The other night I stumbled across a quirky reality TV show on the History Channel that vintage bicycle collectors might enjoy.
The show is called American Pickers, and it follows the exploits of Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz as they rummage through old barns, attics and junk piles in search of treasures that they can resell for a profit.
Each has his specialty, and one of Wolfe's is vintage bicycles and motorbikes. Occasionally, they'll stumble across one of these gems in their travels around the country. (Above, Wolfe is bringing down a “safety bicycle” from an attic.) In one episode he explains:
“My passion runs deep for bicycles because it was my first form of independence when I was a kid.”
These guys don't sit at home buying this stuff off of eBay, they're cruising around backroads in their Antique Archeology van and stopping at homes where they dig into dirt, dust and debris for metal signs, ceramic jars and anything else they think can be sold. It's time-consuming, but it's a way to find the good deals.
In an episode that's currently available online, “Frank's Gamble,” the pair find quite a few bicycles stored in some barns and sheds back East. Check the 3rd and 4th segments for the bicycles.
In one home, an older woman and her son open up a shed that's full of lots of “junk,” including old bicycles. First they find a 1952 or 1953 Schwinn Panther bicycle, which they buy for $50 after finding the fake gas tank that fits around the crosstube.
Later, they find an old Motobecane leaning against a pole in some weeds. The son says he picked it up from the side of the road where someone had put it out with the trash, so Wolfe gave him $30 for it. He explained:
“It's an inexpensive model, but it still has a little piece of my heart in it. So when I saw it laying in the weeds like that and going to hell, I thought I got to have it… Someone is going to want it.”
Someone did want it, because he later sold it for $300.
Orient safety bike
At another home in New Hampshire, a collector was selling some stuff because he was moving. One of the prizes they discovered hanging in the garage was a wooden-rimmed Orient “safety bicycle.” Dating back to the turn of the century, they're similar in look to modern bicycles. They earned the name “safety” because riders wouldn't take the “headers” over the handlebars like they did with the previous high-wheeled bicycles.
The owner asked $1,350 for the bike, but settled for an even $1,000. Wolfe later valued it at $1,750. A high-wheel bicycle in the guy's living room, unfortunately for the pickers, was not for sale.
In another episode that's airing again on Sunday evening (check local listings), Leland's Cafe, Wolfe and Fritz haggle with a reluctant seller for two prized bicycles. One is a high-wheel safety bicycle, so called because it put the smaller, steering wheel in front to prevent the bicyclist from doing a header over the handlebars if he strikes a bump in the road.
A similar high-wheel safety bike is shown at GoAntiques.com, valued at $10,500.
Wolfe also has photos of bicycles in his collection at Antique Archeology.
It's amazing to see the work these guys go through to find valuable items. It makes me wonder how many of the barns I pedal past on some of my rides contain a treasure-trove for antique bicycle collectors.