It may not be used in other areas, but in New Orleans, a pawn shop is symbolized by three spheres hanging from three arced lines that come together at the top. You'll see them on the sides of buildings that contain pawn shops or lit up in neon all by themselves with no other sign indicating a pawn shop, so it must be a pretty recognizable symbol in my city.

I have put a VCR in hock once to pay some bills, and I was able to get it back. When I had to hock it again to pay for my new motherboard, my boss gave me the money instead because he didn't want me to have to do such a thing. And it's true, people like me may not normally have to do such things. But we do.

I have bought a few things from a pawn shop. Once it was a bike for $80, the same bike on which I was hit by a car when I ran a red light on my way home because my front tire was running out of air. Sometimes I'll walk by one and price the stereos, since I haven't owned one for several years now. But like Ma Otter in the Jim Henson special Emmet Otter's Jugband Christmas says: I'd have to hock something, but I've run out of things to hock.

I have no history on what the symbol for a pawn shop means, but I often do theorize when I don't have anything to go on. I would say that the 3 spheres coming from the same stem could convey a sort of recycling, an addition to the adage one man's junk is another man's treasure to include one man's loss is another man's gain.

I have this symbol in my window of my bedroom, the top of a pawn shop sign that fell down. I scooped it up and carried it home, where it has been with me for the last three years, the last half dozen apartments. If I thought I was able to get the money together I'd even consider getting it tattooed on me, because I believe it to be a symbol I would adhere to even if I ascend the poverty level I to which am now regulated:

Nothing really belongs to you. You think it does, and you think that by buying things new, you can relinquish the association that you are like other people. Everything can and will be recycled. That which you toss away, people like me come to fetch, combing curbs and dipping through trash. You haven't lived on the edge until you've hocked something, or until you've hit rock bottom so that nothing you own is worth anything but the value you give it. You're not alive until you have something to lose

The three golden-colored balls denoting a pawnshop are a long-standing tradition from Europe. It is supposed to derive from the crest of the Medici family or the Lombards (sources differ), who among other things were pawnbrokers. Legend has it that the crest comes from an ancestor fighting in the armies of Charlemagne who fought a giant and slew him with three sacks of rocks. The three balls or globes later became part of their family crest, and ultimately, the sign of their business, pawnbroking. In the Middle Ages, when most people couldn't read, an easily recognizable symbol like this was very helpful to the business.

There's another story of the pawnshop symbol.

It says that there was a man who had gone into such poverty that he was at his last resort: selling his daughters into prostitution.

Saint Nicholas of Myra heard that about this, and in the night threw three bags of gold through the window, and the girls were much relieved. Those three bags of gold grew up to be the symbol that denotes a pawn shop, and old Nicholas grew up to be Santa Claus, among other things, and patron saint of pawnbrokers.

In many cases, pawnshops were often operated by Jews, and because of antisemitism, a lot of people do not like Jews, the 3-globe symbol for a pawnshop is sometimes referred to as jews balls.

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