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'American Picker' treasures being on the road

| Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013, 8:40 p.m.
Mike Wolfe of History's 'American Pickers' says he has done some of his most enjoyable picking finding antique motorcycles. Credit: Coral Productions

Mike Wolfe says he has been pickin' around for valuable items from the past since he was a kid, but took it on as a profession when he realized all he needed was a “cellphone, website and cargo van.”

TV doesn't hurt either, adds the co-host of “American Pickers” on History channel and the owner of two Antique Archaeology stores.

“When the TV show first was broadcast, we had hundreds of people waiting to getting into the shop,” he says. “The place was basically a warehouse. We didn't even have a cash register.”

He will be at the Pittsburgh Indoor & Outdoor Home Show in Monroeville from noon to 3 p.m. Sunday where he will talk about the value of goods he finds in basements, barns and backyards across America. Many of those discoveries happen in Pennsylvania, which he bills as his favorite state because of the span of areas from urban Pittsburgh and Philadelphia to the rural area in between.

The show, which co-stars Frank Fritz, has been on History since 2010. It has created for him a profession that keeps him on the road seven months a year as he crosses the country picking as well as doing shows such as this one.

It also has led to a new Antique Archaeology store in Nashville joining the original in LeClaire, Iowa, and has generated a book, “Kid Pickers,” which will come out in April. That book is being used in a History channel-sponsored website in which children can exchange their thoughts about items they have and their significance.

Wolfe, 48, says he was using his interest in finding and reselling item as a way of keeping his bicycle shop in LeClaire functioning when business got slow. He dealt mostly with local buyers or those he had met elsewhere through his bike business, until he discovered eBay in the mid-'90s.

By 2000, he says, he was able to “call picking a job,” and that occupation increased gigantically when History decided his TV proposal fit its needs.

The twice-weekly broadcasts of “American Pickers” and occasional marathons give his business “the advertising budget of Ford,” he jokes.

The direction of the show would seem to fit Home and Garden TV more than History, but Wolfe is glad the latter channel saw the worth of the show. Rather than simply focusing on design and decor idea, which probably would be the case on HGTV, the show takes on a historic and business focus.

He says the show generates thinking about historic items as well as the business of buying and selling them,

“I think we have created a whole new genre,” he says. “History started calling it Artifunctional TV, but I think it is more Transactional TV.”

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bkarlovits@tribweb.com or 412-320-7852.

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