The 'stuff' TV shows are made of

I find it fascinating to learn the history of an old table, vase, doll, painting, dish or piece of jewelry and discover its inherent value.

By RUTH BELOFF
December 21, 2013 21:26
Mike Wolf (L) and Frank Fritz of ‘American Pickers'

Mike Wolf (L) and Frank Fritz of ‘American Pickers'. (photo credit: collider.com)

I love things. Pretty things, eclectic things, interesting things. And I love to watch TV. So an ideal combination for me is to watch reality TV shows that deal with things. And there are many.

The grand-daddy of such shows is the British program The Antiques Road Show, in which people bring in their family heirlooms to be appraised by expert evaluators.

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I find it fascinating to learn the history of an old table, vase, doll, painting, dish or piece of jewelry and discover its inherent value.

But today’s shows deal with all manner of items, far beyond the realm of antiquities. One of my favorites is Pawn Stars, which airs on the History Channel. On this show, which is set in Las Vegas, people come in off the street and try to sell their items to pawnbroker Rick Harrison, who runs his store with his father and his son. As Harrison says, “You never know what is going to come through that door.” From Civil War firearms, classic cars and pinball machines to Jimi Hendrix posters, Dinky Toys and original comic books, people bring in their treasures, hoping to make a big score. Again, it is fascinating to learn about the history of these collectible items and to see what kind of monetary value is attached to them. But Harrison is a businessman, so his goal is to acquire the item at a good price so that he can resell it and make a tidy profit. Hence, another intriguing aspect of this show is to watch the Harrisons and the client do the negotiating dance.

One of my favorite examples was when a client was haggling with Rick’s feisty father, whom they call “the old man.” The customers always aim high, and the Harrisons always try to get the price down as low as possible. It was a desirable item, and the customer was lowering his asking price to $7,000. Harrison senior said, “If I give you $7,000, I won’t be able to have my dinner.”

The customer responded, “You give me $7,000, and I’ll buy you dinner.”

He got his price.



The Harrisons also have an arsenal of experts that they bring in whenever they need more verification about an item. Be it a car, an antique book, a toy, a signature or a weapon, a maven on the subject is just a phone call away. One learns that condition is crucial when assessing the value of an item, no matter how old or new it is; and if an older item is still in its original box, that ups the value substantially. The experts also distinguish the phonies from the real deal, and both the pawnbroker and the client are crestfallen when they discover that a supposed prized possession is really a fake.

There is a similar show called Cajun Pawn Stars, but I don’t watch it. I don’t have the patience for that “down home” style and patter, although I’m sure it is also very informative.

Another one of my favorites on the History Channel is American Pickers. Two men from Iowa, Mike Wolf and Frank Fritz, comb the US in their van in search of vintage Americana. Also in the re-sale business, they seek out desirable items that they can take back to their home base and sell at a profit. These guys get down to the nitty gritty and forage through people’s barns, warehouses, attics, basements and junkyards looking for what they call “rusty gold.” Yet again, it is fascinating to see what they come up with and the prices they can fetch for it. From toys, oil cans, hood ornaments and baseball cards to jukeboxes, metal signs, motorcycles and gas pumps, no item is too large or too small for them if it has a collectible aspect to it.

On American Pickers and the two Pawn Stars shows, there are pop-up nuggets of information about the items they are looking at to give the viewer some historical background about the pieces.

In the realm of hidden treasure, Storage Wars or similarly, Storage Hunters on the Discovery Channel, is another interesting show of that ilk. Here, a group of second-hand dealers in the US bid on the contents of unclaimed storage lockers. For each locker, they have five minutes to look inside, then the door is pulled down and the bidding begins. Never really knowing what they’re getting, they take a big risk as they try to outbid each other or take a pass on it. The highest bidder gets to keep everything inside the locker and resell the items, hopefully for a higher total than he or she paid for the locker. Some lockers are real duds, while others do contain some valuable items. It’s fun to see what’s what and the prices the dealers can get.

For example, on a recent show, a dealer bought a locker for $1,200 and found it filled with a digital kiln and glass-blowing equipment that were worth more than $5,000.

And speaking of dealers, the show Design Dealers on the Home+ Channel takes us on a treasure hunt of sorts as we accompany Paul Liengaard and Sarah Brunner on the back roads of Britain as they look for quirky or eclectic items to accessorize the upscale homes or business establishments of their clients. Flea markets, scrap heaps and salvage yards are their domain as they rummage through the refuse, looking for the most unique items that they can refine and refurbish.

Dealers of a different sort are the antiques experts on the British show Secret Dealers. On this program, hosted by the genial Kate Bliss, three dealers are given an hour to ferret through someone’s well-endowed home and leave written bids on the objects of their desire.

The homeowner can then choose to accept or reject the highest offer. Some items they will not part with for any amount of money, while others they gladly agree to sell. Be it furniture, jewelry, artwork, silverware, pottery or glassware, the keen-eyed dealers know a valuable collector’s item when they see one. Meanwhile, the homeowners can tot up a handsome sum for their household items, and it is very interesting to see just what those kinds of items are.

Watching these shows, I regret not having had the foresight to hold on to many of the vintage items that I had from my aunt, my parents and my grandparents, let alone things from my own childhood that have become cultural collectibles. But I do have some interesting stuff, and I wonder what objects the Secret Dealers would tag in my home if they came sniffing around.


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