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American Pickers: Tapping Into the Recession

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american pickers

The History Channel has a runaway hit with American Pickers, judging from the commercial sponsors who signed up for the brand new season, which started this week.

Mike Wolfe owns a shop called Antique Archaeology. From his home base in LeClaire, Iowa, he travels the back roads of America with friend Frank Fritz. The men fan out across the country in a white van, looking for hidden treasure: a headlight from a Model T, funky industrial lights, an old jukebox covered with dust.

The two buddies search basements, attics, barns, and even the yards of strangers, prospecting for “rusty gold.” Perky, heavily-tattooed Danielle Colby Cushman holds down the fort while ferreting out leads. The two prospectors specialize in automotive or motorcycle parts and commercial signs, but Mike has a soft spot for vintage bikes — the first “trash” he recovered as a boy — and Frank specializes in toys and movie posters.

The men offer cash for the treasures they find and resell at twice the cost in Wolfe’s Iowa shop. Antique Archaeology “picks” have been so successful that Mike was able to open a second shop in Nashville last season. Of course, it helps being on television, too. People have begun to recognize the Antique Archaeology stars, and the New York Times did a piece on Mike a year ago.

The first two shows of the new season have featured Mike’s brother Robbie, rather than Frank, who is supposedly “sick.” Or, could he be demanding a higher cut of the profits? If so, I hope his quest is successful.  It’s surely a combination of their companionship and Mike’s go-getter charm that has made American Pickers attract such a wide audience, but no doubt the recession plays a role, too.

For a couple years, the show has offered an online store. From the lack of T-shirts in sizes large and extra-large, I deduce that most fans are male. What man wouldn’t want to cruise from state to state this way in search of vintage Indian motorcycles?

We never see Mike stop for the night at motels, and it’s rare that he gets filmed eating dinner in a local restaurant. Prospecting for useful junk isn’t easy work, but Mike makes it look like fun.

Watching American Pickers is like participating in a gigantic treasure hunt. As a recent headline stated, “Shows Tap into Recession-Fueled Fantasies that Our Old Stuff is Worth a Small Fortune.” After most episodes, Mike rides off into the sunset, the van packed with items for resale. He claims to have the best job in the world.

“I get to travel the country, constantly meet new people,” he says. “Almost every day, I get to experience the magic feeling that comes when I pick something truly amazing.” That’s the life!

Alexandra Grabbe

Alexandra Grabbe is a longtime blogger and innkeeper on Cape Cod. She’s also a fierce warrior of healthy living and the impact of toxic chemicals on our lives. Follow her on Twitter at @chezsven and check out her site, Wellfleet Today for terrific photos and insightful stories about life on the Outer Cape.

Alexandra Grabbe has written posts on Reel Life With Jane.


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10 comments

  1. Brette Sember

    My son loves this show and I watch it with him sometimes. I have to say, I always feel like the sellers are getting ripped off. It’s fun to see the stuff they find though.

  2. My husband watches this show, but I don’t see the value. Who wants more junk in their house?

  3. I love the fun concept of this show; never heard of it before now.

  4. I love this show, especially seeing what kinds of stuff they will find next.

  5. I think we have “picking” in our blood. We’re treasure hunters here, so while I don’t watch much TV, I do find that when my husband and son (who LOVE the show) have it on, I tend to get sucked in. ;)

  6. Never seen it, but it is good to hear about people using old items instead of sticking them in a landfill.

  7. It’s a really cool show and I love the idea of turning trash into something useful.

  8. I’m with Brette–I feel bad that at the end they do a tally of how much they got for the stuff versus what they’re going to sell it for. I do enjoy hearing the stories from the people they visit with when they’re on the road.

  9. Jennifer Margulis

    Never watched it. Sounds like fun!

  10. This is a new one for me. I do love the idea of it — and watching the chase, though.

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