‘American Pickers’: What they didn’t want fans to know
Since debuting in 2010, ‘American Pickers’ has remained one of the most-watched nonfiction reality TV shows. Fans of Mike Wolfe, Frank Fritz, Danielle Colby, and the host of colorful characters they meet on the show can’t seem to get enough of the “rusty gold.”
Let’s take a look at some of the behind-the-scenes details and some interesting facts that will surely change the way you think of American Pickers…
Any truth to the rumors about Mike and Frank’s romantic involvement?
No, this rumor seems like it was pure conjecture. The fact that Mike and Frank spend so much time together traveling across the country made gossipy minds and mouths run wild. However, Mike’s been in a relationship with his girlfriend (now wife) for the duration of the show.
Frank is considerably more private in disclosing details of his personal life. Somehow, this made many nosy viewers suspect he was secretly dating someone — if not Mike, then another man. Frank Fritz can date whoever he wants — it’s none of our business, but this seems to be pure fabrication as well.
Danielle’s had a history of trouble with Uncle Sam
When the Internal Revenue Service says you owe them a cut, you’d better pay up. But Danielle Colby may not have gotten that memo. In 2013, they told the tattooed picker that she owed $6,000 in back taxes from her boutique shop, 4Miles 2Memphis. Apparently, she wasn’t willing to pony up …
By 2015, she’d received a minimum of four more letters demanding money. Allegedly, over the course of those two years, she had yet to pay any of it. Hopefully, she’s taken care of it by now — it’d be hard to keep picking from behind bars, especially when you do as much of it as her …
Danielle’s not the only one who’s gotten into legal trouble
Jerry Bruce from Greenville, South Carolina, had a gripe with Frank Fritz over a piece of farm equipment. Bruce took Fritz to court after he never received an item he’d paid for. To be fair, Fritz never cashed the $300 check Bruce had sent him, but they still wound up in court.
Who knows, maybe it was an honest mistake made by the celebrity picker. Either way, the court ruled on Jerry’s side. It’s doubtful the small sale would make a dent in Frank’s impressive net worth. However, since then, Frank’s gotten into even more serious trouble. This time, it had nothing to do with picking …
Frank was arrested in 2017
On July 30, several 911 callers reported a silver pickup truck swerving and traveling the wrong direction on the interstate. By the time a police officer was able to respond to the calls, the driver had turned around. The policeman noticed he was still swerving, however, and pulled him over.
Frank Fritz was given a field sobriety test, which he failed. Fritz was promptly arrested for his first offense — driving under the influence. For what it’s worth, Frank’s version of events is very different. Either way, he was ordered to pay $625 plus court costs, attend a rehabilitation program, and serve a year of unsupervised probation. Hopefully, he’s learned his lesson.
Mike is charitable
Mike’s daughter Charlie was born with a cleft lip and palate. After getting her the best possible care to correct the birth defect, Wolfe turned his eyes to others in need. Operation Smile provides free surgery to children afflicted with orofacial clefts all over the world. Mike Wolfe knew he had to get involved.
To raise money for the charity, he commissioned the company Isabel Bloom to create some lovely statues of his daughter. This series of figurines was called Charlie’s Smile sculptures, and a portion of the proceeds from each sale goes to Operation Smile. It would seem Mike’s passion for art goes beyond vintage finds he can flip for a profit.
Danielle Colby has a steamy other hobby
Danielle does a lot of picking in her spare time, but she wears a few hats. She’s also very passionate about burlesque dancing. The two hobbies intertwine more than you might think. Danielle has a unique advantage when it comes to picking vintage dance outfits.
The dance costume antique trade is a very niche market, and Danielle’s got it pretty well cornered. But her passion goes beyond dance history — she’s a dancer herself. She’s credited burlesque dancing with helping her through some tough times. “It really helped me blossom into a person who is less anxious and less depressed,” she told Fox News.
