"Picking" involves sorting through piles of what other people may consider junk in order to find items to resell. In many cases, the items turn out to be extremely rare and even the owners had no idea that they had any value at all, much less that the items are highly collectible. Among things found by the pickers are Indian motorcycles, antique bicycles, toys, advertising signs and furniture.
The pickers also have an eye for the unusual. They've picked a pair of giant Laurel and Hardy heads, a giant boot which once served as advertising for a western wear store, and a Piaggio Ape, which they were later told was likely the only one of its kind in North America.
When Wolfe and Fritz are on the road, their assistant Danielle Colby runs the shop, sells items to customers, and finds places for the men to pick.
The pickers also encounter many different personalities on their journeys. Most are happy to have someone come look though their stuff. Others would rather be left alone and there are at least two instances captured in the series where the pickers were rudely turned away.
American Pickers often airs on The History Channel alongside episodes of the slightly similar series Pawn Stars (both shows, and the various Pawn Stars semi-spinoffs are produced by Left Field Productions).
Although not related to the adventure game Pickers: Adventures in Rust, one could argue that it was inspired by this show.
This series provides examples of:
- Alliterative Name: Frank Fritz
- Ambiguously Gay: See Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today?. The ambiguous nature of the guys' relationship sometimes needs something to push it one side or another. It's worth mentioning that Mike is Happily Married (to a woman) and has at least one child.
- Art Evolution: Of a sort. You can tell if you're watching a first- or second-season show by looking at Danielle's tattoos. Early on, the one on her chest is just an outline. Later, it gets colored in. Also, the letters on her knuckles and what appears to be a big fly on her left forearm are not present in early seasons. The Season Three indicator is a new one on the back of her left hand.
- Ascended Extra: Billy, the antiques dealer in the episode "A Banner Pick," now stars in the Travel Channel reality show Baggage Battles.
- Author Appeal: Mike loves anything that looks like Frank.
- Big Eater: Mike learned the hard way that you should never offer to buy dinner for Frank.
- Frank. It comes with being the shorter, chubbier one compared to Mike.
- Occasionally Danielle. It comes with being the one who keeps things running at the shop while Mike and Frank are running around doing their thing.
- Blood Brothers: Frank and Mike have known each other since junior high school.
- "Is this something you'd sell?"
- "Help me help you."
- "Time to bring out the bearded charmer."
- In later seasons, Mike frequently tells the people whose stuff he's picking that "I appreciate ya."
- Cool Car: Not theirs (it's a Mercedes Benz van, although it's practical). However, they find a lot of cool cars, motorcycles, and bicycles when they're out picking.
- Crossover: With Pawn Stars and its Spin-Off, American Restoration, in a July 2011 arc in which Rick Harrison calls the pickers to find a 1957 Chevy to restore and give to the Old Man on his birthday. The Pickers episode ends with the sale and goes right into the Restoration episode which deals with Rick Dale's effort to restore the car. He also buys an old neon sign from Mike and Frank and partially restores it. The Restoration episode, in turn, leads into the Pawn Stars episode where Dale and his team finish the project and Harrison gives it to the old man. The kicker: It's estimated that it will take 6 to 8 months to restore the car. Harrison needs it done in three months.
- Do You Want to Haggle?: It's how picking is done. In some cases, Frank or Mike make the case for their offer based on the condition of the object or how much it would take to restore it. The owner's counter is sometimes based on sentimental value or just simply "But where else are you gonna find that?" Sometimes, they'll make a friendly wager to settle the price, such as the winner of a game of Rock Paper Scissors getting their price.
- Epic Fail: Mike found a car he thought was cool but wasn't. He had to have Danielle work hard just to find someone who would pay him enough just to break even. This happened a second time, although he liked it so much he didn't mind.
- Expository Theme Tune: In this case, Expository Opening Narration.Frank: We travel the back roads of America looking for rusty gold. We're looking for amazing things buried in people's garages and barns.
Mike: What most people see as junk, we see as dollar signs.
Frank: We'll buy anything we think we can make a buck on.
Mike: Each item we pick has a history all its own. And the people we meet, well, they're a breed all their own ... We make a living telling the history of America, one piece at a time.
- The Face: Mike and Frank are the ones people meet in person, but Danielle is the one arranging most of the meetings and managing the website and running the store.
- Flat "What":
- In the same episode where Mike wanted to buy a Coke sign but was turned down initially, Frank finds a chainsaw advertisement sign and puts an absurdly high first bid. Mike believes that Frank was looking at the Mona Lisa of chainsaw signs.
- A part of an episode has it where Danielle tips them about a motorcycle parts collector, but said it was huge and a must-see. Since both of the guys love motorcycles, they proceeded to go straight to the place, not entirely believing her. However, when they found out that the place was a warehouse full of motorcycle parts, they proceeded to run straight for the entrance in utter glee.
- Freaky Is Cool:
- Mike in particular is drawn to the unusual, and chances are, he already knows someone who will buy whatever he's eyeing.
- There are the matching giant Laurel and Hardy heads and the giant baby head, all of which Frank and/or Mike have put on at least once.
- Gosh Dang It to Heck!: Both Mike and Frank prefer to say this whenever they come across something very interesting. It's practically their Catchphrase.Mike: Daaaaaaang!
