pawnbroker, one who makes loans on personal effects that are left as security. The practice of pawnbroking is ancient, as is recognition of the danger it involves of oppressing the poor. In fact, the Bible provides the poor with a number of safeguards against oppression from their creditors. According to Ex. 22.25–27 and Deut. 24, 6, 12, 13, 17, pawnbrokers may not practice usury, may not take necessities of life as security, and in general must not take as a pledge any article whose loss would severely injure the borrower. In the Middle Ages, Christians generally were forbidden by the church to lend money at interest, and pawnbroking was left largely to the Jews as one of the few means of a livelihood open to them. Lombards also engaged extensively in moneylending, however, and in London, the financial center is still called Lombard St. In some Latin American and European nations pawnshops are operated under religious, charitable, or municipal auspices. The most famous such pawnshop is Vienna's Dorotheum, founded (1707) by Emperor Joseph I and still run by the state to provide the poor with easy credit at low rates of interest. In Great Britain and in American states, pawnbroking is regulated by usury laws. Pawnshops are predominantly found in low-income areas, where residents are often unable to establish other types of credit.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.