The cast does quite well for themselves
Despite Frank’s talk about the humble life he leads, he and the gang make quite a bit of cash. Mike has a net worth of at least $4 million — likely a lot more with his recent real estate ventures and expansion into the retail clothing market.
Both Mike and Frank get a salary of $500,000 from the show itself — no word on how much they rake in from royalties on sales. Frank’s said to have an estimated net worth of $4 million as well, while Danielle’s estimated to have $1.5 million, though she’d better take care of her tax issues sooner rather than later.
Mike and Danielle met while picking
While just how much of American Pickers is staged is up for debate, the friendship between Mike and Danielle definitely happened organically. The pair had been friends for many years before the show began. There’s even a hilariously on-brand story about how the pair met.
According to Danielle, she was combing through an antique shop when she noticed a lamp she figured she could flip for a profit. She set the lamp down to check if she had enough to make the purchase. Mike, ever the shrewd businessman, quickly snatched it up and told her, “The time to buy it is when you see it.” The two became instant friends.
Is the show staged?
As with all reality TV shows, there’s quite a bit of debate as to how much of the show is staged and how much of it is real. So what’s the truth behind American Pickers? Do Mike, Frank, and Danielle really just come upon all these great deals through chance, luck, and skill?
The question is a bit difficult to answer. Many people have alleged the whole thing is staged, but Mike insists it’s real. The truth lies somewhere in between. The purchases are real, and the crew are real pickers — but the transactions don’t usually happen quite the way they’re portrayed on screen. For example …
Negotiations are different than they’re portrayed on the show
According to some people that have sold things on the show, Mike and Frank are quite different from the characters they play on TV. Oftentimes, the sellers and the buyers agree on the price before the cameras start rolling. However, multiple sellers have complained that once they started filming, Mike and Frank began haggling down on the agreed price.
The two make a great effort to try and convince the sellers that the items they possess are worthless, when in reality they’re just trying to increase their profit margin. Of course, this is all part of the game, but it’s left some sellers feeling like they were conned by the pair, who some say aren’t as friendly as they seem.
Mike’s main source of income may surprise you
Mike seems like he’s a pretty darn good picker. That said, he makes most of his money through his other endeavors these days. Even though the team picks a lot more than what is shown on the show, it still wouldn’t be enough to cover the costs of Mike’s ever-expanding business ventures. So how does he make most of his cash?
Well for one, American Pickers merchandise sells well — really well. Mike’s become a bona fide clothing retailer. He hopes to get his clothes into the big chain stores soon. On top of the clothing business, he’s also made some lucrative retail investments — his old car manufacturing plant has been completely renovated and turned into a brewery, candy store, photography studio, and coffee shop.
After the show, Frank says he’s done picking
While Mike may not be be the most committed picker and Danielle seems unapologetic about the lifestyle, Frank says that after the show ends, he’s out. Unlike his picking colleagues, Frank has absolutely no plans to open retail stores or write books.
“When the show’s over, I will get rid of my stuff,” Frank told Columbus Dispatch. “I’ll go back to just being Frank, still living in my town. I haven’t bought a big house, no fancy cars. I still drive my ’86 Ford Ranger, still live in the same house I’ve lived in for 26 years.” Does this come as a surprise to you? Even for Frank, who seems unimpressed by most things, you’d think he’d be more passionate about his chosen career.
Mike Wolfe has been at it for a very long time
Despite not being the biggest picker in his spare time, Wolfe started this hustle at a remarkably young age. It all started when he was a little boy — Mike came upon an abandoned bicycle that he was able to sell for $5. From then on, he was hooked.
He would often bother farmers in his hometown of Eldridge, Iowa, to let him pick through their old, rusty bicycles. He’d buy them for $50, fix them up, and sell them for a profit — sometimes at a 1,000% markup! Quickly this morphed into a legit business and he opened his own shop. That’s one way to turn a hobby into a business.
