Sandburg's Hometown

February 16, 2015

Charles Gumbiner, 1857-1925 - Gumbiner's Pawn Shop, Galesburg, IL

Gumbiner's Pawn Shop

by Barbara Schock

During the nineteenth century, music was a favorite pastime. People joined singing groups, enjoyed band concerts in the parks, went to the theater to hear orchestras and played the piano at home.

Carl Sandburg was interested in music too. He tried many kinds of musical instruments as well as singing four-part songs with his friends in the Dirty Dozen gang. He cut his own willow whistle and tapped out rhythm with a pencil held between his teeth. A ten-cent kazoo allowed him to imitate other sounds. He enjoyed making music on an ocarina he had purchased for fifteen cents at Gumbiner's Pawn Shop. The banjo he constructed from a cigar box and wire was never able to hold a tune. He tried his father's accordion, but it wheezed because of old age.

He also bought a two-dollar banjo from Gumbiner's Pawn Shop. Willis Calkins, a member of the Dirty Dozen, taught him chords. Three lessons on the banjo at a quarter each were all he could manage with his slender means.

The Gumbiner pawnshop was the only one in Galesburg. It was located on Main Street between Kellogg and Seminary. The array of watches for sale was something to behold. There were guns of all kinds, hunting knives, brass knuckles and slung shots. Clothing and household items were also for sale. Many kinds of musical instruments were on display as well. The ocarina was Carl's favorite musical instrument until he bought the banjo.

It was said a railroad engineer would never pawn his Waltham watch unless he was drunk and wanted to get more drunk. It was suspected the Waltham watches in Gumbiner's display case came from a pickpocket who had practiced his craft far from Galesburg.

Pawn lending has been a business for at least 3000 years. It is a way for people of limited means to borrow money for a short length of time, usually a month, on items they own. During the hard times of the 1890s, many of the poorly paid residents of Galesburg had to make use of Gumbiner's services. A dollar loan on a coat, an umbrella, a saw or a couple of books may have been the bridge that kept a family together. Thus, the pawn shop, or loan office, as it was sometimes called, provided a necessary service, although not one that was held in esteem. Still, Charles Gumbiner was regarded as an honest man.

He was born in Poland on March 30, 1857, and came to America as a teenager. He first settled in Utica, New York, then at Elmwood and later moved to Galesburg in 1893. In the late 1890s the Gumbiner family lived at 89 Blaine Avenue.

When the elder Gumbiner died on August 10, 1925, the newspaper was very discreet in describing the pawn shop as a general merchandise store. Mr. Gumbiner was a member of the Son of Judah synagogue, the Modern Woodmen of America and the Knights of Pythias. He was buried in Brookside Cemetery. The services were conducted by Rabbi Bottingheimer of Peoria.

His oldest son, Herbert, was a clerk in the Chicago Bargain Store as it was identified in the 1898 Galesburg City Directory. He may have been the clerk of whom Sandburg wrote “He seemed to wind himself up and then let go on his spiel and he didn't have to oil himself.”


