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    Auction Finds

    What people pawn in Atlantic City

    The pawnshops were nothing like what I expected. I was in Atlantic City for a few days taking advantage of some really inexpensive room rates at the Borgata and decided to check out the city’s pawnshops.

    I was curious about what hardcore gamblers were loaning to pick up a few more dollars to play the slot machines and tables at the casinos. I expected to find a roomful of different and interesting items, and was especially looking for something vintage and old. Like the stuff I see on the History Channel show Pawn Stars.

    The Blickensderfer No. 6 typewriter, first sold in 1906

    It seemed only fitting to go looking for pawnshops the old-fashioned way: the yellow pages in the phone book in my hotel room. There I found two of them, both on Atlantic Avenue not far from the casinos.

    Pawnshop 1

    As soon as I stepped into the first pawnshop, I was disappointed. All I saw were glass cases with oversized diamond rings selling for hundreds of dollars. There were also necklaces with gemstones, leather watch bands and bracelets. Against a wall were a few guitars and two silver-plated serving dishes for $20. A tile cutter – which wasn’t likely left by a casino gambler in town for the weekend – seemed to have settled for a long stay near the door. It was priced at $75.

    A friend who was with me spotted a beautiful gold rosary with tiny beads. She asked the cost: $500. We both admired it and then she slid it back to the man behind the bullet-proof glass wall.

    “I expected to find more stuff here,” I said to the man, an older guy with a head of white hair. He told me that most people came back to retrieve their stuff, and that’s the way the shop liked it. I could understand why. The place was galley-shaped with just enough room to stretch your arms in a yawn.

    “We’re like the bank,” a younger man distracted with some small chore said, a little annoyance in his voice. “The bank doesn’t want your house. The bank doesn’t want your car.” In other words, they want you to pay them and get your stuff out of there.

    As we stood there, a young woman who looked to be in her 30s came into the shop, joked with the older man like they were old acquaintances and then went out again. Then she came back in. She had a pair of Versace sunglasses worth $300, she said, and asked for a $10 loan to buy gas for her car. She was all chuckles and giggles, pleading politely for the men to loan her the money.

    She pulled out a pawn slip to show them that she was a regular, but it was the slip for another pawnshop. Then she pulled out another that looked just like the first, saying that it was theirs.

    The younger man refused. He pointed to a row of sunglasses sitting on a ledge above the diamond rings. They were new, he said, so he didn’t need sunglasses, and besides, he can’t sell them.

    She was desperate and relentless, even joking that she’d have to sleep in her car outside their shop. That didn’t move the younger man – he’s probably heard the story before – and he basically ignored her.

    “That’s what happens when you gamble all night,” she said as an aside to us.

    She kept pushing the sunglasses toward them, insisting that they were worth $300, almost begging for $10 for gas. Finally, she gave up and left.

    I assume their motto was in the sign someone had stuck on the wall behind the counter:

    “In God We Trust, Everyone Else Pays Cash”

    Guitars were as ubiquitous as diamond rings at the two pawn shops.

    Pawnshop 2

    A sign over the door blared “Money to Loan.” It was an old shop, family-owned since 1927, long before Atlantic City became a casino town in 1978. The manager – who’d been there for 40 years, starting at age 13 sweeping the floor – mentioned that its customers were third- and fourth-generation.

    This shop was not as tight as the first one, wider, with a warmer atmosphere. It had guitars – the most expensive a Fender for around $750 – and picks, along with the standard diamond rings that I glanced at when I walked in.

    As soon as I looked up from them, I saw an item that was more my style: An antique typewriter in a wooden case. I instantly started oohing over it and had to take a closer look. The typewriter had a name I was unfamiliar with – Blickensderfer – and was starkly built, nothing fancy. The shop had a $395 price tag on it, much too much for me to pay for it.

    The name of the typewriter and its maker are prominently displayed.

    Inside was a sheet printed from an website dating the typewriter to 1906, made by a company out of Stamford, Conn., and selling for $70 at the time.

    The manager said the typewriter had been there for a while – he didn’t remember how long – and he didn’t remember who had left it. He said the shop keeps an item for four months, then sends the owner a reminder. After then, the stuff is put up for sale. Some people come in, pay the interest on their items and leave them, he said, adding that 80 percent of people retrieve their property.

    The way it works: You bring in an item, get a loan, pay the interest on the loan plus the loan amount, and then get your item back. 

    Too bad no one came back for the Blickensderfer. I found one that had just sold on eBay for $300.


    The pawn shop's price for the typewriter. One sold on eBay for $300.

    The first of this brand was made in 1893 by George Blickensderfer as competition for the bulkier Remington desk typewriter. The one at the pawnshop was a No. 6, an aluminum version of the No. 5. It was lighter, portable and cheaper, according to Wikipedia, and had a type wheel that was removable and changeable.

    The Blickensderfer typewriters also had a different keyboard layout from the Remington (which used what has become the universal layout – QWERTY, the letters on the second line of most typewriter keys ). On the Blickensderfer, the bottom row has keys that the company felt were most commonly used: DHIATENSOR.

    The bottom row of keys on the Blickensderfer. The designer considered these the most common keys.

    The No. 6 was also called the Featherweight Blick.

    The typewriter wasn’t the only relic in the shop. A heavy brass cash register made by the National Cash Register Co. was on the counter (I’d come across those at auction before). High up on a wall were several old rifles. Not for sale, the manager noted.

    No one was in the shop looking to buy or seeking a loan while I was there, but several people were looking at the rings in the window before I came in. The manager said that businesss had not picked up because of the economy. It’s about even, he explained.

    That was a far cry from the news stories I found on the web. A CNN story in August noted that some small business owners were turning to pawnshops for loans to pay their employees. A Nov. 27 story by the Associated Press stated that more people were turning to pawnshops, and that TV shows like Pawn Stars were making the industry more mainstream. The National Pawnbrokers Association said high unemployment, and the increase in gold and metal prices had led to an upswing in pawn-shop business, according to the news story. 

    That’s all well and good, but if you stop by this shop, you should not bring laptops (no interest in them) but you should heed this sign on the wall:

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