February 02, 2020 - Pawn Resources
Pawn shops have existed for over 3000 years globally, and pawn shops in Houston date back to at least 1955, the founding date of it’s oldest pawn shop. But to truly understand Houston pawn shops, we have to look to the Middle Ages in Europe.
According to Wendy Woloson’s book, In Hock, pawn brokers in Europe emerged “as a distinct profession” in the Middle Ages. She quotes Kenneth Hudson, a writer from the early 20th century, to explain that these proto-modern pawn shops were built to serve the wealthiest of Europe. Hudson wrote that pawn shops in the Middle Ages served to finance “the needs of powerful and ambitious rulers, who required money to finance wars and the building of castles, palaces, and churches, and to maintain a standard of living which they considered appropriate to their rank, power and social position”.
While some European countries experimented with “non-profit” pawn shops, they initially failed because of the corruption of their managers and investors. Independent pawn shops remained common but did not proliferate until the First Industrial Revolution in the 18th century (1700s). They were especially common in England’s industrial centers, like Manchester and London. Pawn shops grew in number to serve not just aristocrats and royalty, but to serve a growing population of city-based consumers and workers. Those workers, unlike their peasant ancestors, had possessions and material goods that could collateralize a loan.
Pawn shops did not make their way to America– let alone to Houston, Texas– until the early 19th century, the 1800s. When they came, they raised the same concerns that they did in Europe. Pawn shops were perceived as against feudal Christian order, in which most varieties of money lending were banned. However, early economists and political thinkers like Adam Smith and Jeremy Bentham argued in favor of them. They believed that, as a rule, flexible lines of credit could help grow the economy and wealth of the population.
It’s hard to say exactly when Houston pawn shops first emerged. But like most pawn shops in America, they grew alongside the rest of the city, and their composition reflected its industries. In Houston, use of pawn shops was closely tied to the fortunes of the oil industry. Oilmen used pawn shops as an important line of credit during the industry boom and bust cycles.