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August 25, 2008

Macau's pawn shop history

One of the little museums we visited in Macau recently was the "Pawn Shop Museum". Claire got me their under false pretences - I thought I'd been invited to look at a "Porn Shop Museum", which sounded like much more fun.

Actually, it is one of the old pawn shops in the busiest district on Macau, which has been restored to look like it would in the early 1900s. You can pose for a stunt photo behind the counter, and then visit the store-room. So, of course, we did.


Pawn shops did a roaring trade in the colony, and there were three 'official' types decreed by law. This governed how long items could be loaned for, and what rates of interest could be charged. Obviously gambling debts prompted a lot of the trade, but longer term loans could be arranged at low interest, with the pawnbroker acting more like a safety security deposit location than a loan shark.

The store-rooms were a special style of building, with thick granite walls protected by steel plates, very small windows, and they used to stand in isolation. This was to protect them from fire, flood and theft. The store-rooms were equipped with very long wooden racks, as well as safes, and the museum had a display of the meticulous paper-work that needed to be maintained.


We learned that the pawn shop signs displayed the symbol of a bat and a coin, which was meant to bring good fortune. Once we'd found that out we began spotting them all over town - especially opposite Macau's massive casinos. Funny that, eh?


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That's a great bit of info - part of the difference between seeing and understanding when you travel around.

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