Pawn Stars: Fascinating Facts About the World-Famous Pawn Shop

By Jake Schroeder
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Photo Courtesy: Gold & Silver Pawn Shop/Instagram

Pawn Stars debuted on the History Channel on July 19, 2009. The reality show instantly made the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop an essential Las Vegas tourist attraction. People across the globe flocked to the shop to try and catch a glimpse of Old Man, Big Rick, Corey and Chumlee in action. Some even brought treasures from home with hopes of pawning a rare and expensive item. But the truly fascinating stuff took place behind the scenes.

Meeting the Pawn Stars

The Gold & Silver Pawn Shop is the subject of History's reality television series Pawn Stars. The show gives us an inside glimpse into the pawn shop's operations. We also witness some intense negotiations with shop owner Rick, his son Corey and their friend Chumlee.

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Photo Courtesy: gsloan/Flickr

The real day-to-day pawning doesn't necessarily include the stars of Pawn Stars, though. They spend a lot of time in the back, only emerging on occasion. Want to get your fix of them? You can pay for a VIP experience, which includes a private meet and greet and a behind-the-scenes look at all the goings on.

Not-So-Spontaneous Moments

On the show, we witness countless people arriving at the shop with potential treasures in hand. The guys look up from their work to see these prospective pawners approach the counter. They happen to show up with expensive merchandise when the cameras are rolling.

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Photo Courtesy: Pawn Stars/YouTube

In reality, the guys on Pawn Stars don't like surprises. They know about almost every item that’s going to appear on the show — ahead of time. Producers spend a lot of time vetting each person who’s involved in what appears on the show, so they’re pretty good at manufacturing spontaneity.

Paid Promotional Appearances

Speaking of "spontaneous" moments, the guys are incredible at looking excited when a celebrity walks through the doors of the shop. Even though they pre-plan the guest appearances, it's still fun to see a movie star try and sell something to the guys.

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Photo Courtesy: Pawn Stars/YouTube

But things may not be as lighthearted as they seem. Steve Carell showed up with his costume from The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. The episode of Pawn Stars aired on March 11 and the movie opened on March 15, so it’s easy to assume producers tried to sneak a paid promotional stunt past viewers.

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They Bring in Experts, Not Friends

If we can say anything about Rick, it’s that he does his due diligence. He has a vast knowledge base on a lot of items that come through his doors. When he's not so familiar with something, he calls one of his subject-matter-expert friends to get their valued opinion. Fact-checking is the sign of a real historian.

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Photo Courtesy: Pawn Stars/YouTube

These professionals are not actually Rick's friends. The Pawn Stars producers do all of the research to find the gurus. Many of them had never met the Harrison clan until they appeared on the show, and most of them go unpaid for sharing their expertise.

The Broken Bass

Accidents happen to everybody. They’re just a part of life — nearly everyone has washed dishes and broken one or two. It's tough to get mad because plates are replaceable, and you might think the same logic applies to some items at the pawn shop.

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Photo Courtesy: Pawn Stars/YouTube

Chumlee was doing his job one day and got a little careless. He leaned on a stand-up bass the shop had recently purchased, and the bass fell over and shattered when it hit the ground. Chum tried to hide the damage to no avail and cost the shop $20,000.

The Melted Coin Collection

David Walters loved to collect coins. Over the years, he’d amassed a collection valued at over $50,000. His niece Jennifer Beckman decided she wanted the coins instead. Over three different trips, Beckman pawned the antique currency at the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop for only $12,375.

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Photo Courtesy: Pawn Stars/YouTube

When Walters discovered this, he filed a complaint to the State of Nevada. Detective Watkins of the Las Vegas Police Department tried to place a hold on the coins, but it was too late. The shop claims it melted the coins down.

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Someone Tried to Pawn a Human Skull

Rick has seen some intriguing items during his long career running the shop. Even if he’s not interested in paying for the item, Rick always seems to get a kick out of seeing something unique come into the store.

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Photo Courtesy: Pawn Stars/YouTube

One day, a customer walked in with a duffel bag filled with multiple human skulls. The man said he had purchased the remains from a dental school auction. Rick's store doesn't feature many oddities, so he politely declined. He didn't want to deal with the red tape and paperwork involved.

