Where did the Pawnbroking sign of the three gold balls come from?
We now live in an age when the brand of a store or chain of stores is instantly recognizable, the brand image is fiercely protected and regulated. When you see images of logo’s you will often know what that brand is, companies will have fought, often over long periods of time, trying to establish an image, logo or sign with their product.
Signage can come to represent entire industries and in some cases will have been a sign of these industries for 100’s of years. The barber shop with its red and white striped cylindrical sign is an immediate indication that you can get your hair cut. Another such sign which we can date back to the middle ages, is the three golden balls, or the sign of the pawnbroking industry. But what is the derivation and adoption of this sign as an industry standard.
If we take the pawn brokers sign as an example, the three golden balls is the well known sign not only of central London pawnbrokers but of pawn-shops the world over. But where did it come from. The pawnbroker’s symbol shows three balls suspended from a bar, which can been seen in the picture of Hopkins and Jones a central London Pawn-broking store, below;
The three-ball symbol is attributed to the Medici family because of its symbolic meaning of Lombard, referring to the Italian province of Lombardy, where pawn shop banking originated under the name of Lombard banking. It is now well established that the three golden balls, which have for so long been the trade sign of the pawnbroker, were originally the symbol medieval Lombard merchants hung up in front of their houses, and not, as has often been suggested, the arms of the Medici family.
Most European towns called the pawn shop the “Lombard”. The House of Lombard was a banking family in medieval London. The first known depiction of the sign of the three balls was in the famous painting by William Hogarth , titled “Gin Lane” c.1751.