Mike wants to show kids the way
With a success story like his, why not spread the knowledge? Mike Wolfe seems to think its a good idea, and so he’s penned a how-to guide for young pickers. It’s called Kid Pickers: How to Turn Junk into Treasure, and there’s a website and message board to match. He got his start at a young age, so it makes sense he’d help others do the same.
Mike has also thrown some kid-friendly events to teach them the ropes in regards to making money picking. It’s nice to see someone giving back, helping foster the next generation of a community they are such a large part of. Speaking of giving …
Hobo Jack is a well-rounded artist
Hobo Jack is a fan favorite on American Pickers. He’s showed up in a few episodes over the course of the series, always adding a bit of humor and surprise to the show. If you watch the show, you already know he can strum the guitar and sing, but you may not know how seriously he takes it. Backwoods Hobo Jack has released an album of mostly original recordings.
In addition, Jack J. Sophir is also a writer. He’s written a “philosophical fantasy” novel called Amazing Adventures of The Tramp Prince, a picaresque story that follows a young man’s quest to find his family a home after they lose their farm. Jack uses the story as a vehicle to weave in his opinions on government, health, and animal rights.
Mole Man was so popular people exploited his likeness
Though he only appeared in one episode, Mole Man Ron made quite a mark, it would seem. After all, who could forget the eccentric man’s 26-room underground lair full of trash-turned-treasure? Some unscrupulous entrepreneurs must have taken notice as well.
A sale in a nearby town promised to carry “authentic Mole Man collectibles,” autographs, and antiques. The only problem? Mole Man Ron was completely unaware of any of it. A bunch of fans of the show turned up, only to leave feeling disappointed and swindled. Of course, Mole Man wasn’t there, and many people had only showed up to meet the American Pickers legend.
Celebrity fans and friends
A few famous people have appeared on the show. Notably, blues-rock musicians Jack White from The White Stripes and The Raconteurs, and Dan Auerbach from The Black Keys, each appeared in episodes of American Pickers. You may recall Jack White trading a vintage photo booth and jukebox for a taxidermic elephant’s head. Hmm, it’s difficult to say who came out ahead on that deal!
Auerbach swooned over a Chet Atkins model Gretsch guitar in the episode he appeared in. Apparently, Dolly Parton is such a fan of the show she contacted the producers to sell some items on camera. Danielle and Dolly hit it off and became friends.
The pickers have started spending more to make more
Usually in the picking business, it pays to be thrifty. Mike, Frank, and Danielle seldom spend more than $60 on a single purchase. However, sometimes it pays to splurge on certain items. The team did so most notably in 2017.
The most they’ve ever spent was in an episode where they came upon a vintage Aces 1930s motorcycle. They ultimately decided to purchase several motorcycles in disrepair from a seller asking $90,000. Mike successfully talked them down to $85,000. While that’s quite a pretty penny to spend, Mike and Frank know what they’re doing — it stands to reason they made a profit.
Producers do a fair amount of picking behind the scenes
It makes sense when you think about it — in order for the show to be entertaining, there have to be interesting finds. Therefore, producers screen submissions from sellers who are offering up their junky treasure. While the show makes it seem like the pickers are doing all the work themselves, that just wouldn’t be realistic when considering the sheer volume and scope of the submissions.
In many cases, the producers and the sellers have already agreed on the prices before Mike, Frank, and Danielle even show up. Typically (though not always, as we’ll get to later), sellers ask for more money on camera and pretend to let the pickers talk them down. That’s not to say the pickers don’t do a lot of picking themselves — though some are more into the lifestyle than others.
Some items are planted
Many fans and skeptics of the show have suspected this for a long time. Some incredible finds do happen in some unlikely places, but often that’s not exactly the case. The crew often plants big-ticket items in storage units, garages, and yard sales.