Corey Was a Motorcycle Stuntman

Corey Harrison has been a staple on Pawn Stars since the beginning. The heir to the shop has always displayed his extensive knowledge of motorcycles, including makes and models and their respective histories. Corey used to be an amateur stunt rider.

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Photo Courtesy: Pawn Stars/YouTube

Before turning 31, Corey got into a motorcycle accident that required a trip to the emergency room for a broken arm and other injuries. The family had to hold off on his birthday celebration that included a motorcycle-themed cake. Corey decided to retire from his stunt-riding career shortly thereafter.

Show-related Merchandise

Rick knows how to run a pawn shop. He’s a skilled negotiator with an expert-level awareness of world history — he understands which items can make considerable profit in an auction and which ones will fly off the shelves in his store. Rick also has a keen eye for inauthentic merchandise. He's a great businessman.

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Photo Courtesy: Pawn Stars/YouTube

However, a majority of the shop's profits come from Pawn Stars-branded souvenirs. This might be surprising, considering all the cool stuff that comes through the shop’s doors. It’s profitable, but not as profitable as merch.

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Rick Bought $40,000 Worth of Stolen Jewelry

Rick's knowledge of gold and jewelry makes it hard to pull a fast one on him. It seems a new customer is coming each week believing they possess the holy grail of items to pawn. You can see it in their eyes; they’re expecting to walk out of the store with massive wads of cash.

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Photo Courtesy: Pawn Stars/YouTube

Rick once purchased a pair of diamond earrings for $40,000. He made an apparent effort to inspect each diamond himself before making a fair offer. They were stolen earrings, though, and Rick had to return them.

Subliminal Subway Sandwiches

Product placement is a widespread occurrence in television and film. It makes perfect sense for a company to pay cast members of a show to wear or consume its products for monetary gain. Many people believed that Pawn Stars was immune to such behavior. But eagle-eyed fans quickly noticed something with the cast's eating habits.

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Photo Courtesy: Alterfines/Needpix

The boys ate way too many Subway sandwiches. Their subliminal advertising skills were quite advanced — they "accidentally" left the wrappers lying around. The sandwich company was a key sponsor of the show for years.

Taping Impedes Business

A lot of people don't realize what’s required of production teams when taping a television show. Establishing perfect lighting and scheduling shoots are just small aspects of the process. If the shop is busy, producers have the difficult task of either having people sign release forms or keeping them out of the shots.

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Photo Courtesy: Gary J. Wood/Flickr

With thousands of people visiting the shop each day, collecting that many release forms becomes impossible. When taping Pawn Stars, the shop closes down; business resumes as soon as the cameras are off.

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The Lines Extend Around the Block

Even though business resumes once the cameras stop rolling, the lines outside of the shop begin to back up. It takes a lot of patience if you want to experience Pawn Stars in person. Even when the show isn't taping, the queue to get in can go around the block.

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Photo Courtesy: Keithready/Wikimedia Commons

You could be standing in the desert heat until it's your turn. In the summer, temperatures can reach into the 110s, so you may want to consider coming back another day. Or you can fork over the dough for a VIP experience.

Secrets of the Beard of Knowledge

Mark Hall-Patton is a recurring expert on Pawn Stars. He’s an expert in 20th-century artifacts and history as the curator of the Clark County Heritage Museum. His appearances are unique because he never offers a monetary value for any items.

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Photo Courtesy: Pawn Stars/YouTube

Mark is a member of a secret society called E Clampus Vitus. Clampers are known as "Red Shirts," which is why he's always wearing a red shirt. The fraternal organization has a significant presence across the western United States. What began as a brotherhood during the California Gold Rush now preserves Old West history through plaque and monument dedications.

Misinformation on Typical Pawn Protocol

Pawn Stars has received acclaim from both television critics and audiences alike. Most of the show's criticism is from the store’s colleagues. Other pawnbrokers are quick to point out the operations of the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop that are unique to the industry.

