Review: ‘License to Pawn’ chronicles Rick Harrison’s gritty path to ‘Pawn Stars’

License_to_Pawn_Rick_Harrison_Pawn_Stars.jpgIf you’re familiar with “Pawn Stars” – HISTORY’s highest rated show – then you’re familiar with shop owner Rick Harrison and his quirky family. You’re familiar with them, but you don’t really know who they are yet.

If you read “License to Pawn, Deals, Steals and My Life at the Gold & Silver,” by Rick Harrison with Tim Keown (Hyperion, June 2011, $16.31 on Amazon), then you’ll have a much better sense of who these fellows really are and where they came from.

Everyone on the show – Rick, “The Old Man,” Corey and Chumlee (aka Austin Russell) – tells his own story. (Chumlee’s last name might not be “Harrison,” but he’s definitely a part of the Harrison family.) If the occasional expletive strongly offends you, you’ll want to pass on this book. I really hope you don’t, though. This is a fascinating book that will teach you a thing or two about the pawn business, that fringe of society it serves, how the entertainment industry has changed the Harrison family and their life lessons.

Mainly, “License to Pawn” tells of the personal and business experiences of the Harrison family before “Pawn Stars.” It documents the serious challenges Rick and The Old Man went through to get the now-famous Gold & Silver Pawn up and running, and what they went through to keep the business afloat. The Gold & Silver provides a needed service to a large clientele.

The Harrisons (and Chum) are truly dedicated to making the business as successful as it can possibly be; the shop must be profitable. A chapter of “License to Pawn” is dedicated to the “Pawn Stars” program, including behind-the-scene-stories on some of the most fascinating items appearing on the show. The book also explains throughout how the business has changed as a result of the program, such as the need for more staff and security; also, Rick, Corey, The Old Man and Chumlee can’t work the counter anymore as it disturbs the business transactions. A positive consequence of the fame: show-related “swag” sales are an added revenue stream. Chumlee might not be the most experienced when it comes to buying and selling in the shop, but he has proven himself as the king of swag, consistently outselling the shop staff in bobble heads and T-shirts.

Rick shares himself the most, starting with the epileptic seizures that he suffered since he was 8 years old, and eventually outgrew, and how that affected his outlook. He said he “was open to any adventure and any new experience, no matter how dangerous.” In watching “Pawn Stars” and talking with him, it was surprising to learn he was a tenth-grade dropout who is also to be a mathematical genius and reads physics books for fun. It’s also surprising to learn his drug habits had already landed him in rehab at age 14. He lived each day of his life as though it were his last – oftentimes hell-bent for destruction – until he was 18, when his son Corey was born.

Unfortunately, as young adults, Corey and Chumlee followed a similar drug-afflicted path; they each share stories in “License to Pawn.” I’m grateful they both not only survived and recovered from their addictions, but are able to thrive in the pawn (and entertainment) industries.

This book is an emotional roller-coaster ride: It made me laugh out loud, I caught myself with my jaw agape more than once, and it always made me want to continue reading. I was entertained by the life and business lessons they chose to share, and learned a thing or two along the way.

-By Karen Knapstein

More about ‘Pawn Stars

‘American Pickers’ archive

Pawn Stars: Corey explains Facebook to The Old Man


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