AMERICA’S BACK ROADS are treasure troves. Just ask Frank Fritz, 46, and Mike Wolfe, 45, stars of the History Channel’s hit show American Pickers, which started its second season on Monday, June 7. These childhood friends are professional antiques finders and spend weeks at a time traversing the country doing dealers’ dirty work. Together they scope out tucked-away towns and properties with rotted barns, gutted buses and scrap heaps — the perfect places for discovering the types of forgotten heirlooms they can turn into profit.
“You gotta be like a little kid when you’re a picker,” Wolfe says, “and have that sense of adventure, curiosity and almost naïveté, where you wake up and say, ‘I’m gonna find stuff today.’ Because as soon as you doubt yourself, you won’t.”
Picking requires both a keen eye and a passion for collecting, and Wolfe and Fritz have their specialties. While Wolfe will “pop” on old motorcycle parts and bicycles — he’s a former bike messenger and shop owner — he also seeks out items that are funky and unusual (“It’s getting to the point where some clients want me to pull a rabbit out of my hat,” he says). Fritz, a longtime fire inspector, has a penchant for antique fire extinguishers and a soft spot, it seems, for advertising signs and oil cans. They’re a bit Bo and Luke Duke meet Abbott and Costello: a couple of good ol’ boys who poke fun at each other but aren’t afraid of a little grime. “If it’s dirty, rusty, sunbaked … we love it,” Wolfe says.
Both men are lifelong pickers: Wolfe began hitting the road full time about 10 years ago, and Fritz joined him four years later. In the show’s first season, the pair traversed 22 states and more than 50,000 miles. “We might go out for a week and come back ’cause we’re full,” Fritz says. “Or we rent a place — like a storage unit — go back out, then pick it up later. We’ve been gone four, five, six weeks at a time.”
Despite endless hours on the road together, both men keep their own clients. Fritz sells his discoveries online at FrankFritzFinds.com, and Wolfe has Antique Archaeology, a warehouse in Le Claire, Iowa, that’s been remodeled for walk-ins. Visitors, however, shouldn’t expect to find the same items they see discovered on TV. “If an episode airs on Monday,” Wolfe says, “on Tuesday people are already calling to buy everything up.”
1. Whatever you’re collecting, buy the best you can afford. “Good stuff is always gonna be good,” says Fritz. The same goes for mediocre.
2. “Mass media drives what’s collectible,” Wolfe says. “Get yourself a couple of trade journals, like Antique Trader, or stop by an antiques shop and ask them what they’re buying.”
3. Haggling? Fritz says it’s Antiquing 101, but the preferred pick is to have the seller put a price on the item first, “because then you know if you’re even in the ballpark.”