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Photo Courtesy: Daniel X. O'Neil/Flickr

First, they say Pawn Stars focuses on extravagant vintage items. Many similar businesses rely on smaller transactions involving electronics and jewelry. Second, they say the show focuses heavily on expert advice when appraising items. A majority of typical pawn appraisals are by staff members who depend on research and experience.

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Rick's Wife's Convict Ex-husband, Rick

When we first met the stars of Pawn Stars, we only met the men in the family. Rick was twice divorced, so there's little wonder why we never met Mrs. Harrison — that is, until his very public engagement and marriage to Deanna Burditt in 2013.

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Photo Courtesy: Rick Harrison/Instagram

Burditt's previous marriage is something she would like everyone to forget. Her ex-husband, also named Rick, was arrested for assaulting a high school student. His case dragged on for years, and he avoided jail time. He was finally found guilty and put behind bars in 2018.

A Small Percentage of Visitors Are Customers

Even if you don't want to pay to meet the pawn stars themselves, you can show up to the shop without a charge. Since the show has gained worldwide attention, a lot of Vegas vacationers make a point to visit the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop. It's one of the most popular tourist destinations in Sin City.

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Photo Courtesy: Wilson Hui/Flickr

Almost 4,000 people walk through the shop's doors each day, with 1.5 million stopping by throughout the year. Management estimates approximately one in every 100 guests is there to pawn an item.

Sued by a Disabled Veteran

Not all business at the shop goes smoothly. Sometimes, the guys have to deal with angry customers, even ones who get out of control. Disabled 62-year-old Vietnam veteran Daniel Callahan entered the store hoping to sell his rifle. After a disagreement, Callahan became angrier and started to cause an incident.

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Photo Courtesy: Keithready/Wikimedia Commons

Store security allegedly put him into a chokehold and "dragged" the man out of the shop. Callahan sued the store for nearly $20,000 after claiming his rifle and cane were both damaged.

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Corey and Chumlee’s Assistants

Throughout the show, we witness Corey and Chumlee doing a lot of work in the warehouse and running errands. Pawn Stars lets us know that there’s a lot more to pawning than just negotiating with clients. In reality, Corey and Chumlee have personal assistants.

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Photo Courtesy: Pawn Stars/YouTube

When you see the guys running around on the show, chances are the situation is completely staged. The show gives us the impression that the cast members are working-class heroes. But most of the time, they’re not putting in the working-class work.

Rick's Great Idea

The Gold & Silver Pawn Shop opened in 1989. The original staff included store founders Richard "Old Man" Harrison and his son Rick Harrison. Young Rick's son started to learn the tricks of the trade with the hopes of one day taking over the family business.

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Photo Courtesy: Pawn Stars/YouTube

At the turn of the century, Rick developed the concept of the show. It was most likely after some witty banter between the Harrison boys. He shopped it around to no avail — Rick pitched his reality show idea for nearly five years before someone took it seriously.

Rick's Shipping Shopping Center

In 2016, Rick decided to purchase some land near the shop and build a shopping center made of repurposed shipping containers. He called it Pawn Plaza. Tenants have included Rick's Tavern, Rick's Rollin' Smoke and Pawn Donut & Coffee.

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Photo Courtesy: Rick Harrison/Instagram

Within a year, a few of the stores shut down. Rick received some of the blame for not showing up to guest bartend on agreed-upon days. "I am the landlord, and I tried to help promote them," Rick told Eater Las Vegas. "In the end, you have to do your own marketing."

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Corey Shrinks

Corey Harrison earned the nickname "Big Hoss" as a young man. The apparent reason was because of his size — over 400 pounds. His dominating presence undoubtedly helped when he was negotiating the price of an item. But Big Hoss was diagnosed as pre-diabetic, and his health was becoming a concern.

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Photo Courtesy: Kristina/Wikimedia Commons

Seemingly overnight, Corey's body underwent a drastic change. He lost nearly 200 pounds following a lap band surgery. The sudden weight loss encouraged Corey to change his diet and exercise habits for good. He’s still a shark in negotiations.

Some Scenes Are Recreations

The Pawn Stars producers are responsible for setting up a lot of the transactions that appear on the show. Not much of any episode happens off the cuff. Showrunners vet most of the items and sellers before the cameras are rolling, and not much happens on the show that isn’t already carefully planned out.

