Pawn lending is not a new business. In fact, some reports trace pawn loans back at least 3,000 years to ancient China, as well as Greek and Roman civilizations. Pawning has long been a source of capital for people, as well as a way to finance business ventures. According to the National Pawnbrokers Association, even Queen Isabella of Spain pawned her royal jewels to finance Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the New World. And during the Middle Ages, certain usury laws imposed by the Church prohibited interest from being charged on loans, thereby limiting pawnbroking to people outside of the Church. Out of necessity pawnshops became popular again and the fundamentals of the pawn business remain unchanged. Pawnbrokers loan money to people based on the value of the item(s) they pledge as collateral.
As for the pawn symbol featuring three gold balls, some historians contend the balls represent gold coins or bags of gold; others, the bags of rocks that Charles the Great used to slay a giant. No one knows for sure, but that symbol remains the trademark of the industry.