Paper $28.00 ISBN: 9780226905686 Published May 2012
Cloth $46.00 ISBN: 9780226905679 Published April 2010
E-book $10.00 to $27.99 About E-books ISBN: 9780226905693 Published December 2009 Also Available From

In Hock

Pawning in America from Independence through the Great Depression

Wendy A. Woloson

In Hock

Wendy A. Woloson

248 pages | 39 halftones, 1 table | 6 x 9 | © 2009
Paper $28.00 ISBN: 9780226905686 Published May 2012
Cloth $46.00 ISBN: 9780226905679 Published April 2010
E-book $10.00 to $27.99 About E-books ISBN: 9780226905693 Published December 2009
The definitive history of pawnbroking in the United States from the nation’s founding through the Great Depression, In Hock demonstrates that the pawnshop was essential to the rise of capitalism. The class of working poor created by this economic tide could make ends meet only, Wendy Woloson argues, by regularly pawning household objects to supplement inadequate wages. Nonetheless, businessmen, reformers, and cultural critics claimed that pawnshops promoted vice, and employed anti-Semitic stereotypes to cast their proprietors as greedy and cold-hearted. Using personal correspondence, business records, and other rich archival sources to uncover the truth behind the rhetoric, Woloson brings to life a diverse cast of characters and shows that pawnbrokers were in fact shrewd businessmen, often from humble origins, who possessed sophisticated knowledge of a wide range of goods in various resale markets.
            A much-needed new look at a misunderstood institution, In Hock is both a first-rate academic study of a largely ignored facet of the capitalist economy and a resonant portrait of the economic struggles of generations of Americans.


ONE: In Hock

TWO: The “Jew Broker” in American Culture

THREE: In Defense of Pawnbrokers

FOUR: The Economies of Everyday Life

FIVE: Pawnbroking and Criminal Activity

SIX: Loan Societies and the Legitimation of Pawnbroking

SEVEN: Unredeemed


Review Quotes
Timothy J. Gilfoyle, Loyola University
“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
Edward Balleisen, Duke University
"Wendy Woloson incisively probes the boundaries of American capitalism—how to distinguish ‘marginal’ markets from pivotal ones; what separates legitimate and illicit economic activities, both in the eyes of the law and according to the norms of ordinary citizens; which groups of Americans embraced consumer culture and its vision of alienable property rights, right down to the rings on one’s fingers and the bells on one’s toes; and which groups lambasted pawnbroking as an affront to Victorian sentimentalism and evangelical morality. In Woloson’s artfully interwoven account, the culture of pawning becomes not just an assessment of the ready cash value that many nineteenth-century urbanites attached to their possessions, but a site of creative commerce; at least sometimes, a terrain of neighborly exchange; and always, a social and political battleground."
Ann Fabian, Rutgers 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

“Woloson frees the business from its nineteenth-century anti-Semitic entanglements and points to the highly symbiotic relationship among pawnshops, the industrial city, and wage-dependent workers in a cash-poor society. Well written and accessible to a wide and diverse audience. Highly recommended”

Journal of Interdisciplinary History

“This excellent study of a specialized small business is filled with insights about the economic behavior of the poor throughout history, up to today’s ‘Great Recession.’”

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