- Grail in the Garbage: Occasionally they will come across a genuinely rare piece. In the season 4 opener "Jurassic Pick," they found and bought a 65 million-year-old dinosaur bone!
- Grumpy Old Man: There are some people Mike and Frank come upon while they're "Freestyling" (looking for places to pick on side roads) who are very much not interested in being disturbed.
- Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today?: The show seems to go out of the way at times to have Mike mention a girlfriend (later wife), and to show drive-time conversations about things like which female celebrity is hotter. Frank mentioned that while he finds Lady Gaga to be hotter than Taylor Swift, he prefers Gene Simmons to Kim Kardashian.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: Mike and Frank are either this or very subtly Ambiguously Gay. Either way, it's a tight relationship.
- Hilarity Ensues: Mike and Danielle go out on a pick in the Dakotas, while Frank stays behind and runs the store. It's an outright lie; Frank is going to the big Sturgis motorcycle rally in South Dakota, which he has never missed. At the end of the episode, they drop in on both him and a recurring character, "Hippie Tom." All is forgiven without too much fuss.
- Honorary Uncle: Having been friends with their mother for decades, Mike seems to be a mild example of this for Danielle's three children. Of particular note, he allows Danielle to use one of the store cars in order to teach her teenage daughter Memphis how to drive stick-shift.
- It Belongs in a Museum:
- Occasionally, the guys will come across something that, once appraised, is revealed to be a rare and noteworthy piece. In most every time when told of what historic value this has, they will agree to give it to a museum in exchange for enough funds to just make a profit or, in the case of that dinosaur fossil they found, donate it freely.
- In another episode, they get contracted to pick for the NASCAR museum.
- Yet another episode had them specifically hunting down Civil War memorabilia for a new museum.
- Kick the Dog: In one episode, Mike and Frank hire Danielle's mother to be their director of human resources. Danielle and her mother do not get along, something illustrated copiously throughout the episode, and the way her mother treats her has overtones of this trope. By the next episode, the status quo has been restored. It's unknown what went on behind the scenes, but Danielle's mother has never been seen on the show again.
- Knuckle Tattoos: Danielle's are first seen during the second season. She is big on body art.
- Lower-Deck Episode:
- One episode had Danielle go on a few picks, one with both of them, and two with just Mike. Later seasons see her doing this more frequently.
- Though not formally a member of the team, Mike's brother Rob has also been seen to accompany either Mike or Frank on picks a few times. Later seasons have him on the show more often.
- Mission Control: Danielle sits at her desk in the main office organizing big picture stuff. Unusually for the trope, the field agents in this case are also her bosses.
- Mr. Exposition: It's not as bad as other shows, where it's clear the people talking about an object are doing it just so that the audience can understand its value. In most cases, there will either be a graphic with an explanation (and sometimes a photo) or Mike or Frank will speak about it either in voice-over narration or in a cutaway shot.
- Ms. Fanservice: Danielle could be seen this way, but it is averted in that she's not setting out to provide fanservice; that's just the way she dresses.
- Oh, Crap!:
- It's rare that the pickers will get something only to find out it's not worth what they paid. In fact, this is often inverted when the pickers find out that the appraised value is several times what they paid.
- When they found a rare train set that could net them up to $8,000, the crew puts it up for auction, noting it would be a major gamble. Danielle unfortunately forgets to attach a reserve and the train set sells for a huge loss.
- Only Sane Employee: Mike sometimes describes Danielle this way; he calls her the glue that holds Antique Archaeology together.
- Product Placement:
- The shows has featured Subway a few times, such as when the boys drop into one while on a pick out of the blue. In another episode, Danielle shows the audience how she saves a part of the "pittance" lunch allowance the boys gave her by buying a $5 Footlong and pocketing the rest.
- When Antique Archaeology needed to replace the Mercedes Sprinter Van due to wear and tear, the show devoted a portion of one episode in choosing the Ford Transit Cargo Van, complete with commercial in between breaks.
- Averted, however, with the pickers handling numerous vintage advertising items such as signs and posters; in many cases, the brand name either has an old design, has gone defunct, or has been absorbed into another company.
- Recycled In Space: Or in this case, Canada (Canadian Pickers, although given the Market-Based Title Cash Cowboys outside of Canada)
- Running Gag: Frank's paying $5,500 for a car worth only $3-4,000 has been referenced multiple times.
- Sarcastic Devotee: Danielle dishes out plenty of sarcasm and back talk to her dual bosses, but stays on the job. She also calls them "my boys" fairly regularly, and in some episodes she openly admits she loves them even though they drive her crazy.
- Swapped Roles: One episode had Danielle going out on a pick while Frank stays and watches the shop. Danielle turns out to be much better at picking than Frank is at running the shop and finding leads. In fact, while Frank rarely runs the shop, there are quite a few more episodes which have Danielle going on picks; later seasons often team her with Mike's brother Robbie.
- Take a Third Option: When they can't come up with a selling price, Frank will come up with "the bundle" and group multiple items into a single sale.
- True Companions: The main three are generally this for one another. In particular, Mike has been friends with Frank for over twenty years, and he was friends with Danielle for ten years before American Pickers was even conceptualized, so he has a long history with both of them.