~ An AmeriCollector.com Exclusive ~
[singlepic id=380 w=400 h=300 float=left]April 15: a date that always reminds me of death, taxes, and collecting … and whether money owed to the IRS will put a crimp in the latter, at least in the short term.
Sometimes I find myself lying awake at 3 a.m., wondering about this collecting impulse in general and the next hot item I’ll be sniping on eBay in particular. Is it just me, getting weirder in my own head like Ted Kaczynski in his shack in the Montana woods?
When you get down to it, collecting is a solitary journey. Sure, you can go to lots of shows and auctions and events; join clubs and chat rooms and make friends; trade information and items; but at the end of the day, it’s everyone doing their own thing within the framework of their individual lives.
Certainly, collecting is an important part of my life. Sometimes I have to restrain myself, but for the most part I collect systematically, reasonably and within my budget; it does not threaten my marriage; I do not receive hate mail from creditors; my little ones do not whimper from hunger in the wee hours because I blew my paycheck in an online auction.
Still, I can’t help wondering sometimes: Am I nuts?
Then I consider the popularity of “Antiques Roadshow” and note the newest collector “reality” shows – many of them spin-offs or rip-offs of “Pawn Stars” – and realize: I may be crazy, but I am not alone. There’s “American Pickers,” “Oddities,” “Storage Wars,” Auction Kings, “Auction Queens,” “Hardcore Pawn,” “Mounted in Alaska” … Some of these are bound to fizzle out, but “Antiques Roadshow” is an enduring classic, and I’m pretty sure “Pawn Stars,” a personal favorite, is here to stay as long as Rick Harrison and Company care to keep it going.
What’s next, then: a show about a pawnshop on the Jersey Shore run by “guidos” with a special interest in taxidermy?
Nope: It’s a return to basics, the logical next step after “Pawn Stars,” a show I never miss (see “Hardcore history: 6 Reasons I love ‘Pawn Stars’” in the Feb. 23 AmeriCollector). It’s called “American Restoration” (www.history.com/shows/american-restoration) and features the crew of Rick’s Restorations (www.ricksrestorations.com), a Las Vegas business headed by owner Rick Dale, one of the guys who the “Pawn Stars” folks routinely bring in to restore stuff for the shop. In that context, it means fixing up a damaged item to make it salable at a realistic price that will make the pawnshop a decent profit.
For me, this is one of the highlights of “Pawn Stars. That’s because, sooner or later, any serious collector of anything of real rarity and value or importance has to agonize over whether or not to purchase something with condition issues and have it restored (another thing I think about during bouts of insomnia). Do you pass on a one-of-a-kind item because it needs some TLC by a professional? Does the cost of repairs outweigh the rush of getting a treasure at a bargain-basement price? Is restoring the item at all going to compromise its integrity?
Rick’s Restorations specializes in “classic restoration,” which they define as “returning the classic object to its original state when it was new.” They point out the difference between “restoring” and “customizing”: “Customizing is to add or modify something that doesn’t make the object original anymore. To do a classic restoration, you must make sure that all of the parts being replaced are specific to the object you are restoring.”
I asked Rick some questions about his work. I expected some great answers, and I wasn’t disappointed …
[singlepic id=383 w=400 h=320 float=left]AmeriCollector: Looking at your Web site, most stuff you routinely restore seems to be made partly or completely of metal, with or without moving parts, but not electronic: i.e., pre-1960 machines, appliances, non-wood or upholstered furniture, and toys. Is that accurate?
Rick: We restore everything that is made from metal, plastics, wood, upholstery, aluminum, fiberglass, composite, etc. We are up for any challenge! If it’s old we can restore it!
AC: How long have you been doing restoration work, and how did you get started?
Rick: I have been doing restoration since I was nine years old and I’m now 52. Ricks Restorations has been in business since 1982.
AC: What do you enjoy about restoring vintage items?
Rick: I enjoy the complexity of each piece: It feels like I was born in a different era. The smiles the customer gives me when he or she see the item when finished is pure joy and satisfaction in itself – and I make a living doing it! We are restoring history and memories all at the same time.
AC: You guys are obviously sticklers for historical accuracy: How do you get the colors and other details right when you restore items to as close to their original condition as possible?
Rick: When we tear down a project, there is always a clue in it that lets you know. If not, then the research begins on the Internet.
AC: How far do you go to fashion a part if you can’t find a usable original?
Rick: Most parts are available online somewhere or we buy a complete exact piece to replace parts. Last resort is to fabricate a part exactly.
AC: What kind of items do you especially enjoy working on?
Rick: I love restoring different mechanical items. The more complicated, the better! There is no challenge we can’t take on.
AC: What items pose the biggest challenge to you?
Rick: The biggest challenge is not breaking the item in the tear-down phase and making sure you don’t lose any parts. There is no instruction manual so reassembly can be difficult at times.
AC: What are some of the most interesting things you have restored?
Rick: The most interesting pieces we have done to date:
• a 1920s railroad train vacuum that has a mix of electrical motors and mechanics
• a 1940s coffee vending machine. There are more moving parts in this than a Swiss watch and it came from the first hotel built on the Vegas strip. You have got to see these episodes!
AC: On “Antiques Roadshow,” the Keno brothers always tell people not to restore old wooden furniture – that collectors like the “used” look – but a well-used Chippendale cabinet looks a lot better in your home than a rusted Coca-Cola vending machine. All the same, do you ever recommend NOT restoring something?
Rick: Sometimes . . . but it is truly up to the customer. We are restoring their memory. It’s not always about the money!
AC: I think I saw a “Pawn Stars” segment when you restored a soda vending machine to be used as a simple refrigerator, rather than a working dispenser. Do you often restore items to be used for somewhat different purposes than they were originally made?
Rick: Re-manufacturing something is always fun and challenging. You work with what you have because everyone has a different picture of what they want. It’s their happiness I want to provide.
AC: What do you yourself collect?
Rick: I collect nothing. With tens of thousands of pieces restored, I would need a city block to keep it all. After all, it’s a business!
“American Restoration” premieres Friday, April 15, on the History Channel: Check your local listings … and let us know what you think!
Images and video courtesy of History Channel Press.