American Pickers debuted on the History Channel last year and turned the wheeling and dealing of pickers Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz into the biggest new cable television show of 2010. Mike and Frank, along with Danielle and author Libby Callaway, now bring their expertise on rusty gold and antiques dealing to your bookshelf in American Pickers Guide to Picking, released today by Hyperion.
The Guide is a no-nonsense book on the basics of the Pickers’ business model. As shown on the show, Mike and Frank are antique and collectibles middle-men who try and find sources, usually collectors and original owners, to buy from in order to resell to antique dealers and collectors. Aside from their dense Rolodex of existing sellers, the pair cold-call potential customers and mine other interesting ‘honey-holes’ for their wares. After decades in the business, the Pickers have their business down to a science and this book breaks it down into its simplest components. Picking is a specific facet of the antique and collectibles industry, and Guide to Picking does a good job of making the differences clear. A picker is like a gold miner rather than a coin dealer; picking gets down and dirty with the abandoned or forgotten collectibles.
Although the book is full of anecdotes, it uses them as part of the teaching process. It is fun to hear stories about Mike and Frank’s adventures, but the book sticks to business throughout. I particularly like that anecdotes from the show assume you’ve seen the show, rather than repeating the entire story in the book. From finding sources, to making the deal, to turning a profit by selling to a customer, the Guide gives tips and tricks for making the deals go as smoothly as possible. It doesn’t promise making millionaires, though; they’re clear about the amount of work it takes and the amount of risk involved, so it may, possibly for the better, scare off people hoping for easy money. The book comes right from the mouths of people doing the work every day, which makes it feel more trusted than a more traditional antique dealer guide.
The most approachable aspect of the book is that conversational tone, but this also contributes to the weakest part of the Guide. As i mentioned above, the book cover credits four writers, and the acknowledgments thank several other contributors for their part. Having a lot of cooks in the kitchen makes the Guide difficult to follow at some points, because the conversational tone uses a lot of “I” and “me” without being clear about who’s doing the speaking at the time. This difficulty becomes more manageable once the reader gets a little ways into the book, so once that hump is over the Guide feels like sitting in a southern-Minnesota Perkins restaurant, eating a piece of the pie of the day and shooting the shit with two dusty guys who just got done climbing in the rafters of a slowly disintegrating barn.
Every antique dealer has their own business philosophy, a fact that the Guide addresses multiple times, but I have to say that the American Pickers Guide to Picking has a pretty firm grasp on the uncertainty and fluidity of antiques and collectibles dealing. Much of the time, the book doesn’t just have the One Right Way to do things; each chapter covers a variety of options, based on benefits and drawbacks, to put in a toolbox of skills for making a go of the picking industry. The last chapter, too, covers the future of picking — and the entire industry of collecting, by extension — by acknowledging the huge impact of the ever-changing internet and how the collectors of the future are the kids of today.
At a little over 200 pages, the Guide to Picking is an easy read, but it crams a lot of information into those pages. A lot may feel old-hat to other antique dealers, but the personal voice makes it a fun read, in line with the tone of the show, and there might be something still to be learned hidden in the pages. American Pickers Guide to Picking is a fun how-to book, full of tips and tales of the picking world, ready to make a picker out of anyone willing to pull on the gloves and get a little dirty.
American Pickers Guide to Picking
By Libby Callaway, with Mike Wolfe, Frank Fritz, and Danielle Colby
Approx 206 pages, 6″x9″ hardcover