This is yet another post in the dockside series. Today we will be examining pawn shops and how they might be used in your fantasy campaign. We will look briefly at the history of pawn shops around the world and demonstrate the working relationship between sailors and pawn shops, before presenting the list itself. First, let's define what a pawn shop really is.
A pawn shop is a poor man's bank. A pawnbroker is a businessman who makes money by charging interest on short term loans that are secured by holding portable property of value. The process works like this - a person needs money (and they are NOT of a social class allowed to use a real bank) so they take an item of value to the pawnbroker. The pawnbroker offers the person somewhere between 35 - 65 % of the true value of the item in immediately available funds. If the person agrees to the amount, then the pawnbroker will set aside the items (security) for a predetermined amount of time (the term of the loan) until the person comes back to pay the loan back plus whatever interest the pawnbroker set forth for the loan (15% - 45%). If the person does not repay the loan on or before the set time, then the pawnbroker keeps the goods used to secure the loan and now may sell them at whatever price he or she desires to recoup the loss of the loan. Pawn shops have been around for almost 3000 years, making pawnbrokers one of the world's oldest professions.
Pawn shops have a long and colorful history. Mosaic law forbade charging interest on loans to other Jews, yet it allowed this practice for customers outside the Jewish community. Likewise, early Christian laws forbade usury among Christians, but interest could be collected from those who were NOT Christians. The earliest known pawn shops were established by the Buddhists in China around 500 BC and it is likely that, at first, they charged no interest at all. Eventually though, businessmen made deals with the Buddhist monks to run the enterprise for them and the charged interest was the money they were allowed to keep for managing the business. The citizens of both ancient Greece and Rome were as familiar with pawn shops as we are today. Perhaps the only difference is that Roman law was a bit more strict on the sorts of things that COULD be pawned, while English law (from which modern pawn shops derive) allowed that anything could be pawned if the pawnbroker saw a value to it.
The Medici Family Coat of Arms
The development of pawnbroking had several false starts in medieval Europe due to the anti-Usury laws, but eventually the Medici family took control of the papacy and that was all laid to rest. Pope Leo X (formerly known as Giovanni di Lorenzo de' Medici, the second son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, banking magnate and the ruler of Florence) declared that pawnshops were both lawful and valuable institutions and he kindly offered to excommunicate anyone who disagreed with him. It is for this reason that the traditional symbol for a pawnbroker is three golden balls. This is both a nod to the heraldry of the Medici coat of arms and a simple no-word sign which nearly all would read as "Lombardy" or the region of Italy where pawn shop banking originated. In fact, many european towns called pawn shops, "the lombard".
You may be thinking, "Great. But what does any of this have to do with sailors?". Well, many sailors had a special relationship with dockside pawnbrokers. When you are a common sailor at sea on a long voyage, storage aboard ship is at a premium. In fact, It is likely that your possessions and clothing are limited to what will fit in a small duffle bag. This means that when you do make port, you are going to look and smell like a sailor because your clothing and accessory choices are both limited and smell like sea salt. Sailors with a bit of coin could buy new gear while in town and then pawn that gear when it came time to sail away. If the ship the sailor crewed on were on a standard route that meant it would return to the port on a known schedule, then the pawnbroker and the sailor could come to an arrangement regarding the loan's term. Thus, the sailor could effectively store his gear with the pawnbroker while he or she was at sea.
You never know what you will find in a pawn shop
Below are 20 Items to find in a Dockside Pawn Shop. As always, I hope that you find both the information above and the list below useful for your own games. Happy Gaming!
A +1 Chainmail Shirt
A six foot by ten foot tapestry depicting a lady and a unicorn beside a fountain sewn with gold and silver thread.
A small jade statue of a barbarian warrior riding an eight-legged lizard.
A finely made set of forger's tools containing different sized quills, different inks, three different signet rings, and ten different types of sealing wax.
A decorative crystal bowl of fruit in which each piece of fruit is made from a different precious or semi-precious gemstone.
A finely-made hand crossbow
A +1 Greataxe sized for a massive barbarian.
A two foot tall, three foot long statue of a white dragon intricately carved out of ivory.
A fancy black great cloak with small garnets as collar buttons trimmed with gold thread.
A set of finely-crafted, thigh-high riding boots that add +2 to the wearer's persuasion skill.
A wall full of various polearms, greatswords, harpoons, and spears.
A display case filled with non-magical, gold and silver jewelry of all sorts - rings, bracelets, necklaces, torcs, filets, earrings and whatever else you can imagine.
A set of shelves holding numerous musical instruments. There are flutes, harps, mandolins, fiddles, horns, lutes, and even a hurdy-gurdy.
A table with a number of different craftsman's tool sets of varying quality. A sign marks everything on the table as "half-off our already low price".
A finely-made tabard bearing the markings of an officer in the town guard. "If he hadn't wanted it sold to the public, then he would have paid his loan.", says the pawnbroker.
A set of finely-crafted navigational tools bearing the marks of the Navigators Guild. A master navigator would have to be in dire need of money to part with these.
An ornately-carved, hollow wooden scroll case with silver endcaps and a long leather strap.
A deck of cards illustrated with various denizens of the deep; some of the cards have notes scrawled on them. This is a sort of tome of underwater creatures.
A set of dice that roll what the owner wants them to 70% of the time; the other 30% will always occur when it will cost the owner the most. The pawnbroker won't explain it that way.
A stylish monocle that both allows the wearer to see things as they truly are and forces the wearer to tell the absolute truth when he or she speaks.