“Pawn Stars,” a popular reality television show aired on History Channel, gave viewers a thrilling journey into the fascinating world of the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop. It chronicled the daily operations of the shop, showcasing the intricate art of negotiation, the expertise of appraisers, and the intriguing stories behind the items brought in by customers. Over the years of doing business, there have been instances in which questionable deals resulted in potential losses for sellers. This was how pawn shops in general operate, but some viewers believed “Pawn Stars” cheated their clients.

All about the enthralling world of “Pawn Stars”

At the heart of “Pawn Stars” is the Harrison family, led by patriarch Richard “Old Man” Harrison, a retired Navy sailor, and his son Rick Harrison. With their combined knowledge and experience, they navigate the bustling pawn shop, evaluating an array of artifacts, collectibles, antiques, and memorabilia. As each item holds the potential for significant value, tensions rise and exhilarating haggling sessions unfold, making for captivating television.

How it all started

Before banks became the primary source of loans, pawn shops provided an alternative for those in need of quick cash. The Gold & Silver Pawn Shop has been at the forefront of this kind of business in Las Vegas for years. Established in 1980, initially as a coin shop, it grew successfully over time but Rick Harrison wanted to expand the business by transforming it into a pawn shop. However, obtaining a business license in Las Vegas proved challenging due to city code restrictions. It took several years before the city reached the required population count that would allow Rick to secure a business license and establish the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop.

Gold & Silver’s unique approach

To stand out in the competitive world of pawn shops, Rick knew he needed to offer something uniquely different to clients. He focused on rare and unique memorabilia, including weaponry and artwork, rather than the typical items found in other pawn shops. Rick had a Picasso painting mounted on the shop’s wall to create a luxurious ambiance and recruited a knowledgeable and skilled staff. This strategy garnered more clients, enhanced the reputation of Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, and made them popular within the industry.

Transition from Gold & Silver Pawn Shop to “Pawn Stars”

The transition from a pawn shop to a reality TV series had an interesting journey. Since Gold & Silver Pawn Shop operated in the entertainment capital of the world, Rick wanted to use different platforms to promote their business and pursued the idea of a reality TV show documenting their daily activities. With the assistance of Leftfield Productions, a pilot episode was filmed and presented to TV networks. The Old Man, who was initially hesitant to participate simply because the chosen filming day fell on his day off, eventually agreed. Rick faced another hurdle when pitching the idea to History Channel executives. However, a fortunate encounter with the Vice President of programming led to the creation of a show. Initially entitled “Pawning History,” the show was eventually named “Pawn Stars” to better reflect its offerings and to draw in viewers due to its play on words.

Beyond the fascinating transactions, “Pawn Stars” offers glimpses into the historical and cultural significance of the items that pass through the shop’s doors. From rare books to vintage automobiles, each object has a story to tell, painting a vivid picture of human history.

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The instances when Pawn Stars “cheated” the clients

While the cast members of “Pawn Stars” are skilled negotiators, there have been instances where questionable deals resulted in potential losses for sellers. Here are a few notable examples:

A rare and valuable book

A seller named Bob presented a 450-year-old book on alchemy believed to be from Isaac Newton’s library. Despite being informed by the resident expert on rare books that the Isaac Newton book retail value was $20,000, the Old Man still offered $7,000 for it. Bob accepted the deal not knowing that the book was actually something precious and irreplaceable.

The rare1890s Colt .45 gun

In one episode of “Pawn Stars,” Rick made a $3,000 purchase of a Colt .45 revolver from the 1890s, unaware of its potential higher value in the market. The revolver’s hidden value became apparent when Sean, a resident expert appraised it at around $5,000. Depending on the rarity of the type of firearm, such revolvers could fetch a much higher price. The first Colt .45 that was created in 1887 called “Peacemaker,” was valued at around $240,000 in a 1987 auction. Even if the revolver featured on the show was manufactured a bit later than the “Peacemaker” it could still fetch a price somewhere between $2000 to $40,000.

