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April 2011
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One Manís Trash Is Another Manís Treasure
Highlighting the world of collectibles.

You know the old adage. In American Pickers host Mike Wolfe’s case, this turned out to not only be true, but to be the foundation upon which he has built a truly fruitful life.
When Mike was a youngster, a summer day’s boredom and a heap of boyish curiosity led him to dig through other people’s trash where he happened upon a discarded bicycle. Mike cleaned the still functional bike, and showed off his find to a gaggle of neighborhood friends. An interested older kid offered him $5.00 for the bike, which Mike accepted, and consequently launched his career.
Now Mike and childhood chum Frank Fritz are making their living hunting down and reselling antiques and collectibles, and are making groundbreaking television as well. They host History Channel behemoth American Pickers, a show that claimed the title of “number one new non-fiction series among total viewers ages 25+” in 2010. The light-hearted American Pickers follows Wolfe and Fritz both on the road and behind the scenes at Antique Archaeology, Wolfe’s LeClaire, Iowa store. Millions of people tune in each week to watch the pair’s adventures as they pick through mountains of junk in the attics, basements, barns and outbuildings of small-town America – the modern man’s quest for buried treasure.
And they aren’t alone. Similar shows are popping up all over the place: Pawn Stars, Cash and Cari, Oddities and American Restoration are only a few of the popular programs bringing light to this new trend of the picking, repurposing and reaping of estate sale rewards.
Wolfe is pleased that just as he looks for hidden potential in forgotten objects, viewers are examining more closely his little industry. “There's like six other shows on the air, it's like a tsunami of collector's shows,” says Wolfe. “When I was pitching the show for four-and-a-half years, I'm like, ‘This is a hot topic.’ They were like, ‘We love what you do, but no one is going to watch a show about collecting.’"
How wrong “they” were. With today’s daunting unemployment rates, there has been a huge upsurge in the trend of purchasing and reselling vintage items. People are downsizing, liquidating and relocating every day, and more and more viewers are interested in the cold hard cash to be made.
For those looking for a place to start, try your own home, recommends Cari Cucksey of HGTV’s recent resell offering Cash and Cari. “In the States, the average family has about $10,000 worth of treasure waiting to be unearthed right under their noses. People have “piles of money sitting in their homes.”
Perhaps it’s the onslaught of media attention that has helped usher awareness of this trade to the younger generations, which is precisely what television personalities such as Cucksey are going for. “I hope we inspire a younger crowd to start treasure hunting,” she says. “It’s really green.”
While encouraging others to take up the trade, Wolfe and Cucksey are honest about the challenges that come along with the job. Picks can take up to an entire day, and safety is a concern, as some finds can be heavy and dangerous to move. Also to be considered are the fatigue and inherent loneliness that can come with life on the road. The searches and restoration take energy, and the selling process takes patience, but Cucksey hopes that won’t deter anyone. “There is a collector for everything,” she says.
Aside from the potential for profit, Wolfe claims that it’s a deep passion that drives the most devoted pickers, keeps him going when things get tough and inspires his show. “…I was having all of these mind-blowing experiences, meeting these incredible people…I wanted to tell these people’s stories. I was blown away by this. So, I bought a video camera and started documenting this stuff.”
For Wolfe and Cucksey, deep in those piles of stuff lies a wealth of history and the promise of excitement. They claim that those with a real interest in picking should definitely give it a try.
“I love this stuff so much,” states Wolfe. “I love it to the marrow.”


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