Puncturing the myth of the seamy storefront stocked with stolen watches and overseen by a shifty proprietor, "In Hock" reveals that pawnshops have long played an integral role in Americans' economic lives. The definitive history of pawn-broking in the United States from the nation's founding through the Great Depression, this volume demonstrates that the practice was inextricably intertwined with the rise of capitalism. The class of working poor begotten by this economic tide could make ends meet, Wendy A. Woloson argues, only by regularly visiting pawnshops to supplement their inadequate wages. Nonetheless, businessmen, reformers, and cultural critics berated the shops for promoting vice and used anti-Semitic stereotypes to cast their proprietors as greedy and cold-hearted. Parsing and subverting these caricatures, Woloson shows that pawnbrokers were in fact shrewd businessmen, often from humble origins, who honed sophisticated knowledge of a wide range of goods and their values in different markets.
In the process, she paints a resonant portrait of the generations of Americans whose struggle for economic survival often depended on an institution that has remained, until now, woefully misunderstood.
Publisher: The University of Chicago Press
Number of pages: 256
Weight: 476 g
Dimensions: 229 x 152 x 23 mm
"Few occupations are as misunderstood as pawnbroking. Wendy Woloson challenges the many myths associated with pawnbrokers: criminal accomplices, traffickers in stolen goods, immoral usurers, and predatory Shylocks. This original and insightful analysis of the informal and marginal economy explains how poor, working-class, and sometimes wealthy Americans adapted to economic hardship and temporary setback. In Hock reveals the forgotten evolution and hidden contradictions of the emerging consumer economy in modern America."--Timothy J. Gilfoyle, Loyola University--Timothy J. Gilfoyle, Loyola University
"In Hock is a remarkable and remarkably original book. With her keen ear for the stories and anecdotes that make the milieus of the working poor come alive, Wendy Woloson captures the vivid and untold history of pawnbroking from the late eighteenth century through the Great Depression, and writes with panache on the many changes this period heralded. By combining economic, social, and cultural history in order to work in the new and mysterious terrain of the buyers, sellers, and lenders thriving at the edge of our 'legitimate' society, In Hock fulfills its promise to do what no other book has done."--Ann Fabian, Rutgers University--Ann Fabian, Rutgers University