The Hotchkiss Cannon

A vintage weapon collector named Chuck went to the pawn shop with his 1890 Hotchkiss Cannon. Rick and Sean recognized the historical significance of the piece; the expert appraised the cannon and suggested a fair price of $40,000, considering its historical value. However, during the negotiation process, Chuck unintentionally disclosed what his negotiation limits were and revealed that he was expecting around $30,000 for the cannon. Rick astutely seized the opportunity, recognizing the seller’s low expectations, and agreed to the lower offer. This showcased Rick’s adept negotiation skills as he capitalized on Chuck’s unwitting revelation. While the customer may have inadvertently undercut himself, Rick’s expertise allowed him to secure the deal. The Hotchkiss Cannon was a remarkable addition to the shop’s collection, representing the Hotchkiss arms company’s legacy in producing various weaponry, including the 1.65-inch light mountain gun, which could be mounted on a light carriage or transported on mules to accompany troops in challenging terrain.

The autographed script of Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather”

When a customer named Diane brought in a copy of “The Godfather” script signed by “Al” they all assumed it was the handwriting of the lead star in the movie, Al Pacino. Rick made an initial offer of about $500, as the resident expert told them that it could easily fetch around $1,000 at an auction, after he’d verified that it was the movie actor’s signature. Recognizing the potential for a higher return, Diane declined Rick’s offer, realizing that a fundraiser might yield better results. The signed screenplay was auctioned off, and Diane took home about $12,000, proving that her decision was correct, as it way surpassed the initial valuation.

Adding another twist to the story, it was revealed that the signature actually belongs to Al Ruddy, one of the producers of “The Godfather,” and not the movie’s lead star as originally assumed. This unexpected revelation leaves the Pawn Stars’ handwriting expert red-faced, highlighting the unpredictability of appraisals in the world of collectibles. Al Ruddy, who watched the episode, immediately knew that it was his signature based on the inscription. He learned about the auction and was glad that it fetched that much money. Interestingly, it was his wife who won the bid for the signed item, and surprised him with it over breakfast.

The Baseball signed by the 1951 New York Yankees

When Clint presented a baseball signed by the 1951 World Series Champion New York Yankees, the “Old Man” offered a lowball price of $800. However, Clint wisely declined the offer, recognizing that the value of the item might be higher. He turned out to be correct in his assumption. A similar baseball, featuring signatures not only from the Yankees but also from Marilyn Monroe, was appraised at $15,000 on another reality antique TV show. This appraisal demonstrated that the Pawn Stars’ offer significantly undervalued the item. Clint made the right decision by walking away. It was worth noting that Joe DiMaggio, one of the players on the signed baseball, had a romantic relationship with Marilyn Monroe, which eventually led to their marriage in 1954. However, the marriage only lasted nine months, highlighting the tumultuous nature of their relationship.

The Yasutsugu Samurai Sword

During a negotiation, Rick’s son Corey encountered a 15th-century Yasutsugu Samurai Sword. Despite being aware of the high value of similar swords, Corey started with a questionable offer of less than $1000. Surprisingly, the client, who wasn’t great at negotiations agreed to sell it for a mere $1,500. It was revealed later that its true value was way more than Corey gave to the seller. Apparently, a weaponry expert on Japanese swords appraised that it was worth around $5,000 to $6,000 in its current condition. However, a restoration could easily increase its value to as much as $15,000 to $20,000. This deal proved to be a significant win for the Pawn Stars, leaving them elated about their successful acquisition.

The iconic swordsmith Yasutsugu, primarily crafted his legendary swords using Namban tetsu, a type of steel known as “barbarian steel” in Bushu, Edu, which is now present-day Tokyo. The name Yasutsugu carried a distinct royal flavor – the first generation, known as Shodai Yasutsugu, enjoyed the support of Matsudaira Hideyasu, the third son of Tokugawa Ieyasu, who was the first shogun of the Edo period. The historical association of Yasutsugu’s craftsmanship added to the allure and value of the Yasutsugu Samurai Sword.

Sellers who had a blast on “Pawn Stars”

While not every seller walked away satisfied, some have truly enjoyed their time on the show, whether it was through a successful transaction, a clever scam, or discovering unexpected treasures. Let’s take a closer look at some of the sellers who loved being on “Pawn Stars.”

The Wells Fargo Strongbox

A seller brought in a supposed 19th-century Wells Fargo strongbox, hoping to make a good deal. Despite Rick’s reputation for calling in their renowned experts, he failed to consult one and ended up paying a little less than $500 for an inauthentic item. The box turned out to be a fake, as Mark, the resident expert told him later on. The seller probably had a laugh knowing they fooled the popular pawnbroker.

