Recently I had a chance to chat with Mike, one of the two sleuths who entertain us on a weekly basis as they travel the backroads of America on their modern day treasure hunt.
When asked how he got started, Mike explained that he's been doing it since he's been four years old. "I had a single Mom and we couldn't afford a bicycle. One day I was walking on my way to school (we started young back then) and came across a trash bin that had all these bikes in the garbage. I couldn't believe that peope were just throwing all these bikes away. So I started taking them home and I wound up missing school. When Mom came home from work there were about ten bikes in the front yard!"
That was the start of his picking and after that Mike's Mom was always supportive of his love of old stuff. No matter where they lived she gave him the garage to keep his stuff and allowed him to use it as he wanted. Even old pumpkins that people were just throwing out after Halloween. He couldn't believe that folks were just throwing out their Halloween pumpkins, but discovered about two weeks later why they did -- when the pumpkins started getting rotten in the garage!
"I always collected stuff and wanted to discover and dig through junk yards, I loved finding matchbooks that had advertisements on them, looking at the registrations in old junked cars and wondering about the folks who owned them. I used to think that the radios in the old cars would play old music from the car's era. I think picking is not a choice, it's just a part of who you are. My grandfather had it, I have it and one of my nephews has it."
Mike has been picking for years and several years ago decided to buy a video camera to take along on his travels. As he said, he's always loved and collected stories of the collectors he's come across and wanted to document them. "So there I would be driving down the road in the rain. traveling alone and video taping myself, commenting on farms and places as I would drive by them." "After I would talk someone into letting me look through their junk, I would then ask if they would video tape me doing it. Well they would look at me kind of strange and say okay. Often I'd get home, check the tape and found I had an hour of just my feet sticking out of a pile of junk!" These home videos were posted on Mike's Antique Archeology web site and were the idea behind the show that was yet to come -- American Pickers.
One of the many comments that is heard about the show is that it appears there are a lot of old people and perhaps the pickers are taking advantage of them. Mike made it clear that every episode that is filmed has family members and/or friends present. They are not looking for older people, they are looking for old stuff. It's the older people that often have those things. "One of the reasons I started the project is I want the story from the people. I want to hear why they like this toy and what this toy means to them." Mike also reminded me that the bartering seen on TV is new to most people, but it's been going on that way for years, it's just not been shown on TV before. Most shows have just shown the price of an item, not the give and take that goes into purchasing it.
Mike also commented that these folks they are buying from have done the same thing Mike and Frank are doing. They bought their stuff at estate sales, farm auctions, etc and they know what a picker is. Now many of them are at the age where they don't want to keep it anymore. "To me it's kind of insulting that people think that just because a guy is 80 years old he doesn't know what he has or what he is selling. These people are the real treasures that we find. I want viewers to know that -- the people are the treasures."
As any collector knows, appraisals are just that an appraisal of what something might be worth or could sell for. One case in point is a saddle that was on the show that appraised for $5,000. Well, that didn't sell for anywhere near that. Mike tried to sell it on eBay and couldn't, it wound up selling in his shop for $175.
Remember just because an item might appraise for a lot, doesn't mean it will sell for that price or even close to it. Anyone who has sold antiques or collectibles has seen that happen or experienced it themselves.
Next >> Mike's Most Memorable Person
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