Sandburg's Hometown
Date Title
February 16, 2015  Gumbiner's Pawn Shop 
February 9, 2015 White Bread
February 2, 2015 The Monarch Club
January 26, 2015 The Silver Dollar
January 19, 2015 The Fulton County Narrow Gauge Railway
January 12, 2015 The Four Corners
December 22, 2014 Swedish Christmas
December 8, 2014 Christmas 1878
December 1, 2014 Bunker Boots & Shoes
November 24, 2014 Galesburg, Illinois
November 17, 2014 It was Buffalo Bill's Day
November 10, 2014 The Election of 1896 (A follow-up story)
November 3, 2014 The Election of 1896 (continued)
October 27, 2014 The Election of 1896
October  24, 2014 The Rissywarn
October 20, 2014 The Parlor Stove
October 13, 2014 Ashes to Ashes
October 6, 2014 Jesse James
Sept. 29, 2014 Lester T. Stone, Public Servant
Sept. 22, 2014 It's Who You Know
Sept 15, 2014 Mother of the Illinois Flag
Sept 8, 2014 The Scissors Grinder
Sept 1, 2014 Baseball
August 25, 2014 Howard K. Knowles, Capitalist
August 18, 2014  Alcoholic Beverages
August 11, 2014 Soda Water
August 4, 2014 Sweet Corn
July 28, 2014 Marching Through Georgia
July 21, 2014 The Knox County Fair
July 14, 2014 The Panic of 1893
July 7, 2014 The Rev. T. N. Hasselquist
June 30, 2014 The Knox County Courthouse
June 23, 2014 The Family Photograph Album
June 16, 2014 Parades
June 9, 2014 Lingonberries
June 2, 2014 Where We Live
May 26, 2014 Old Main
May 19, 2014 Rhythms of the Railroad
May 12, 2014 Spring Tonic
May 5, 2014 The Milkmen
April 28, 2014 Gray's "Elegy..."
April 21, 2014 Off to War
April 14, 2014 Swedish Easter
April 7, 2014 A Father's Face
March 31, 2014 Secret Societies
March 24, 2014 George A. Murdock, Merchant
March 10, 2014 Trade Cards
March 3, 2014 The Demorest Medal
February 24, 2014 Rip Van Winkle
February 17, 2014 Cabbage Soup
February 10, 2014 Lincoln's Birthday
February 3, 2014 4  The Colonel
January 27, 2014 The Lincoln Penny - A Little History
January 20, 2014 Walking to Work
January 13, 2014  A Small Abode
January 6, 2014 Birth of a Poet
December 30, 2013 Christmas 1880
December 23, 2013 Swedish Christmas
December 16, 2013 The Reporter Sees Santa
December 9, 2013 The Coming of Christmas
December 2, 2013 The Fire Boys Talk
November 25, 2013 Galesburg Will Feast on Turkeys and Cranberries - Thanksgiving 1893
November 18, 2013 Mary Sandburg Johnson
November 11, 2013 Carl Sandburg's Bicycle
November 4, 2013 Lace Curtains
October 28, 2013 The Front Room
October 21, 2013 A Warm Breakfast
October 14, 2013 Marion D. Shutter
October 7, 2013 Cigars and Consumption
September 30, 2013 Forrest F. Cooke & August Sandburg
September 16, 2013 Forrest F. Cooke, Mayor
September 9, 2013 Dusty Streets
September 2, 2013 Typhoid Fever
August 26, 2013 Coffee and Water
August 19, 2013 A Horse! A Horse!
August 12, 2013 Gaddial Scott
August 5, 2013 The Racetrack
July 29, 2013 John Peter Algeld - Part II
July 22, 2013 John Peter Altgeld - Part I
July 15, 2013 Tramps, Tramps, Tramps
July 8, 2013 Lady Liberty
July 1, 2013 Galesburg's Fourth
June 24, 2013 John H. Finley
June 17, 2013 The World's Columbian Exhibition
June 10, 2013 Fruit Short-Cake
June 3, 2013 Horatio Alger, Author
May 27, 2013 Memorial Day, 1887
May 20, 2013 Professor Jon W. Grubb
May 13, 2013 Beginnings of Lombard University
May 6, 2013 Young Sandburg’s View of Lombard College
April 29, 2013 Thinking
April 22, 2013 Robert Colville, Master Mechanic
April 15, 2013 The Galesburg Opera House
April 8, 2013 Grocery Stores and Sample Rooms
April 1, 2013  A Hearty  Breakfast 
March 25, 2013  The Lost Wallpaper Legend 
March 18, 2013 Martin G. Sandburg
March 4, 2013 The Edison Talking Machine
February 25, 2013 Joe Elser, Civil War Veteran
February 18, 2013 Remember the Maine...
February 11, 2013 Lincoln's Birthday
February 4, 2013 Curiosity