To pawn or not to pawn

Before the credit card explosion in the 1950s, pawnshops were a neighborhood’s answer to easy credit with few questions.

Pawnshops and pawn brokering have been around for thousands of years and it was an important aspect of the economic foundations of Chinese, Ancient Greek and Roman Empires.

So if pawn broking has been around so long, why is HISTORY’s new show Pawn Star$ so popular?

Like the PBS smash hit Antiques Roadshow, average folks haul their treasures or investments to the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in an effort to find their value and sell them at a respectable price. A pawn transaction gives the seller an cash advance on the value of their antique and sets a time limit on when they must pay it back, usually at a double digit interest rate. If the seller doesn’t return the pawnshop legally claims ownership and may sell the item at whatever market price the new owner may set. The shop owner’s goal is to accurately describe the item and get the seller to agree on a sale price that is fair but also leaves room for him to make a profit.

Maybe it’s the rare chance to be a fly on the wall as a sale price is haggled back and forth. This is my favorite part. I have always believed that when you’re buying an antique, the first person that offers a price loses something in the negotiation. This belief is reinforced every time I watch this show. It’s fascinating to watch sellers learn the history behind their item and quickly realize factors such as condition, scarcity and market conditions also influence the value of an antique.

Another reason the show is popular has to be because of its timing. The problems pulling down our economy have touched off a new era of frugality and resourcefulness. People want to tap the cash value in their antiques and collectibles. What could be more entertaining than watching someone negotiate a sale?

Although it is entertaining for a spectator to watch, it’s important to remember a few caveats when selling antiques and collectibles through pawnshops:

• Research the value range of your antiques before you sell. I use the words “value range” because sellers should know enough about the market conditions to negotiate a sale price based on current demand, scarcity and condition.

• Not every pawnshop will accept antiques or collectibles. What makes Rick Harrison’s Las Vegas pawn shop so unique is that he has experience in appraising art and antiques and has built a customer base for that merchandise. Call ahead to see if your local pawnshop accepts such items.

• Leave some room for the pawnbroker to make a profit in the transaction. After all, it’s still a business transaction and only the successful deals leave room on both sides to make a profit.

Eric Bradley

P.S. Elsewhere in this week’s issue, you will find an ad for the Butter Pat Patter Association. The association has provided three Buffalo Pottery butter pats as prizes for three lucky winners of the Antique Trader Treasure Hunt for August and September. The Art Deco-inspired designs are valued at $25 each. To enter, visit