The three brass balls are making a comeback

Smellie and Weir's pictured in 1960
Smellie and Weir's pictured in 1960

Shoppers in Falkirk town centre can’t fail to notice the reappearance of a famous sign that was a familiar sight in my childhood years.

The three brass balls of the pawnbroker which vanished in the years of post war plenty are back, first in the Kirk Wynd and more recently above Cash Converters in the High Street.

McCann's in Silver Row next door to the dairy

McCann's in Silver Row next door to the dairy

The sign was once the symbol of the famous Florentine family, the Medici, who were Europe’s greatest merchant bankers from the 15th century on but over the years was adopted everywhere by the pawnbroker.

For those too young to remember he was a man who would offer money in return for goods which would be returned to their owners after repayment of the original cash plus a small premium.

Hard up folks would ‘pop’ their watches, cameras or other valuables with the intention of redeeming them in a week or two.

After three months the item could be forfeited though the owner still had some recompense. After six it was gone and would be sold to the public in the stores which were usually attached to the pawn office.

It was not unusual (or so the story goes) for a wife to pawn her husband’s best suit on a Monday and redeem it after pay day so that he could be in his Sunday best for the Kirk.

In Falkirk there were four pawnbrokers: McCann’s at the top of Silver Row, Montgomery’s in Manor Street, a third
in Wooer Street of which
more later and the most
famous of all, Smellie
and Weir, whose store
stood at the junction of Kerse Lane and Silver Row where the Antonine Hotel is today.

The window was always full of valuable items of jewellery and household goods forfeited by their former owners.

The shop front was quite prominent while the little pawn office was tucked away round the corner in Silver Row.

And now a confession! When I was a student in the early 1960s I used to pawn my guitar in Glasgow’s Bath Street.

Every time I went in the man would ask “What do you want for it?” I’d say: £10. He’d say: £5 ... and when I nodded he would call out to his assistant who wrote out the ticket: “Banjo, £5”. I would say: “It’s a guitar not a banjo” and he’d reply: “They’re a’ the same tae me son.” It happened every time.

The pawn shop in Wooer Street was called The Falkirk Pawnbroking Company and it stood opposite Harry Kirk’s wee gramophone shop.

It was a pretty run down place with a rickety wooden stair up to the cubicles where you met up with the man!

And now my second confession.

When I was really hard up I ‘borrowed’ my brother’s portable typewriter without his permission (I hope he doesn’t read this), smuggled it out of the house and headed down to Wooer Street.

I plucked up the courage to climb the stairs and when I entered the cubicle the pawnbroker shouted “Do you have a receipt for this?”

When I said: No, he told me to leave immediately (the usual short hand version) before he called the Polis.

My legs were shaking so much that I nearly fell down the stairs.

How I managed to smuggle the object back into the house I can’t remember but I did and it has remained my little guilty secret ... until now.

Today as I pass the three brass balls in the High Street the memories come flooding back.

The good old days? Aye that’ll be right.