It s one of the oldest forms of banking, and until the 1950s, it was the leading form of consumer credit in the U.S. See the fascinating past and present of the pawning business in Pawn Stars, an inside look at the only family-run pawn shop in Las Vegas, where three generations of men grandfather, father and son use their sharp-eyed skills to carefully assess the value of items ranging from the obscure to the historic. From a 15th-century samurai sword to a Picasso painting, there isn t much the Harrison family hasn t seen or heard, inevitably making Richard, Rick and Corey experts in rare collectables and negotiating. Each episode of Pawn Stars features an array of quirky characters attempting to sell, purchase or pawn items that the Harrisons must carefully appraise, determine if they re real or fake and then reveal the often surprising answer to What s it worth? Everything and everyone has a story and it s the Harrisons job to decipher fact from fiction, because in this business the customer isn t always right.
Pawn Stars, a kind of blue-collar Antiques Roadshow, is a keeper. This top-rated History Channel series is reality TV done right; a fascinating subject, lightning-in-a-bottle casting, and you don't feel like you have to give yourself a Karen Silkwood-like scrubbing after you've watched it. The setting is the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas, where "everything has a story and a price." The bustling establishment is run by Rick Harrison along with Old Man, his crusty 68-year-old father with "30 blankety-blank years in the business," and Rick's son, Corey, a.k.a. Big Hoss. They look like they could be extras from Sons of Anarchy, but Rick, especially, is a personable proprietor with a seemingly inexhaustible knowledge of everything from military memorabilia to vintage portable typewriters (although a potent drinking game could be devised for whenever he says, "I'm calling in an expert" to authenticate an item). In these inaugural episodes, the focus is more on items brought in for sale rather than to be pawned. "You never know what's going to come through that door," Rick states. "If I can make money off of it, I'll buy anything." Among the most intriguing treasures for consideration are an 1890 Hotchkiss cannon, a West Point cadet jacket, a World War II uniform, an original Kiss pinball machine, a Civil War cavalry sword, and even a box of Playboy magazines. Onscreen graphics relate history and trivia pertaining to each item, and the drama unfolds in the negotiations. "It's rare and that's cool," Rick says of the cannon, "and it's rare and that's expensive." Some deals are done easier than others. "I've got $1,000 in my pocket instead of an old sword in the closet," says one satisfied customer. As for the pinball machine owner who vowed he would not take less than $3,000, he tilts at $2,000. Where Pawn Stars seems less than authentic are the behind-the-counter subplots. In one episode, Corey bets Old Man that he can sell a Rolex for more than $4,800. If he loses, he must wear a suit and tie to work for three weeks. In the opener, Old Man must go to an eye doctor after underpricing a valuable coin. Most of the laughs are at the expense of another employee, Chumlee, Big Hoss's childhood friend who seems more a mascot. "He's a village idiot," Big Hoss states, "but he's my village idiot." Adding to this set's value are entertaining and instructive bonus features, including "Real or Fake," which offers pointers on how to determine if silver, gold, and a Rolex watch are authentic. There's no question about Pawn Stars, though. As a look at American counter culture, it's the real deal. --Donald Liebenson