History ‘Pawn Stars’ interview: Rick ‘the Spotter’ talks pawning

History has hit a homerun with “Pawn Stars,” the new reality series that takes you into one of the last of the privately-owned pawn shops in Las Vegas, where the desperate go in droves to hawk their treasures for a handful of semolians.

Vegas has always had an undercurrent of sadness to it’s 1000 Watt media crafted image; the salvo “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” brands the city as a hedonistic Mecca, but the three generations of the Harrison men, owners of The Gold and Silver Pawn Shop, serve a purpose in the fast loan ready cash market, and papa bear Rick Harrison is the main man when it comes to assessing value and paying out on a head spinning array of items.

History Channel is so enamored of this series that they have cross-marketed the “Pawn Stars” series in a brilliant integrated sponsorship package tied to the hotly anticipated Nov. 14 HBO pay-per-view boxing match between Manny Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto.

“Pawn Stars” will have its logo on the map during the card, including the main event and three under card matches.

“Pawn Stars” shop location is just down the street from the MGM Grand, the site of the boxing match.  You will see “Pawn Stars” talent, Richard (Old Man), Rick (Spotter) and Corey (Big Hoss) Harrison ringside at the event.

This is all leading up to the return of the series to the History Channel on Nov. 30 at 10 p.m.

The format of the series involves one of the guys voicing over a segment where a customer brings in an object to pawn or sell, followed by a few general historical facts relating to the object of interest.

There is back-and-forth over the perceived value with the customer, interspersed with an interview where Rick explains the basis of his decision to the viewer.

Rick Harrison is the middle man of the series. He is an experienced eye when it comes to spotting anything fake or stolen. As far as big-ticket items, Rick can sniff out a fake Cartier watch or phony Louis Vuitton piece a mile away. 

Rick is the breaker between his hot headed dad and his button-pushing son, who work alongside him in the shop.

Trained in the pawn business from the age of 13, Rick was born a hustler. He dropped out of high school to pursue his $2,000-a-week business of selling fake Gucci bags.

He joined his father at the age of 23 in the Pawn shop world.

Monsters and Critics’ smallscreen editor April MacIntyre caught up with Rick “The Spotter” Harrison and chatted about the business.

How do you address critics who say you rip off people when they bring in items; how do you counter these claims?

Rick: Hey, I am not in the charity business, you know? I am there to make money and there is risk on both sides, and when you watch a show like ‘Antique Roadshow’ that presents a perfect world situation that simply does not exist in real life, people are misguided at what they think their treasures are worth… there are variables like the recession, and people’s tastes in collecting… I explain that to people.

You know, our shop, I am the last one [pawn store] left around here not bought out by a corporation.  If I say this is what it is worth, and make an offer that person can make a decision, but most likely if I buy something off you I am gonna sit on it, and I gotta make money too. 

In one episode we show a Westpoint Jacket of General Griswold from WWII – I put out 1500 bucks for it and it’s still sitting in my store!  I am investing my money often times for merchandise that sits for three to four years here.

How have you trained yourself to spot gems and valuable items, how did you learn?

Rick: Back in 1978 my dad gave me a silver spoon marked Sterling, and I scoured swap meets and flea markets looking for stamped marked items that were worth real money…and I have been doing it ever since! 

I am not nearly as cool as I look (laughs) and I am a bookworm; I educated myself on all items and collectibles by researching, plus I have always read history books, gemology antiques.  I do read for two hours every night.

What is the longest you have held on to something?

Rick: I have some Nodder dolls that were popular in 1800s, these Austrian heads swing back and forth, they were the original bobble heads! It is a type of porcelain, and they haven’t sold. 

When you deal with antiques, you know these things go in and out of fashion.  Remember the late 80’s when everyone collected baseball cards?   Now they are worth nothing, no one wants them, same with anything, its fads and fashion.

Most of the items you see coming in must be average everyday stuff, what do you get the most these days?

Rick: Always its jewelry, that is the most common thing I see every day.  We write over 100 to 200 pawn tickets a day in that store, and we get our share of stereos, game consoles and odd items, but jewelry is a pawn store’s mainstay.

Most interesting historical item brought in?

Rick:  Well, we do get a lot of documents, and it is sort of weird to me because the stuff is so normal now for me to look at..  I see so much neat stuff, interesting things like real signed death warrants from the 1600’s, for different English people from the House of Lords, and courts of that time.

A passport signed by Winston Churchill came in once, just so much great historical stuff, and signatures from at least 10-15 past US presidents plus silent movie star Mary Pickford, a signed picture, just a lot of neat stuff…

I had Cannon, a 1890 Hotchkiss we did an episode on, so many things, tons of rare coins, a 1780 watch came in, I love the watches…

Ever think this item belongs in a proper museum?

Rick- No,  but I have donated some things to a local museum

Have you ever had a behavior from someone who lost an item that was sold off, how does that work, when people come back to get their items?

Rick- Oh yeah, that has happened, I just explain the facts of life to them, you know, I am not a charity business and sometimes the item is sold…they understand when they leave our shop that is the agreement, and the person generally sucks it up and leaves without any further problems, although one lady called the police on me over a ring, which she later remembered she had lost a year earlier. 

Who is harder to work with – your son or your dad?

Rick- (laughs) Well…probably with my dad, because he is my dad! (laughs) My son is more malleable, I tell him what to do and he does it. And my dad, he is like.. ‘goddamit I raised you! You are my son!’ Then I tell him what to do, and he does whatever the hell he wants to do, and that’s the way it is. 

My dad and I argue and then he does it his way.  The last thing I want is my mom calling me! (laughs)

Note the date on this article may be incorrect due to importing it from our old system.