They are the Pawn Stars co-stars, the experts who help separate the genuine from the fake, the treasure from the trash. Without them, History’s Pawn Stars would be Antiques Roadshow: Las Vegas, only with more guns. They work without a script, and they’re not paid a dime, but being on the show has boosted their businesses and made them brand names in the appraiser field.
When Pawn Stars executive producer and lead broker Rick Harrison says, “I’ve got a buddy I’d like to call to come have a look at this,” more than likely, he’s talking about Mark Hall-Patton, administrator of the Clark County Museum system in Henderson, Nevada. Affectionately known as “The Beard of Knowledge,” Hall-Patton has appeared in 130 episodes of Pawn Stars – more than any of the other experts. With his distinctive beard and Amish-style hat, he’s the most recognizable museum director in the world. Thanks to the show, he’s become the face of America’s museums. The show airs in over 150 countries, and Hall-Patton is recognized wherever he goes. One time a fan even approached in Afghanistan. “I didn’t even know we were on in Afghanistan,” Hall-Patton laughs. Fame suits him, and it’s done wonders for his museum. Located on the eastern edge of the Las Vegas Valley, Hall-Patton’s museum is about a half-hour drive from downtown. But that – and the heat – hasn’t stopped tourists from flocking there in the hope of catching a glimpse of their favorite Pawn Stars expert. There are even Pawn Stars tour buses that head out there. Since he started on the show in 2009, walk-ins to his museum have nearly doubled; from 18,000 a year in 2009, to 32,000 last year. Says Hall-Patton “That’s why I do the show — to showcase the museum and get people out here.”
Since becoming one of the regular experts on Pawn Stars 3 1/2 years ago, Jeremy Brown’s business has gone through the roof – two roofs actually. To accommodate all the new business generated by his appearances on the show, he’s had to move his Ultimate Sports Cards and Memorabilia shop from a strip mall on the outskirts of Las Vegas to a space twice as big that’s just down the street from the famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop where the show is filmed. Sales at his shop have increased “dramatically” since he started on the show, he says. “It’s been night and day.”
Like the other experts on Pawn Stars, Brown doesn’t get paid to give his expert advice on the value of baseball cards, Super Bowl rings, game-worn uniforms and the like, but the show’s national exposure, he says, “has done wonders for our shop.”
Six days a week, tour buses on the Pawn Stars circuit pull up outside his store on Fremont Street and unload their passengers. “We have tours that come through here – 30 to 120 people a day – all because of the show,” he says. “They might only spend 15 minutes in our shop, but they come back or do transactions by email. We’ve made some customers for life from those tours. We had our shop for 6 1/2 years, and we closed it specifically to be closer to the pawn shop.” And when he gets the call, he drops everything and hurries on over to give Rick his best advice. “Sometimes they give us a little advance notice,” he says, “but I walk in there blind more often than not.”
Then there’s Rebecca Romney, Pawn Stars’ most famous bookworm — a self-described nerd whose 36 appearances on the show have helped make reading books cool again. As the manager of the Las Vegas gallery of Bauman Rare Books, Romney gets the call whenever someone walks into the pawn store with a dusty old book to sell. Business at the gallery has increased significantly since she first appeared in 2011. “We do see a lot more volume because of Pawn Stars, which is really nice,” Romney says. Not to mention, thanks to the show, history sometimes just walks in the door. “The most expensive book I’ve appraised for Pawn Stars was probably the von Steuben at $18,000,” she said, referring to the first edition of the Revolutionary War training manual written for George Washington by Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, a major general of the Continental Army. Harrison has called it the book that “won the Revolutionary War.”
Steve Grad, Pawn Stars’ lead autograph authenticator from PSA/DNA Authentication Services, has also seen a 15%-20% uptick in sales during the past year thanks to his appearance on the History show. With offices in Newport Beach, CA, Grad hops on a plane and flies to Vegas whenever the pawn shop calls – which has been about 15 times during the past year. From his iPad, he can download more than 140,000 autograph samples and quickly tell Rick which are the genuine articles and which are fakes. His favorite part of appearing on the show is telling the stories about the people behind the autographs. “Behind every autograph is a person,” he says. “The history behind things is what’s really fascinating to me.” On one show, Harrison tapped Grad to authenticate a signed, handwritten poem by Nicola Tesla, the great inventor and rival of Thomas Edison. Harrison, who knew all about Tesla, referred to him as “one of the coolest guys in history”, but being a historical legend, or footnote, doesn’t always translate into gold in the pawn-broking business. The seller was asking $5,000 for it. Grad authenticated it and estimated its value at $2,500, and Rick ended up buying it for $1,600.
A former radio broadcaster, Grad’s also enjoying being more than just a familiar voice. “Rick and I have become pretty good friends,” he says, “and every time we sit down, he asks me, ‘Are more people recognizing you?’ I worked in radio in Chicago, and they may recognize your voice, but nobody recognizes your face. I was recognized two or three times yesterday alone. It’s very strange, but I love it.”
When it comes to the more out-of-the-universe type of goods, i.e. arcane pinball machines, video games and vintage tennis shoes, Harrison has the affable Austin “Chumlee” Russell close by. “I’m the genius behind the pawn shop,” he jokes, though he may not be kidding; with his hound dog look and mischievous grin, he’s certainly the show’s comic genius. The fame of being America’s funniest pawn broker, however, hasn’t gone to his head. Appearing on the show has made him not only famous but wealthy, as well. “Chumlee was the first to market his character,” says book expert Romney. “His Chumlee T-shirts were so successful that Rick bought out half his business, and now they sell all sorts of his stuff in the store.” When he’s not tooling around town in his customized 1986 Buick Regal, he usually can be found, 10 hours a day, 36 weeks a year, at the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, where he started working 10 years ago. Chumlee’s life took a lucky turn in the sixth grade when he hooked up with Corey Harrison, whose father and grandfather owned a local pawn shop. “Considering we met in a fistfight, I guess it turned out all right,” he laughs.
The ripple effect that Pawn Stars has had on its experts’ businesses might have started out as a much-needed breath of cool air in the Vegas heat, but it has turned into a tornado.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” says Grad. “It’s been a great experience and helped my business tremendously. I hope it lasts forever because I love it so much.”