Location is Everything

While spending a few days in Nazareth, PA with my step-daughter recently, I noticed this little house in the window of a Realtor a few doors down form the door to her apartment building. I’ve seen these model homes in other Realtors but not in recent years. I suspect they come out of a retail tradition dating back to a time when most people did not read.

 If you ran a barber shop the traditional striped pole told folks what you had to offer, a sign with food on it told the illiterate where they could chow down, a horse sign meant stable and the classic three balls can still be seen today in front of many pawn shops.

 Other than coming out of the custom of communication with illiterates, it has nothing to do with the image here but the story of the three balls as pawn shop symbol is an interesting story nonetheless. Read the info below and the next time you’re hanging out with someone easily impressed by a command of trivia you can dazzle them with this little gem.

The symbol of the three balls was part of the coat of arms of the Medici family, who established the Medici trading and banking empire in Florence, Italy. The Medicis were a 15th century Italian family of bankers and lenders, with considerable fame and fortune.

The Medici family was so powerful they had their own army—Kings and Popes came to them for financial assistance.

They became so well known in the finance and lending profession that the other lenders, wanting to share in their success, adopted similar coats of arms, signs, shields and symbols, with three golden balls being the most popular. Once other merchants involved in monetary dealing adopted the three golden balls as their symbol, the three balls came to symbolize the entire profession founded on the ethic of mutual trust.

Throughout the Middle ages you can find many coats of arms bearing three balls, orbs, plates, disks, coins, and more as symbolic of monetary success.

When Italian bankers began to open branches abroad, the symbol of the three golden balls spread to the European West. It is known that there was pawnbroking in Spain because Queen Isabella pawned some of her royal jewels to finance Columbus’ long voyage to the New World. I wonder if the pawnbroker who made that loan knew just what he was starting?

The symbol of the three golden balls was brought to the United States from England, where pawnbrokers still display the symbol to this day. (Source: EZ Cash of Panama City website)

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