Monday, May 24, 2010

Pickers and Pawners

The History Channel is branching out. No longer is it enough to show Hitler documentaries and profiles on our American presidents (usually during President's Day weekend or July 4). They have expanded to shows about pawn shops and junk collectors. One such program is called American Pickers, which I suppose is to highlight the American part and appeal to historians because these guys go around picking trash for a profit.
There are two aspects to the program that are interesting. One is the idea that people collect things in their homes and garages, and it sits there for some reason or another. The Pickers guys come along and offer money for it in the hopes of restoring it and re-selling it at a profit. That's where the American part comes in.
The other aspect is the extent to which we (you) retain the junk of our (your) past. In the show I saw tonight, a guy had a house full of old cigar cutters, big-wheel bicycles and advertising signs doing nothing but collecting dust in his basement. He was reticent to part with most of it. The show doesn't go into the reasons. They're only interested in buying what they can and making the most profit possible from it.
At first, it seems like the pickers are taking advantage of the hoarders. Maybe they are, but one wonders why they're hoarding the stuff in the first place. Why would someone hold onto a collection of old light bulbs or Harley Davidson catalogs? My motto is, if it has sat long enough that I haven't looked at it in over a year, I'm not getting any benefit from having it around. Out it goes.
The other group that amazes me are the people who come into the pawn shop on Pawn Stars. They have a valuable piece of Americana and they have decided to sell it to a pawn shop in Las Vegas for half of its value. When the pawn shop owner has an expert come in to tell the seller what the item is worth, there is usually an expression of amazement, as though the seller had no idea that the Revolutionary War bond he was peddling was worth the same amount as the car he drove to the pawn shop.
There is a psychological aspect to these programs that goes beyond their face value. These are people who kept things from their past and either had no idea of its worth or no intention of parting with it until the right TV show came along. They are both entertaining programs, but I can't help but wonder why the sellers allow themselves to be exploited.
A guy came into the pawn shop and sold an old Seeburg jukebox for a few hundred dollars. The pawn shop sent it to a local restoration house and had it restored, and sold it for three times what they bought it for. Why didn't the original owner do that? Part of me feels badly for the sellers because they are being taken advantage of by the pickers and pawners. They are obviously lured by the quick buck and can't be bothered with the effort involved in restoring something that has value, preferring to sell a worn out piece of junk rather than restore it themselves and sell it for a bigger profit.
American Pickers and Pawn Stars fall under the category of "reality TV," and I suppose the reality part is that people are generally lazy, and if you're hungry enough, the lure of a quick buck will supersede the inherent value in the item you're selling. That's a harsh dose, right there. Let a couple of guys raid your garage for old gas station signs and bicycles or allow someone to sell a piece of American history for pennies on the dollar and you too can have your own TV show, proclaiming it to be part of "History."
But what is it, in reality?


Anonymous said...

I don't think 1/2 or 1/3 is unreasonable. The seller has expertise, connections to sell the items and overhead to cover.

Some of the collectors on American Pickers seem to have hoarding issues, but when they pass away, their heirs will give the items away to get rid of it.

You need to watch Hoarders on A&E and add that to the equation.

I enjoyed your post. Mark

Anthony said...

I thought about adding "Hoarders" to the mix, but in my view, those people have psychological issues to overcome. Collecting memorabilia and collecting trash in your house are two different things.

Still, with the resources available today (ebay, etc.) people with something valuable have the ability to do a little research and either sell the item themselves or consign it to an auction house or donate it to a museum (for a tax break). Any of those are preferable to running to a pawn shop, in my opinion.

They're giving up half of their profit for the convenience of letting someone else do the work.