Rick Harrison has a bunch of championship rings and a few Olympic medals but his favorite championship item is the University of Nevada, Las Vegas NC2A championship ring.

New England Patriots Super Bowl XXXVI Ring

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, so the saying goes. And for the three generations of the Harrison family, their entire way of living—namely, the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, an independent pawn shop in Las Vegas, Nevada—has been built over thousands of items.

Many of these items have been featured on the popular reality TV series, “Pawn Stars,” which has been airing for five years.

In an interview with Howie Severino on News to Go on Friday, Rick Harrison—son of family patriarch Richard “Old Man” Harrison and father to Corey “Big Hoss” Harrison—says he’s been in the business since 1988.

“I get a lot of national press, ’cause I get a lot of weird things in my pawn shop,” said Rick. “And it was always really good for business, so you know, if I got one of these reality shows…you know, it might help out business a little bit.

“I was literally hoping for one season or two. I never thought this would happen,” he added.

Indeed, a little bit goes a long way—the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop now gets over 5,000 customers a day, thanks to the show.

From Picasso to shrunken heads

In the US, pawn shops are a big industry, with about 12,000 shops all over the country—many of them owned by big corporations.

“Before my television show, it [the pawn shop industry] wasn’t looked upon really great,” said Rick. “I think I’ve raised the image a little bit.”

But out of all of them, why has the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop gotten this much attention?

Rick attributes their popularity to their niche as an independent pawn shop that takes in more expensive, high-end items.

“In the ’90s, I decided there will never be a time in my pawn shop when there won’t be at least one Picasso on the wall,” he said in a casual manner.

When asked if people really bring such items, he answered, “It’s Las Vegas—there’s a lot of gambling going on there.

“It’s sort of like a melting pot for wealthy people around the world—they like to just retire to Las Vegas and sometimes, things get rough,” he adds.

The Harrison family themselves own an entire block on Las Vegas Boulevard and another warehouse just to store over 17,000 currently inventoried items. Among their more expensive stock are antique guns, coins, jewelry, art, and old cars.

As for the weird stuff, they include a 1920s home electroshock therapy kit and shrunken heads, according to Rick.

The art of guesstimation

Appraisal is a big part of the pawning business, of course. But how does Rick figure out how much a thing is worth, and how much to give the person trying to sell it to them?

“Sometimes, you run into really big problems,” said Rick, when asked how he would price a shrunken head. “On one-of-a-kind items, you just sort of have to guesstimate, like, things similar to it.

“[For] a lot of things like rare coins, there’s books and—you go online to figure it out. For things like that, you just have to wing it, you know what I mean? You get other things similar, you know the collector’s market, and you sort of come up with a figure.”

Occasionally, they come across two items with the same value—however, one could be a gold coin, which would sell immediately, and the other could be a work of art that may hang on the pawn shop wall for three years. Rick would rather pay much more for the former than the latter, which he does not know when he’s going to sell.

Rick has to know a lot of stuff about whatever is brought to him at the pawn shop. “If I don’t know something about it, I’ll tell them, and I’ll call in somebody who does,” he said. Luckily, he has experts to fill in the gaps.

But once or twice a week, someone will come in and lay something on the countertop and Rick will say, “Oh, what [have] you got there… I have no idea. I have no idea whom to call, nothing.”

“You’ll never see it on the show, though,” he added with a laugh.

Thieves and sports guys

And what kind of customers does he usually see in his shop?

“It’s just normal people who don’t have good credit, can’t get a bank account, and if you need a little money just to get by for the month, this is where you come to—you come to me,” Rick said.

Sometimes, people come in with stolen items. This is determined when, at the close of the deal, he takes their ID number, height, and weight and a really good description of the object and turns it over to the local police department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation—every single time, for every single item.

“The amount of paperwork we have to do is insane,” he said. “A pawn license in Las Vegas is worth a couple of million dollars… I am not gonna risk it.”

“But every once in a while, you get a really stupid thief—and I end up losing the money,” he said. When that happens, the thief is arrested and prosecuted by both the State (for the act of stealing) and Rick (for getting money from him under false pretenses).

The large volume of sports rings and medals in the stock also means that a lot of winning sportsmen come in and trade their symbols of honor and recognition. Rick has a bunch of Super Bowl rings, a few Olympic medals (one gold worth around $20,000, and four bronze ranging from $10,000 to $15,000)—but his favorite item is the University of Nevada, Las Vegas NC2A championship ring.

The medals and rings may be family heirlooms, but Rick said, “In the end, it’s just stuff and if you need to take care of your family, the money’s more important than the stuff. What it boils down to is that a lot of these sports guys are good at sports…but not in business.”

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