Mont-de-Piété celebrates 400 years in Brussels

Few institutions exist for 400 years. And yet, the Brussels Mount of Piety was founded in 1618. Throughout 2018, the city of Brussels will celebrate Mount of Piety’s 400th anniversary.

The Mount of Piety is an institutional pawnbroker run as a charity in Europe from Renaissance times till today. This organization is also referred as Monte di Pietà (Italian), Mont-de-Piété (French) or Monte de Piedad (Spanish). The Mont-de-Piété is one the most ancient official and financial institution of Belgium.

The first steps

In 1462, the first recorded Mont-de-Piété was founded in Perugia. Between 1462 and 1470, an estimated forty more were developed. The Franciscan Marco di Matteo Strozzi preached about the benefits of a “Monte di Pietà” in combating usury. He left a set of memoirs that outlined his goal to rid the city of Jewish money lenders and to replace them with Christian pawn shops which allowed the poor to acquire cheap credit.

Portrait of Wenceslas Cobergher
Portrait of Wenceslas Cobergher

The Brussels Mont-de-Piété was founded in 1618 by Wenceslas Cobergher, a Flemish renaissance painter and architect, who went on to establish fifteen such institutions in different towns in the Spanish   Netherlands in the years between 1618 and 1633, financed by the provision of annuities in return for the direct capital investment. Prior to this date, the provision of consumer credit was largely in the hands of Lombards whose loans were at high rates of interest.

Mont-de-Piété still active in 2018

In 2018, the Brussels Mont-de-Piété is considered as a public institution with a strong social character which aims at granting loans against pledge of movable property and value. It also organizes exhibitions and public sales. Mont-de-Piété has, first of all, a social role which prevents it from having a lucrative goal.

In Belgium, the pawnbroker profession is, by law, a monopoly reserved to the Mont-de-Piété and the holding of private pawnbroker house is severely punished by law. (Penal Code sections 306 & 307).

Today, the Mont-de-Piétè is a lending institution accessible to all, offering a credit system that does not exist anywhere else. “Since the 2008 crisis, conventional credit became less accessible to everyone. The lower classes, as well as the middle class, are finding it increasingly difficult to borrow. Here, the credit system is based solely on the object brought and not on the other guarantees that the person can bring. We lend to anyone, provided that the object can guarantee the loan, ” explained the director of the Mont-de-Piété, Etienne Lambert. “We lend a maximum based on our own funds, we have a social mission. We are doing micro-credit, the idea is to offer an accessible offer allowing everyone to make a profit ” he concluded.

director of Mont-de-Piété, Etienne Lambert
Etienne Lambert, Director of Mont-de-Piété in Brussels
If the depositor fails to fulfill his obligations or if he gives the order to sell his goods, the goods are sold at a public auction. The catalog of these goods is available on the website of the Mont-de-Piété.

There are two types of public sales:

  • ordinary sales: thirty sales per year, on Tuesdays at 1 pm, the goods are exhibited the morning of the sales (from 10 am until noon)
  • special sales: about five sales per year, with the finest goods, on Saturdays from 1 pm, the goods are exhibited on the Thursday and Friday before the sales (from 10 am to 3 pm) and the morning of the sale (from 10 am until noon)

Schedule of celebrations for 2018:

  • 20 April to 22 June 2018. Exhibition From stone to jewel and jewel making contest (contest open to students of social promotion education)
  • 19 June 2018. Collecting objects for Télévie charity and large barbecue