Saturday, April 9, 2011

For Love or Money? My American Pickers Post

American Pickers (TV show) Mike Wolfe
Don't be too dazzled by Mike's matinee idol good looks. He's after your grandmother's ring collection for $2.

As a thrifter and lover of old timey treasures, you'd think I would have been following American Pickers from the get-go. Not so. I'd heard about it, but could never find it on the TV dial, until last night when I stumbled upon the History Channel. I guess I never watch the History Channel. If you're living abroad and not sure of what it is, American Pickers is a show that follows two funny guys around the sheds and storage facilities in America, looking for cool, old junk that they can sell in their antique store back in Iowa. If you're interested in Americana and vintage goodies, it's required viewing. Still, I found that my heart broke a little when I watched Mike and Frank offer an old widow rock bottom prices for treasures her husband had collected. They were practically rubbing their hands together as they loaded the van and drove off, calculating how much profit they could make. Sure, they've got the expenses of running a business and they're trying to make a living. Also, some of the sellers they encounter ask extortion prices for their decaying ephemera... but still, it's pretty cut-throat. I for one could not bring myself to not buy something that I love and want to keep.
Here is the perfect example of an old treasure that I'll never part with. My father is a real collector and he recently gave me this very old whistle. It's got the classic whistle shape and it's sturdy enough to survive a nuclear explosion.
Here's the best part. My father's Australian and look where it's from: Sydney, Australia. I love it. I'll have to ask him how how it came to him. How could I ever sell something like this?
It's called Aussie Thriller and if you look closely, you can still see the old cork ball inside.
On the other side of the love or sell debate, here are some vintage souvenir tea towels I bought at a garage sale in my neighbourhood a few years ago. The seller wanted $5 for each. It seemed a little steep given that it was a garage sale. You could tell she was a Martha Stewart-type who had done her research. "They're worth a lot more than that. They're collector's items." I'm loath to haggle over prices. I'm a take it or leave it woman. When you see how charming they are, you'll see why I gave her $10 for the pair. They make me happy. One day, I'll press these towels and mount them in frames.
I wish pickers would leave garage sales and thrift stores alone for the lovers, but it's a free world.

Anyway, I'll still keep on collecting for the love of it. I have no intention of ever opening up an antique store. For those of you who are amassing a collection of old things in your basement or garage, dust them off and enjoy them before it's too late. One day you'll be dead and the pickers will come-a-knocking.

american pickers
Despite my mixed feelings about the way these guys do business, AP is a highly watchable show, so check your local listings. The History Channel has several episodes on AP's page. Canadian Pickers is starting this Tuesday. Ironically, the Canadian Picker guys look more American than the American guys, who describe themselves as "a couple of hayseeds from Iowa." The Canadians look like stand-ins from Bonanza.

Hosts Scott (left) and Sheldon (right) in picker heaven

Above: the Canadian Pickers. See, I told you they look like they're from Texas. This show is coming soon to a TV station near you - at least in Canada.


  1. You might like the film Please Give with Catherine Keener. She owns a second-hand store in Manhattan and begins to question her methods of purchasing items for the store - basically buying from the relatives of recently dead old people.

  2. Great post Erin. I've never seen the show, but I see how that premise might make me a bit uncomfortable too. The only problem I have is that sometimes I just buy too much stuff, and don't know what to do with it. I've had a few people contact me, asking me to sell them an item they've seen on my blog. I'm ok with that, especially when sometimes I have regrets about buying something, etc., and I need room for the other "new" things I've thrifted.

    Anyhow, first and foremost I thrift because I love it, but I also appreciate that I can go onto the big auction site and buy something I've been pining for. I love rescuing things from the thrift store that are neglected. I found a great item recently with a fresh chip on it! How sad is that!? Please, thrift store employees, handle the items carefully....!

  3. Great post! I thrift because I love finding unique and special items. I haven't given much thought to the business behind it, but lately I have been noticing how out of hand prices seem to be getting. Sometimes it seems a bit greedy to me.

  4. I enjoy American Pickers from time to time. I never thought they were cutthroat. If anything I've thought they were very gentle with the sellers and collectors, not pushy. They usually ask "what would you like to sell it for?" and will just say "I think I'll pass" if the price isn't right. Looking forward to Canadian Pickers! I wonder if we Canadians have good junk??

  5. I love to watch the show for the treasures I can see and what do people collect. But I am so disgusted of the way they use the good people. Sorry for the way I expressed myself. You should here what I have to say about them in french! I will be checking in for those look like Canadian guys!

