The Oldest Pawnshop in the Country Started by Collecting Garbage

And now, Tambunting is collecting your gold.
IMAGE Tambunting

The year was 1890, and Don Ildefonso Tan Bunting was operating horse-drawn carriages that collected garbage from Manila’s busiest districts. The government paid him five centavos for every can he collected.

But at the time, the city of Manila was almost bankrupt because of the poor economy in the colony. It began to owe Tan Bunting so much money, that it was unable to pay him in cash. Striking a deal with Tan Bunting, Manila’s gobernadorcillo agreed to give the garbage collector the vast tracts of marshlands of Divisoria, Tondo, Malabon, and Navotas, according to the history page of Tambunting.

In 1896, Doña Filomena Concepcion de Tan Bunting, wife of Don Ildefonso, with the help of the money derived from their new estate, began to realize her dream of setting up a pawnshop. She was driven by her passion and love of jewelry. The couple named their pawnshop Agencia de Empeños, the first private lending institution in the Philippines. At that time, only the Catholic Church was the other organization that lent money to Filipinos through the Monte de Piedad, the first savings bank in the country.

Being the only private lending institution in Manila, the business quickly grew and acquired many patrons. The business survived the Spanish-American War in the Philippines. By 1906, the Tan Bunting couple decided to incorporate the business under the official name Casas Agencias de Empeños de Tanbunting. Note the spelling of Tanbunting, which is derived from the couple’s surname.

In the few years that followed, the Tanbunting pawnshop expanded with new branches in Sta. Cruz, Sampaloc, Sta. Ana, and along the historic Azcarraga Street. For more than 30 years, the five branches would flourish and be recognized as the most trustworthy lender in the country, thanks to the family’s particular care in its commitment to service, integrity, and trust.


Changing the Name From Tanbunting to Tambunting

In 1932, the Tan Bunting couple’s second youngest son Antonio took interest in the pawnshop business. With guidance from his father Don Ildefonso, Antonio opened a sixth branch of the family business in San Juan.

During this time, the pawnshop had already become a mispronounced household name among Filipinos, and that’s why, when Antonio opened the sixth store, he decided to name it Casas Agencias de Empeños de Tambunting. This minor change from Tanbunting to Tambunting proved to be the most significant in the company that would carry on up to this day.

Tambunting Pawnshop During World War II

World War II left the country in shambles. Every inch of Manila was destroyed in a bloody, brutal battle that killed at least 100,000 civilians when the Americans liberated it from the Japanese.

According to the history page of Tambunting, many businesses refused to operate during the war because they wanted to avoid transacting with the Japanese-backed money in the Philippines, which became known as Mickey Mouse Money because it was like play money—it had no value. All transactions at the time were made through a system of barter. People exchanged their gold and silver for food.

For this reason, Tambunting had to remain open, but only to give back to the people all the riches they had pawned so they could barter them. The pawnshop accepted the play money in exchange for people’s pawned treasures, knowing the money would soon be devaluated. People flocked to all six branches of Tambunting, and within days, what was left in its vaults were unredeemed pieces of jewelry from dead people and a lot of Mickey Mouse Money. It was the most heroic service of the pawnshop to the Filipino people. The family effectively lost the business’ entire capital.

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It would take 15 years for Antonio to rebuild that capital. Finally, in 1960, he was able to raise enough money to reopen his pawnshop, this time, serving not only cities in Manila, but cities around Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.

Tambunting Today

Today, Tambunting has come a long way from collecting garbage to collecting gold and more. It now has more than 1,000 branches across the country, and continues to expand. Aside from its pawnshop business, it also has remittance services, jewelry auctions, money changers, bills payments services, loading services, and even airline ticketing services that cater to all local airlines.

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About The Author
Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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