Pawning for a revolution

From Russia Today, a somewhat hard to follow but very detailed look back a hundred years to the days when you could pawn your way into an earth-changing revolution.

The occasion is the hundredth anniversary of the failed Irish rebellion against England. Russian revolutionaries at the time regretted that the Irish were “premature” but also took the outbreak as a portent of a soon-to-begin world-circling wave of revolutions.


Trotsky and Lenin proved to be poor prophets in this case — there wasn’t a world wave of successful revolutions but the some of the Irish did gain their independence. However, this ais ablog about pawns, so we are more interested in the pawn transaction.

The Bolsheviks had taken over the Romanov jewelry and were broke but they had a hard time converting it into dollars. Plenty of people would have taken the jewels but the paper money of many countries was suspect around 1918.

The Irish rebels — not yet free — had raised $5 million in cash in the United States so they were in a position to lend on security — a pawn transaction, crown jewels for $20,000 cash.

It was hardly enough to sustain a revolution but it helped. The story gets somewhat bizarre. The pawn was informal and since the rebels didn’t have a treasury to place the jewels in, one of them gave them to his mum, who kept them under her dresss — described as the safest place in Ireland at that time.

Eventually, in 1948, the jewels were sent back to the USSR and the Irish government got its principal back, without interest. There had been inflation in the interim, but the government of Eire got something that was probably worth forgoing interest — at a time when no other country would do so, the USSR treated Eire as a sovereign state.

Nowadays it couldn’t happen. At least not the same way. There are laws against raising money for “terrorists” and crown jewels are rarer than they used to be. Today’s revolutions are financed with diamonds, but just raw ones, or oil; it is unlikely that you can pawn your way to power any more.