoral dissertation research. (Don’t ask.) The three gold balls were part of the coat of arms of the Medicis, and this is generally presumed to be the source of the common ‘pawnbroker’ sign. The Medici family made its money in usury, which is the business that pawnbrokers are in. (Historical evidence of the connection is rather lacking, but it’s one of the more plausible stories.)

Going back-this symbol was associated with the Medici family because their patron saint was St. Nicholas. The three golden balls represent the bags of gold that Nicholas was supposed to have anonymously donated for the dowry of the three daughters of a poor but worthy gentleman in his town. Good 'ol Nick snuck into their house in the night to leave each bag after the daughter reached a marriageable age; he was caught the last time, hence his failure to remain anonymous.

And for the record, this is the one and only historical legend about St. Nicholas which seems to have anything to do with the modern Santa Claus myth. Go figure. But I hereby challenge anyone to sell the ‘anonymous charity’ angle to a pawnbroker. Or to a medieval Medici, for that matter. :wink:

No three balls in Hong Kong either. Just a storefront with a polished wooden barrier between the door and the counter (so customers can’t be seen from the street) and “Pawn Shop” in Chinese and, usually English above the entrance or on the wooden barrier. They also usually have a scrap of paper with what I presume to be the same written in Filipino taped near the entrance as an afterthought, to cater for a particularly low-paid but profligate part of the community.

A previous discussion on this subject…