A pledge is a bailment that conveys possessory title to property owned by a debtor (the pledgor) to a creditor (the pledgee) to secure repayment for some debt or obligation and to the mutual benefit of both parties. The term is also used to denote the property which constitutes the security. The pledge is a type of security interest.
Pledge is the pignus of Roman law, from which most of the modern European-based law on the subject is derived, but is generally a feature of even the most basic legal systems. It differs from hypothecation and from the more usual mortgage in that the pledge is in the possession of the pledgee. It is similar, however, in that all three can apply to personal and real property. A pledge of personal property is known as a pawn and that of real property is called an antichresis.
In earlier medieval law, especially in Germanic law, two types of pledge existed, being either possessory (cf. Old English wed, Old French gage, Old High German wetti, Latin pignus depositum), i.e., delivered from the outset, or nonpossessory (cf. OE bād, OFr nam, nant, OHG pfant, L pignus oppositum), i.e., distrained on the maturity date, and the latter essentially gave rise to the legal principle of distraint. This distinction still remains in some systems, e.g. French gage vs. nantissement and Dutch vuistpand vs. stil pand. Token (symbolic) reciprocal pledges were commonly incorporated into formal ceremonies as a way of solidifying agreements and other transactions.
The chief difference between Roman and English law is that certain things (e.g. apparel, furniture and instruments of tillage) could not be pledged in Roman law, while there is no such restriction in English law. In the case of a pledge, a special property passes to the pledgee, sufficient to enable him to maintain an action against a wrongdoer, but the general property, that is the property subject to the pledge, remains in the pledgor.
As the pledge is for the benefit of both parties, the pledgee is bound to exercise only ordinary care over the pledge. The pledgee has the right of selling the pledge if the pledgor fails to make payment at the stipulated time. No title to a third party purchaser is guaranteed following a wrongful sale except in the case of property passing by delivery, such as money or negotiable securities. In all other cases that person must show they are a bona fide purchaser, for (good) value, without notice (BFP). In the case of some types of property as defined on the detailed laws of the jurisdiction such a new possessor (BFP) must have first consulted (before purchase) revealing no other ownership and then made a public notice or registered their title in a court-recognised Register before the pledgor. After a wrongful sale by a pledgee (e.g. where the pledgor has been keeping to his payment schedule and will have the right to redeem the goods if continuing to do so), the pledgor cannot recover the pledge/the value of the pledge without a tender of (full payment of) the amount due (secured under the pledge). This contrasts with the general law of mortgages where most mortgagors can sustain a cause of action (sue) on a wrongful sale to restore the property into their qualified ownership provided they bring any payment arrears up to date — they do not need to redeem the mortgage immediately.
The law of Scotland and the United States generally agrees with that of England as to pledges. The main difference is that in Scotland and in Louisiana a pledge cannot be sold unless with judicial authority. In some of the U.S. states the common law as it existed apart from the Factors Acts is still followed; in others the factor has more or less restricted power to give a title by pledge.
- Joseph Story, Story on Bailments, 286.
- Black, Henry C. (1990). Black's Law Dictionary. St. Paul, Mn.: West Publishing. pp. 1153. ISBN 978-0314151995.
- One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Pledge". Encyclopædia Britannica. 21 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 835.