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Photo Courtesy: Pawn Stars/YouTube

But there are unique and exciting transactions that happen when the cameras aren't rolling. If the Pawn Stars cast is approached with a high-value item when the production team isn't present, they often recreate the scene entirely later on.

Producers Sometimes Reshoot Scenes

Reality television producers do a fantastic job with what they have. When the cameras are rolling, they often capture thousands of hours’ worth of footage. They edit the footage down to each hour-long program that winds up on the air. But no one expects to have to do a second or third take for a reality show.

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Photo Courtesy: Pawn Stars/YouTube

Even when they complete a scheduled shoot, the show's editors still need to edit in all of the B-roll. If the producers don't like something that happens in a segment, they sometimes even go as far as doing a complete reshoot.

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A Former Agent Sued the Cast

Anyone who’s in the limelight is subject to not only scrutiny but also lawsuits. The Pawn Stars stars are no different. Former agent Wayne Jeffries filed a suit for damages from Rick, Big Rick, Corey and Chumlee, alleging that Rick was not honoring an oral agreement.

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Photo Courtesy: Pawn Stars/YouTube

He also asserted they let him go for making negative comments about the show's spinoff Cajun Pawn Stars. Jeffries claims Rick instructed him to say "the cast of Pawn Stars was blindsided" by the Cajun spinoff. Jeffries also says he was instrumental in pitching the show in the first place.

Chumlee's Legal Trouble

Pawn Stars never intended for Chumlee to appear in front of the camera. Producers wanted to focus on the Harrison family. But Chum's approachable personality and unique sense of humor made it challenging to keep him out of the spotlight. He seems so good-natured when the cameras are rolling.

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Photo Courtesy: Associated Press via KTNV Channel 13 Las Vegas/YouTube

Behind the scenes, Chumlee is an entirely different person. In 2016, law enforcement responded to a call at his home, where he was allegedly responsible for an assault. Following the police raid, they discovered a hidden cache of illegal weapons along with some recreational substances.

From Pinup Star to Pawn Star

Many fans of Pawn Stars will remember cast member Olivia Black from the early days. She was a refreshing voice of logic and a welcome female presence on the show for a while. One day, she vanished and was never seen again.

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Photo Courtesy: Olivia Black/Instagram

The National Enquirer discovered her unique past as a SuicideGirl under the name Belladonna. This is a group of pinup models who sometimes appear nude for photoshoots. Once her racy photos were published, Black disappeared from the show. Despite her posts claiming otherwise, sources said producers did not renew her contract.

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Chumlee's Death

The Pawn Stars community was saddened to hear the news of Chumlee's passing in March of 2014. Despite his questionable behavior in his free time, Chum was a fun addition to the Pawn Stars cast. His sense of humor added immeasurable value to the show and ensured its continued success.

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Photo Courtesy: Chumlee/Instagram

The incredible thing is, Chumlee is still very much alive. We just wanted to demonstrate how easily and quickly rumors can spread. Despite the internet hoax claiming his demise, he sent out a tweet to reassure fans that he definitely hadn’t moved on to the great pawn shop in the sky.

Why the Old Man Left the Show

Richard "Old Man" Harrison, the patriarch of the Pawn Stars family, founded the shop in 1989. He’s one of the reasons many fans watched the show. His sarcasm, quick wit and genuine interest in history made him not only entertaining but also hugely successful. One day, Old Man disappeared from the public eye.

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Photo Courtesy: Kristin Wong/Marine Corps Base Hawaii

We discovered that the smart-talking Navy veteran was battling Parkinson's disease. He tragically passed away on June 28, 2018. Old Man is survived by his wife, three sons and 15 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Multiple Spinoffs

Following the success of Pawn Stars, Leftfield Pictures realized it was alone in an untapped market. Americans aren't the only ones who appreciate the value of historical objects. Since the show debuted in 2009, the production company has been responsible for similar programs across the globe.

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Photo Courtesy: Count's Kustoms/Instagram

As a result, there have been pawn-based series taking place in Louisiana, the United Kingdom, South Africa and Australia. The company is also responsible for two shows of a similar format — the focus on strange and peculiar antique oddities.

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