Lessons from the ‘Pawn Stars’
The History Channel’s highest rated show can teach you a lot about the hidden treasures in your basement.
"Antiques Roadshow" long ago proved that people love to watch the drama of finding hidden treasure in one's own home. If it turned out to be a long lost painting by one of the great masters, it made us all believe we too could have one hiding in the attic. If it turned out to be a forgery, well, we all felt their pain.
Now, pawnshop shows are the new stage for that unfolding drama. The History Channel's highest rated show is "Pawn Stars," about the real-life Las Vegas Gold & Silver pawnshop that is run by the Harrison boys, father Richard (Old Man), his son Rick, Rick's son Corey, and Corey's buddy Chumlee Russell. With a wealth of knowledge between them, the pawnshop has become one of the most successful in Vegas, the place to go when you're looking to sell what you believe is a Lalique, Le Corbusier or Picasso.
"Rick, especially, there's nothing he hasn't seen or read about," says executive producer Matthew Braley. "He never ceases to amaze me personally with the stuff that comes off the top of his head."
* Gallery: 'Pawn Stars': Secrets to pawning success
With the success of Pawn Stars, other item-based reality shows are following. On Sept. 12, the Discovery Channel debuts "Natural Born Dealers," about father-and-son team Jerry and Jeremiah Pasternak, who unearth items in Florida and sell them in Maine, where demand is high, and supply is low. The show is the creation of Toronto producers Proper Television. In the age of the Internet, such shows are a throwback to face-to-face wheeling and dealing — and demand for rare items is hot, say the dealers.
"You'll see some items sell four or five times by the time the show is over," says Jeremiah Pasternak. "We could go out every single day and buy something and we could sell it for double, triple, if not more. It's not like the market is drying up any time soon," he says.
"Most everything has some sort of market. We tell everyone, 'If you have any piece with markings on it, you can research it very easily. And in five minutes, you can know more about that particular item than you can imagine — its history, price and previous auction results. Because with the Internet today, you can know a lot."
Pasternak, who pitched the concept for the show, believes entire networks will one day be devoted to the genre.
"Every group of friends thinks they'll be a great reality show," says producer Braley, laughing. "The guys at Leftfield wanted to do a show about pawnshops in Vegas, and they reached out and found the Harrisons."
They also found that Americans are sitting on a lot of hidden treasure — rare guitars, motorcycles, civil war memorabilia, mid-century toys, jewelry and paintings. In one episode, someone came in with a clump of coins, which turned out to be actual sunken treasure worth about $700,000 or more. Although it was authentic, the Harrisons couldn't afford that kind of payout, and had to decline. Sometimes, valuables make better museum pieces.
"They are taking the risk by taking on that item and giving out the cash for it right away — and they might not get that money back," says Braley. "They don't sell on consignment."
The dealers have to consider the value of the object as well as its marketability. An item could be worth a fortune, but might not find a buyer for years.
"They might be paying a sales guy 12 hours of wages just to show it to people before it sells," he explains.
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