Guilty Design Pleasure: Picking and Grinning

We all have at least one guilty design pleasure—items that are not necessarily stylish or high-end, but we love them anyway. Until now, my hard-to-admit design delight was an Ekornes “Stressless” chair in front of the television. But now I sit in that comfy seat to enjoy another pleasure I don’t readily confess: “American Pickers.”

You may not know what a picker is, but if you like vintage and antique items, you’ve likely purchased their wares indirectly. Pickers (or junkers, as they are sometimes called) live in the shadowy world that exists behind tony antique stores and interesting eBay listings. They generally dig through estate sales, junkyards, old barns or houses looking for merchandise they can sell to a dealer, on their own web-based store or at a flea market booth. They are almost never discussed openly, because customers who are paying top dollar for an item don’t value it in the same way if they know it was scored for $10 from the cluttered basement of a hoarder.

For years I’ve been fascinated with the profession, and I’ve secretly wished that I could join the pickers I’ve met on their “buying trips.” Because, truth be told, I often enjoy rummaging through an estate sale nearly as much as perusing the floor of a to-the-trade showroom.

With my discovery of the television show “American Pickers,” I’ve been living the picking life vicariously through two men named Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz from LeClaire, Iowa. These fellows drive around the middle and southern states looking for what they call “rusty gold” that they sell to dealers and collectors. They will buy anything they think they can make a buck on, from old gas pumps to the warped and rusty hull of a motorcycle. Judging from their road banter (the rather rotund Frank admits he would need to have three partners in order to kiss someone for 45 minutes and the wiry Mike confesses to not being much of a boyfriend) neither man would make a great life partner, but the encyclopedic knowledge of antiques and collectibles they display while digging through a home-grown junkyard on a remote farm owned by a half-addled hillbilly is downright sexy.

Here’s how it works: Each week they jump in a large van and start driving the back roads, eyes peeled for a home or barn whose yard is filled with what appears to the rest of the world as scrap metal. When they find such a property, they pull over and knock on the door, which could be answered by anyone from a compulsive hoarder to a retired antique store owner. They convince this person to let them comb through the barn and then commence to buying for the lowest price possible. If reality television can be believed, they find some amazing stuff in these out-of-the-way outbuildings. It’s pure heaven.

I may never have the guts to chuck my day job in order to do the same thing, but in spirit, I ride along with Mike and Frank every Monday at 9 p.m. on the History Channel. Thanks guys.

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