It makes sense, the show risks getting really boring if the team doesn’t find anything interesting or valuable. Imagine watching a whole episode where nothing exciting happens. You can’t blame the producers for adding a little drama, but the show is clearly not as unscripted as the History Channel would like you to believe. Speaking of scripted …
Danielle picks quite a bit off camera, too
Where Frank isn’t too obsessed with the picking lifestyle and Mike’s backed off in recent years, Danielle shows no signs of slowing down. Her job may be to direct Frank and Mike to their various finds, but she keeps an eye open for herself as well.
She says the boys know more about antiques and their value than she does, but apparently, she runs the shop behind the scenes. She also runs her own boutique store, 4Miles 2Memphis, with her husband and niece. However, her boutique store focuses more on her more adult-oriented hobby, which we’ll get to later …
Beyond the fact that “American” is in the name, American Pickers seems like a uniquely American show. After all, it is practically a dusty gold rush. However, the idea of traveling across the country in search of treasure in unlikely places stretches beyond the U.S. borders.
Canadians and Australians also love a good deal, apparently, though perhaps not as much as Americans — Canadian Pickers lasted four seasons and Aussie Pickers only two. For comparison, American Pickers has aired 20 seasons so far. The American version of the show we know and love also airs in the UK, Spain, Romania, and Israel.
The crew may be calling it quits soon
All good things must come to an end, and sadly, the dusty ride is no exception. In 2016, Mike said he only had interest in doing one more season. Apparently he was talked out of that, but it’s hard to imagine the show continuing for too much longer given his reasoning.
Mike wants to slow down and take a break from the busy life in the entertainment industry and focus on raising his daughter. You can’t really fault the guy for that. Who knows, maybe a new generation of pickers will take up the mantle? He’s certainly left the blueprint with his book Kid Pickers: How to Turn Junk into Treasure.
Mike’s passionate about the town he lives in
He’s helped put on a Kid Pickers’ flea market in LeClaire, Iowa. At the event, kids can gain some hands-on experience following in Mike’s footsteps. But his concern for the town extends beyond the legacy he wants to leave behind.
In July of 2019, Mike Wolfe appeared before the city council to express concern over the state of the streets in LeClaire. Apparently, the harsh winter has made the sidewalks unsafe. Wolfe spoke to the council and showed pictures of particularly damaged areas, calling the sidewalks a “Class A trip hazard.” Hopefully the problem gets addressed soon and no one gets hurt.
Expanding their audience
A good deal, this was.
Mike and Frank were able to appeal to a wider audience beyond the average motorcycle and antique enthusiast with this deal. These items are sure to widen the eyes of any Star Wars fanatic. In season 16, Frank and Mike were pleasantly surprised when they visited a woman who said she had some valuable movie memorabilia.
A former Lucasfilm employee, the collector had some valuable prototypes of rare Yoda statues. The guys knew that anything rare and Star Wars-related was sure to sell for a high price, so they jumped on the opportunity to pick up one of the statues. They struck a good deal — and were able to walk away with one for only $6,250.
Prince Mongo ran for office
Though he only appeared in one episode of the show, Prince Mongo certainly left quite an impression. The eccentric man, who lives in a crumbling castle full of all kinds of junk, has political aspirations — outside of being the “King of Zambodia,” apparently.
The monarch has set his sights higher than ruling an imaginary planet (as prince, king, or any other title) — he’d like to be mayor of Memphis, Tennessee. Prince Mongo has run for the mayor’s office in just about every election since he’s been eligible. Evidently, he really wants the position. Can he count on you for your vote?
The theme song has an interesting story
Jared Gutstadt, of the music licensing and publishing company Jingle Punks, was tasked with coming up with a fitting theme song for the show. For direction, the producers said they wanted a song that sounded like a mix between The White Stripes, The Rolling Stones, and The Band.
What do you think, did he nail it? Gutstadt has also provided the soundtrack for a similar show on the History Channel you might be a fan of — Pawn Stars. It seems he’s found his calling making jingles. The melody for the American Pickers theme was borrowed from a song by the rock band Reckless Sons.