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Post on the Pawn Shop/Monte de Piedad
Created by John Eipper on 02/04/20 3:56 AM

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on the Pawn Shop/Monte de Piedad (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela, 02/04/20 3:56 am)

Commenting on Gary Moore's post of February 3rd, John E mentioned a very interesting word in Spanish, the "Monte de Piedad (Pity Mountain?), which bizarrely refers to a pawn shop." Coincidentally I also always wondered where this name came from.

It turns out the name is not bizarre at all. As the name suggests, it came from a religious context, the Italian Monte di Pietà, also called in Spain Montepío. Its remote origin is probably from the Middle Ages in Spain when the Catholic religious order, the Franciscans, founded the Arcas de Limosnas (handout arks/coffers?) to help poorer classes.

The first Monte di Pietà apparently was founded in Italy in the 15th century as another initiative of the same order as a way to fight usury.  Originally they did not charge interest for the money borrowed, but rather guaranteed the loan with some personal articles, clothing, jewelry, etc. The word monte referred to a pile of money and Pietà-Piedad to differentiate it to other commercial montes, giving the religious sense of pity.

In Spain today there are only a few of these places, which eventually in the past century were the origin of the Cajas de Ahorro, very popular and important financial institutions.

By the way, I agree with Paul Preston regarding to the words escampar and forastero in Spanish. They are common and not used rarely, as some WAIS comments have suggested.

JE comments:  Mexico's Nacional Monte de Piedad is the best known and probably the world's biggest.  It was founded in 1774 and has 200 branches throughout the country.  Originally the institution operated as a charity, charging no interest on pledged items, but this business model couldn't last.  Now there is a fixed rate of 4%--still very low by pawning standards.


Pawn shops make one think of Dostoevsky's Raskolnikov. In the spirit of Don Camillo and Pito Pérez (see Pat Mears, February 3rd), you can actually "visit" Raskolnikov's house in St Petersburg:


I believe we've broken fertile ground for a WAIS discussion, "pawning around the world."

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