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"Picking" involves sorting through piles of what other people may consider junk in order to find items to resell. In many cases, the items turn out to be extremely rare and even the owners had no idea that they had any value at all, much less that the items are highly collectible. Among things found by the pickers are Indian motorcycles, antique bicycles, toys, advertising signs and furniture.
The pickers also have an eye for the unusual. They've picked a pair of giant Laurel and Hardy heads, a giant boot which once served as advertising for a western wear store, and a Piaggio Ape, which they were later told was likely the only one of its kind in North America.
When Wolfe and Fritz are on the road, their assistant, Danielle Colby-Cushman, runs the shop, sells items to customers and finds places for the men to pick.
The pickers also encounter many different personalities on their journeys. Most are happy to have someone come look though their stuff. Others would rather be left alone and there are at least two instances captured in the series where the pickers were rudely turned away.
American Pickers often airs on The History Channel alongside episodes of the slightly similar series Pawn Stars.
Although not related to the recent adventure game Pickers: Adventures in Rust, one could argue that it was inspired by this show.
Provides examples of:
- Alliterative Name: Frank Fritz
- Ambiguously Gay
- Art Evolution: Of a sort. You can tell if you're watching a first- or second-season show by looking at Danielle's tattoos. Early on, the one on her chest is just an outline. Later, it gets colored in. Also, the letters on her knuckles and what appears to be a big fly on her left forearm are not present in early seasons.
- Season Three indicator: There's a new one on the back of her left hand.
- Author Appeal: Mike loves anything that looks like Frank.
- Badass Beard: Franks's.
- Big Eater: Mike learned the hard way that you should never offer to buy dinner for Frank.
- Butt Monkey: Frank. It comes with being the shorter, chubbier one compared to Mike.
- Occasionally Danielle. It comes with being the one who keeps things running at the shop while Mike and Frank are running around doing their thing.
- Blood Brothers: Frank and Mike have known each other since junior high school.
- Cool Car: Not theirs (It's a Mercedes Benz van, although it's practical). However, they find a lot of cool cars, motorcycles and bicycles when they're out picking.
- Crossover: With Pawn Stars and its Spin-Off, American Restoration, in a July 2011 arc in which Rick Harrison calls the pickers to find a 1957 Chevy to restore and give to the Old Man on his birthday. The Pickers episode ends with the sale and goes right into the Restoration episode which deals with Rick Dale's effort to restore the car. He also buys an old neon sign from Mike and Frank and partially restores it. The Restoration episode, in turn, leads into the Pawn Stars episode where Dale and his team finish the project and Harrison gives it to the old man.
- The kicker: It's estimated that it will take 6 to 8 months to restore the car. Harrison needs it done in three months.
- Do You Want to Haggle?: It's how picking is done. In some cases, Frank or Mike make the case for their offer based on the condition of the object or how much it would take to restore it. The owner's counter is sometimes based on sentimental value or just simply "But where else are you gonna find that?" Sometimes, they'll make a friendly wager to settle the price, such as the winner of a game of Rock Paper Scissors getting their price.
- Epic Fail: Mike found a car he thought was cool but wasn't. He had to have Danielle work hard just to find someone who would pay him enough just to break even.
- Expository Opening Narration:
Frank: We travel the back roads of America looking for rusty gold. We're looking for amazing things buried in people's garages and barns.
Mike: What most people see as junk, we see as dollar signs.
Frank: We'll buy anything we think we can make a buck on.
Mike: Each item we pick has a history all its own. And the people we meet, well, they're a breed all their own ... We make a living telling the history of America, one piece at a time.
- Fat and Skinny
- Freaky Is Cool: There's the matching giant Laurel and Hardy heads, the giant baby head, both of which Frank and/or Mike have put on at least once.
- Mike is drawn to the unusual. Chances are, he already knows someone who will buy it.
- Grumpy Old Man: There are some people Mike and Frank come upon while they're "Freestyling" (looking for places to pick on side roads) who are very much not interested in being disturbed.
- Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today?: Possibly. The show seems to go out of the way at times to have Mike mention a girlfriend, and to show drive-time conversations about things like which female celebrity is hotter.
- Heterosexual Life Partners: Mike and Frank are either this or very subtly Ambiguously Gay.
- Hey, It's That Guy!: One episode featured the guys on a pick for William Shatner, who wanted some cool things for his home.
- Another had them stop by Jack White's record store in Nashville, where they sell him an elephant head in exchange for White's old jukebox and a photobooth featured in the video for "Hang You Up from the Heavens" by The Dead Weather.
- In yet another episode, they picked a warehouse owned by legendary country singer Mickey Gilley and featuring memorabilia from his defunct Gilley's Club establishment.
- Hilarity Ensues: Mike and Danielle go out on a pick in the Dakotas, while Frank stays behind and runs the store. It's an outright lie; Frank is going to the big Sturgis rally in South Dakota, which he has never missed. At the end of the episode, they drop in on both him and a recurring character, "Hippie Tom." All is forgiven at the end of the episode.
- Knuckle Tattoos: Danielle's are first seen during the second season.
- Lower Deck Episode: One episode had Danielle go on a few picks, one with both of them, and two with just Mike.
- Mr. Exposition: It's not as bad as other shows, where it's clear the people talking about an object are doing it just so that the audience can understand it's value. In most cases, there will either be a graphic with an explanation (and sometimes a photo) or Mike or Frank will speak about it either in voice-over narration or in a cutaway shot.
- Ms. Fanservice: Danielle.
- Nice Hat: Frank takes a liking to a cowboy hat at one pick.
- Oh Crap: It's rare that the pickers will get something only to find out it's not worth what they paid. In fact, this is often averted when the pickers find out that the appraised value is several times what they paid.
- Recycled in Space: Or in this case, Canada (Canadian Pickers)
- Swapping Roles: One episode had Danielle going out on a pick while Frank stays and watches the shop.
- Take a Third Option: When they can't come up with a selling price, Frank will come up with "the bundle" and group multiple items into a single sale.
- Vendor Trash: Done quite literally. Mike and Frank will take what looks like worthless junk and resell it to people who are willing to pay high prices for it.