That time the gang bought stolen diamonds

Rick was duped with a stolen pair of diamond earrings, and became a victim of a clever seller in a sharp suit who successfully sold diamonds to the pawn shop. With a receipt and appropriate answers to his questions, the seller tricked Rick into making a deal only to find out later that the goods were stolen; local law enforcement officers informed him about it, and while the culprit was behind bars, Rick lost $40,000, which he’d forked out during the transaction. Rick surely learned a valuable lesson from this encounter.

Spanish shipwreck gold bar

No need to be a pirate to score a gold bar as a seller was lucky enough to find such a valuable item in his attic, from a Spanish shipwreck, and went to Rick’s pawn shop to sell it. The seller was patient enough to wait for Rick’s resident expert to appraise the item’s true value to ensure that he wouldn’t get a low appraisal. After the gold bar was appraised, the seller was ecstatic to hear its true value, which resulted in a significantly higher deal.

Willie Mays’ uniform

Corey, who worked in the shop for many years, had an unforgettable transaction, scammed of a little over $30,000 in what he thought was an authentic Willie May’s San Francisco Giant uniform. Willie May was regarded as one of the baseball legends in Major League Baseball, in second place on most of the all-time lists in this sport with Babe Ruth topping them. The seller said it was worn by Willie in a game in 1961, but there were red flags all over it since it was clean and in pristine condition. There was no sign of any wear and tear considering that the baseball Hall of Famer was known to be quite aggressive on the field, nor did the seller provide him with anything to authenticate that it was the real thing. Despite the obvious red flags, Corey took a gamble and lost.

Inside “Pawn Stars” bizarre $5 million lawsuit involving melted gold

“Pawn Stars” faced the controversy of a $5 million lawsuit involving melted gold; few could have predicted such a turn of events. According to a criminal complaint filed by the State of Nevada in Clark County Justice Court, a coin collection worth an estimated $50,000 was stolen from David Walters’ Las Vegas home in November 2013, by his niece Jennifer Beckman. The niece allegedly sold the stolen coins in separate visits to the Gold and Silver Pawn shop. However, the police were too slow in their investigation and only informed the shop about the stolen coins the following month. By that time, the coins had already been processed, melted down, and were no longer in the shop’s possession. Spokesperson Laura Herlovich explained that if a grader wasn’t trusted, the cases were cracked open, and the coins were sent out to be melted down. Unfortunately for Walters, the law exempted gold coins from the requirement for pawn shops in Nevada to hold onto items for a certain period of time, which meant that his collection was lost by the time he discovered its fate.

The realities behind “Pawn Stars”: Authenticity, privacy laws, and longevity

The world-famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop became a huge tourist attraction in Las Vegas. People flocked there to check out the establishment, and possibly meet the Harrisons or perhaps some of the experts who appeared in the show.

The authenticity of the pawn shop is something that fans often wonder about. The shop depicted in the series is indeed real, and operates as a regular pawn shop at 713 S. Las Vegas Boulevard in Las Vegas, Nevada. With the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas, the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, providing a glimpse inside the shop.  However, due to the immense popularity of the show, producers had to create a duplicate pawn shop. This replica accurately resembled the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, and allowed filming to take place without disrupting the actual business operations at the original location.

People who wondered if they could get a glimpse of any of the reality TV stars while they were in the area would be disappointed; it was discovered that the main cast members were forbidden from working behind the store’s main counter; their celebrity status had led them to pursue other ventures. Rick Harrison also owned Rick’s Rollin Smoke BBQ and Tavern, where he often tended the bar. Chumlee Russell owned Chumlee’s Candy on the Boulevard, continuing his entrepreneurial endeavors. Although they occasionally stop by the shop, the day-to-day operations are managed by new employees.

The prohibition of the “Pawn Stars” cast members from working behind the main counter was a result of privacy laws in Nevada. If they were allowed to work there, fans would frequently snap photos of them, which might inadvertently capture other shoppers in the store who haven’t given their consent to be photographed. To prioritize customer privacy and ensure compliance with the law, they made the decision not to have any cast members working at the shop.

Despite the challenges and controversies, the cast members express gratitude for the show’s longevity, and the opportunity to work together as a family. Their relationships, both personal and professional, have played a significant role in the success of the series. As the show resumed production after the COVID-19 pandemic eased out government restrictions, they continued providing their fans with more intriguing items, negotiations, and historical tidbits.

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