I am not ashamed to confess that I’m a fan of “American Pickers.” Actually, it’s an easy admission to make since I’ve already owned up to being a follower of “Pawn Stars” and “Storage Wars.”
For the blissfully uninformed, the three titles above refer to popular reality television shows. “Pawn Stars” on the History Channel recounts the dealings at a Las Vegas pawn shop where customers bring in all sorts of historic and sometimes weird items and offer them for sale.
“Storage Wars” is on the Arts and Entertainment network and stars a group of California scavengers who buy unclaimed storage lockers, oftentimes finding hidden treasures under stacks of used clothing.
While I’m hopelessly addicted to all three, my favorite is “American Pickers,” a History Channel series about Mike and Frank, a couple of Iowa-based collectors who travel the roads of America, hunting for dilapidated barns and warehouses piled high with sundry items that most people would put out with the garbage. Mike and Frank don’t. They buy and later resell them at prices sometimes double and triple what they paid.
I’m not sure what it is, but “Pickers” is addictive. I thought they only existed on television or in the imaginations of TV producers, but it turns out there actually is a “picker” economy.
Two pickers have even set up shop at the Exit 76 Antique Mall, but their goods don’t come from old barns and warehouses in America. Marcellino and Kate Van Hoof’s “trash” was found in castles, barns, rectories and old cathedrals throughout Europe.
“Marcellino’s been a picker since he was 5 years old,” Canadian-born Kate recounted earlier this week. “He and his brother often went with their father, who was already a picker, and one day he came home and asked his mother to make him a suit he could wear so that he could sell some old vases he had found on one of their picks. He still remembers standing in front of an old castle in that suit selling those vases. He made quite a profit on that first sale.”
He never stopped. Today he, his father, Harry, and brother, Salvatore, are based in the Netherlands but still go on the road throughout Europe looking for hidden treasures.
Despite their long history of picking, the family had been greeted with curious stares from their countrymen when describing what they did for a living. No longer.
Picking has become a preoccupation with Europeans because “American Pickers” has gone abroad.
“It’s now on television in Europe,” Kate said. “It’s really funny because, thanks to ‘American Pickers,’ a lot of Europeans now understand what my husband has been doing for more than 30 years.”
There are some differences between picking in the U.S. and Europe. For one thing, Marcellino is apt to come across items that predate the findings of Mike and Frank by centuries.
The routines of the American and European pickers are similar.
“Sometimes Marcellino will get some leads and set out with a destination in mind, but we also just get on the road and drive, looking for potential sites along the way,” Kate said.
Some finds are pure accidents.
“One day Marcellino was in an old antique store, and this gentleman tapped him on the shoulder and said he had something to show him,” Kate said. “They went up to the fourth floor of this building, and the room was stocked with clocks, many of them very old. Marcellino was so excited that he negotiated a price for the whole floor and purchased them all.”
The family also has acquired furniture, old doors, paintings and statues that date back centuries.
Most of their business over the years has been in the wholesale trade, but the couple branched out into retail thanks to a decision by Kate’s daughter to get a degree from Indiana University in Bloomington. She graduated recently and received a job offer in Carmel. Marcellino and Kate came to Indiana to help her move and, along the way, encountered the Exit 76 Antique Mall.
“We had heard about the mall’s reputation, and everyone we met seemed to be talking about it,” Kate recalled. “Besides, the location gave me a chance to visit my daughter more often.”
The couple, who operate under the name of Europa Antiques in the mall, already had a system in place for getting their European goods to America. They long had been packing shipping containers with their antiques and sending them stateside, so setting up the Taylorsville operation only involved packing one more container.
The couple’s space has been open for just more than a week, but they express delight at the reception they’ve gotten.
Who knows, maybe Mike and Frank will drop in one day to compare notes.
Harry McCawley is associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached by phone at 379-5620 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.