American Pickers coming to Arkansas; show has fans and detractors
The highly popular History Channel antiques show "American Pickers" is going into its third season, and show stars Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz will be coming to Arkansas in a couple months. It will be their first trip to this state.
They may well come to Carroll County.
The show sent a press release last month looking for leads for "interesting characters with unique items and lots of 'em!".
The show focuses on Wolfe and Fritz traveling around the country looking for people with old barns, storage units or yards stuffed with antique and vintage items that they can purchase from "collectors, hoarders, amateur historians and other individuals who all have unique stories to tell." They do not go to stores, antique malls or flea markets.
The show's website explains "pickers" as "modern archeologists."
"Pickers like Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz are on a mission to recycle America, even if it means diving into countless piles of grimy junk or getting chased off a gun-wielding homeowner's land" and "Each and every treasure they uncover is a new history lesson, providing a glimpse at American life in the recent and distant past."
They usually travel through rural towns and sparsely populated areas, following leads, but also will stop at farms and homes that look potentially interesting.
"Sometimes they literally end up going from door to door, hoping to explore an abandoned barn or a basement packed to the gills with junk and gems," says their website.
Explore or exploit?
Despite its more than 6.5 million viewers, the show has its detractors, who say that Wolfe and Fritz take advantage of people, often senior citizens, who don't know the value of what they have and are cheated when the men pay as much as five times less than they can resell them for. In fact, at the end of each bargaining session, the show reveals what items are valued at, what the men paid, what they sold them for and their profit. They have antique stores, called Antique Archeology, in Iowa and Tennessee, and a website where they sell items.
The ethics of what they are doing is a hot topic in several online antiques and collectibles chat rooms.
"I can not believe that the History Channel would show such a disgrace to our older generation," wrote one person in 2010, when the show started. "To think for one minute this would somehow be cleared to air is appalling. To brag or somehow boast about an unsolicited visit to Leland's farm and the price paid versus the actual value should be illegal. If this would have been my granddad I would have felt robbed of my family heirloom and treasures. The History Channel should immediately cancel this show!"
Others, some of whom are antique dealers themselves, defend the Pickers.
"A lot of elderly people leave old stuff rotting away in their garages and don't really care about it and would prefer to get rid of it for quick cash," wrote one.
"They have overheads ... three staff, premises, insurance, fuel, permits, utilities, etc.," wrote another. "Profit needs to be made to cover those first.... So even if grandpa's old rusty Harley Davidson bike crank might be worth $500 and they get it for $150 ... they have expenses to pay out of that $350 profit 'IF' they can sell it."
And, according to the show's producers, even if the duo makes a huge profit on an item, they will sometimes go back and pay the original owner more money for it.
"That has happened on several occasions," said Mary, the supervising producer (who did not want to reveal her last name), in a phone interview, "especially if there is a cause they can help with, like in upstate New York. There was a music park there a guy trying to restore, and there was a flood. I believe they gave him $5,000 back. In a different situation, they came across a bone in Tennessee, but because of the history, they donated it to a museum in Michigan where the bone was tracked from. They took a loss on that so it could be appreciated by others, instead of just turning around and making a profit."
Anyone who appears on the show, Mary added, is there because they want to be.
"By no means do we roll up with cameras without permission. Every person who has participated in the show has had a fantastic experience. People have asked them to come back two, three and four times, and Mike and Frank have a great time with them."
A large part of the show is meeting interesting people and hearing their stories about the items they have saved over the years. Some of the shows include accounts of people who have chased the Pickers off with guns or who refused to sell at any price.
"We might stop at 25 farms in one day, and we might get 14 rejections, but all it takes is one really good item," said Wolfe in a video clip.
So, will they come to Carroll County?
It depends on whether they can find good leads. The Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce is acting as a liaison to hook the show up with potential collectors.
Producers say the Pickers will probably hit Arkansas in early February. They are still researching potential locations.
The list of what they are not looking for is much shorter than what they are. They are not looking for farming and agricultural items, tools, glassware, appliances, tractors, crocks, stoves or country primitives.
What they are looking for are vintage and early motor scooters, motorcycles, bicycles, radios, toys, vending, pinball, casino and gaming machines, movie memorabilia and advertising items, taxidermy, Boy Scout items, police, firefighter and airline collectibles, musical instruments, Civil War antiques, gas pumps, old neon signs and other items.