American Pickers ** The History Channel

One man’s junk is another man’s livelihood

The History Channel appeals to my inner history geek, particularly when it features history that wasn’t taught when I was in high school which generally means anything after World War Two.

But my new favorites on the HC don’t have anything to do with wars or blowhard dictators attempting world domination. “American Pickers” and “Pawn Stars” are concerned with that most American of values—making a buck. The common denominator for both shows is that almost any piece of anything can have a selling price but they differ in how those pieces of anything are found to be sold in the first place.

The pickers, Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz, run a company in Le Claire, Iowa called Antique Archaeology and they cruise various parts of the country looking for antiques and other collectibles to resell to various entities such as prop houses, interior decorators, and other dealers. They truly have a talent for seeing the potential in something that is usually a mess. In their travels to purchase things for resale, they meet packrats/hoarders/sellers who usually have interesting tales to share of their lives and how all that stuff ended up on their properties in the first place.

Their missions take them to the back roads and rural parts of America. Sometimes they get the door shut in their faces and are told to get off the property. But most of the time, they find treasure where they land.

Driving around and coming across a property filled with what most people would consider trash and junk is, for them, “freestyle picking.” A typical trip is their stumbling upon the farm in Georgia, occupied by what seemed like a million cars, owned by a man who said the property has been in his family for several generations. Mike and Frank struck gold in the barn and several of the sheds—unopened for 30 years—which contained locally made pottery and stoneware that the pickers later sold to a collector, reaping a healthy profit on their purchase. The Georgia seller said that he liked Mike and Frank and sold to them because “they seemed like my kind of people.”

Therein lies the key to their success with their sellers: they take a genuine interest in how the collectors accumulate their treasures. And the admiration is mutual: One potential seller even said that “their job seems fantastic to get to see all the people, and all the things that they get to see, would almost be a dream job.”

It becomes a win-win situation for everyone when the sellers decide to part with their goods. A couple of hours with Mike and Frank can be hours well spent because they often make a couple of hundred or even a couple of thousand dollars in an afternoon that they otherwise wouldn’t have. But some of the collectors remain true to their hoarder/packrat nature and cling to their stuff, reluctant to sell even with a tempting offer on the table.

So now if you’ve ever wondered how some of that stuff gets to antique stores and swap meets in the first place, this show answers that burning question.  Guys like Mike and Frank find it, buy it, and resell it. I’m not so sure that they are saving American history one piece at a time as the tagline of their show says but they are showing that picking through other people’s stuff is a real profession and can be a real moneymaker with the side benefits of recycling and cleaning out someone’s house one piece at a time.

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