  6. I watched a few episodes of American Pickers but I don't watch it anymore because I seriously think they are taking advantage of vulnerable adults. :( Thanks for validating my feelings.

  7. I don't really know what to make of them. They do have a business to run and a lot of overhead, I suppose you can argue that the owners of the "treasures" don't have the motivation or the skill to sell the stuff themselves and they really can't be enjoying it stashed away where nobody, even themselves can enjoy it, so the pickers may as well get it moved along AND make a profit.
    ................but is a little sad.

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  9. Oh, the tea towels are fabulous!

  10. Wow can't believe they're going to have a Canadian version of the show, as an American I think it will be more interesting, mainly because it will be a glimpse into another 'culture' versus seeing a similar scenario over and over again on AP.

  11. I can see the attraction to your dad's whistle. Those are the things that speak to me as well. Sometimes I think Mike and Frank ofer crazy money for rusty pieces of junk and an amazed they believe they can (and do) find buyers willing to pay more. I need to find just one of those buyers a month! For me the thrill is the hunt and the history, not the resale value.
    But I do know I have similar vintage tea towels (not Martha) from my aunt. Silly me, I used them.

    Oh- and those Canadians are not letting us foreigners see their show or read their blogs!

  12. i watched the first episode of american pickers on netflix and i have not watched it again. i couldn't stand how they treated all these older people! maybe i got a bad first impression, but i won't watch again.

  13. I too have always felt more sad and upset when I watch that show. As a matter of fact I had to stop for that very reason. I always felt that they were rippin off old people,who were alone and really having no idea what they had and it's worth. I think how awesome it would be to get to drive around allday and hunt for treaures wth an unlimied budget.

  14. Great Post. And I like your FP radio at the header..i had one of those as a child :D

    Anyways.. youare TOTALLY on point about Am pickers taking advantage. It's also a suspect show in terms of positioning and editing. But that's normal. BUT I am surprised they still represent themselves as total greedy scumbags at times. Moreso..the guy you say has the "good looks" (which I disagree..he's a pencil neck X*X**) The fat sidekick guy is harmless. He's for the comedy relief -or something like that. I want to strangle the skinny guy when he sits there and acts like he's on some sort of micro budget. He's got a full time "girl" back in the store (The cool factor that dials into the hipster sect) I'm sure (if she's really an employee) she does tons of the research and has the first hand knowledge..she wasn't on the early episodes. You have to have the Female balance on TV of course. :D - So yeah they stab some of these people right on their own property and as I was saying..why do they act like they need to nickle and dime? History channel should show us their bank balances..and if they are doing this on credit..then why do they have a show? And onto the Canadian Pickers...Scott is the upfront guy, and Sheldon is the Nice Guy sidekick. You Sheldon frequently getting along with others because he's not a Smiling bully- I'd like to know the history of Scott moreso.. he's obviously not poverty stricken and when someone asks a certain price that he disagrees with he says "where'd you get that number from?" well that's up to the seller, not the buyer to Re-seller. They are honest make that clear that they "need to resell) and if this was the case I would jack the price up for these morons. IT's an odd situation History promotes and it's making the free flowing world of picking more prickely. Well Ebay did damage big time too..I buy and collect on a small scale, I deal with bullys even at Thrift stores who are obvious pickers. Sometimes I play little mind games with them and it's hilarious. I'm no spring chicken, but I'm not a grabby greedy either. Recent story is I came across a Electrohome "Saturn" turntable unit, and was just testing it in store. I'm 38 yrs old and this Baby Boomer guy came over and was all "that sounds like crap" but he had a weird look on his face. About 10 minutes later, while I was deciding to buy it for my Girlfriend, (it was $20.00) He came back and offered me $50.00 to buy it . I KNEW IT. He tried to deceive me so he could get his mits on it. That's the boldest move I have had in a while and he wasn't a poor man. He wanted to flip it obviously because later on I did research on it and since it was in perfect shape with the little metal speakers and non cracked dome, it's worth $600. I have to laugh. ANd those guys from Canadian Pickers, they are from Alberta. The most cut-throat-american like province in Canada. This is why they look like an exaggerated American of days gone by.


About Me

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I'm a slightly off-beat Toronto-area teacher who enjoys writing and photography. I come from a family of collectors and now I'm dragging my own family around to yard sales. It's just a bit of fun. Enjoy the scenes.