Pawnbroker’s Sign

This is a copper pawnbroker’s sign, most likely hung outside a pawnshop in upstate New York during the Depression Era. Pawning, or putting an item up as collateral for a short period of time, has been in practice since at least the 5th century in China, and gained popularity in Europe during the Middle Ages. Pawnshop owners during the Middle Ages began using this symbol, the three spheres, to designate the type of service they offered since around this same time. The three spheres most likely represent three (gold) coins, but spheres are more recognizable than flat objects when using them for signage. Immigrants arriving to the United States during the early years most likely brought and continued this tradition from Europe.
Physical Description
metal (overall material)
copper (overall material)
overall: 24 in x 23 1/2 in x 8 3/4 in; 60.96 cm x 59.69 cm x 22.225 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of Wendy A. Woloson
See more items in
Work and Industry: Retail and Marketing
American Enterprise
American Enterprise
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History


Add a comment about this object