On Pawn Stars it’s all business

LAS VEGAS – Rick Harrison was playing Antiques Roadshow before Antiques Roadshow was cool.

For the last 21 years, his father’s Las Vegas pawn shop saw all manner of quirky characters looking for some history and value behind their Antiques, fine art and collectibles. However, in Harrison’s situation, he was faced with sorting the fakes from the authentic and the heirlooms from the stolen loot. Harrison’s pawn shop is one of the few Las Vegas pawn shops that deals in antiques and fine art. That made him a No. 1 candidate for HISTORY’s™ new television reality series Pawn Stars.

The show (10 p.m. EST Sundays) debuted July 19 and features three generations working together in a pawn business. Harrison’s father is co-owner and his son, Corey, is a full-time employee at the Gold & Silver Pawn shop. Harrison has also ‘partially adopted’ the shop’s self-deprecating comic called Chumlee, or Chum for short. The show represents the trials and tribulations of a family trying to make a pawn business of the antiques and collectibles trade. If Harrison or his father can’t determine the background on a particular antique, they call upon their network of experts for help.

The show’s popularity is skyrocketing, with social Web sites like Twitter fueling a growing fan base. Work-based reality shows are some of the most successful television programs for cable outlets. Programs such as Orange County Choppers and Miami Ink have loyal followers on The Discovery Channel and The Learning Channel (TLC). If early press is any indication of success, it shows people love Pawn Stars’ combination of antiques and tattoos. It helps that Harrison looks more like a bouncer than an appraiser.

Unlike Antiques Roadshow, Pawn Star$ isn’t for every member of the family. Some of the business disagreements turn into a flurry of bleeped profanities. That’s the drama producers were looking for when they first approached Harrison for a series. Harrison was up for the challenge but he wanted to make sure the pawn business was represented in a good light – or else he could guarantee there wouldn’t be a second season.

“I was pretty shocked,” Harrison told Antique Trader’s Online Editor Karen Knapstein in an exclusive interview. “It was actually a production company that called me up and wanted to know if I was interested. They did a little sizzle reel and HISTORY just loved it. Actually, they showed them the sizzle reel and they ordered the pilot three days later. When they saw the pilot they ordered the series two days later. It’s been a really fast ride.”

Antique Trader: Did you have any input on how the pawn shop business was going to be portrayed in the show?

Rick Harrison:
I explained to them that I wanted it to be portrayed in a good light otherwise there definitely wouldn’t be a second season.

Are you still surprised at what comes through the door?

It’s something different every day. Most of the pawn shops in Las Vegas are corporate owned … There’s only like five or six independent pawn shops left. That’s why I get all the antiques, I guess, because places like that don’t take them.

Not every pawn shop will touch fine art, antiques or military items that you do. Did you always accept art and antiques because you could find buyers or do you buy and sell them because you like art and antiques?

Both. You know how it is. I don’t know if you’ve ever owned an antique shop yourself or anything. But you know, you want to keep the stuff but you can’t?

No business, whether it’s a pawn shop or an antique shop, can give a customer the retail value of their items. What’s the easiest ways you get that point across to people who come in to sell something?

I’ve always found the easiest way is just explain the entire process to them. [When customers look up a price in a book] they always go all the way to the right hand side column where it’s in perfect condition. So I explain to them, it’s rarely that one price where it’s in perfect condition. [The price] is more like the beginning or middle. So I tell them: If you want these prices, sell it to the book ’cause they’re telling you that’s what it’s worth. I just explain to them: I have an overhead here, I have to resell this and the price you’re probably looking at here is probably from an auction …”

What was business like before the show aired compared to business after the show’s debut? Have you seen an upswing?

Oh yes, we’ve seen a definite upswing. The customers I’m getting in that are fans of the show are not spending as much money as my normal customers. But they are spending some money and I’m definitely buying a lot of stuff and getting a lot of weird stuff through the door.

>Check out Antique Trader’s complete interview with Harrison, listen to the full interview and watch the video slideshow at  www.AntiqueTrader.com/video. Full episodes of HISTORY’s Pawn Stars may be found online at www.history.com/pawnstars.

More from Antique Trader

Editor’s Pick – New Release

Warman’s Antiques & Collectibles Price Guide 2012
Warman's Antiques & Collectibles 2012

As the longest-running guide and the most trusted name in antiques and collectibles, the 45th Edition of Warman’s Antiques & Collectibles features more than 1,500 color images and 6,000 listings. It brings a fresh, 21st-century perspective that honestly assesses the market and looks at the best categories for investment–everything from glassware and toys to early flags and maps. “Future of the Market” reports share what’s hot, and where the experts are putting their money.

Top names in the trade weigh in on key categories:

  • Writer Andrew Myers looks at 18th- and 19th-century French furniture
  • Toy expert Andrew Truman shares insights on “Door of Hope” dolls
  • Tom Deupree and Morrow Jones reveal the secrets to finding vernacular photographs
  • Collector Forrest Poston looks at the market for West German art pottery

Get your copy today at Shop.Collect.com

For related items that you may enjoy in our store – Shop.Collect.com:

Determine what your antiques and collectibles are worth. Get the Warman’s Antiques & Collectibles 2011 Price Guide.

Download the Webinar: “How to Get a Certified Appraisal for Your Antiques”

Get Antique Trader magazine for upcoming features about Pawn Stars

Trusted antiques auction houses