Sunday, September 18, 2011

Only Olympic Bronze at the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas

About a week ago a colleague surprised me with an invitation to work for three days at the Interbike convention in Las Vegas.

Three days in Vegas? Twist my arm!

During this, my second trip to Nevada, we wheeled and dealed with media on behalf of client WingFlyer, a new scooter that combines the feel of a bike with the workout of a stair stepper as the foot platform provides a pumping action creating the "flying" motion.

It was fun to also learn about popular cycling products and teams (though no Olympians spotted) on site.

When the show wrapped up on Friday, I caught a taxi to downtown Las Vegas for a visit to the world famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop where "Pawn Stars" was taping in-store on a Friday afternoon. To my surprise, there was a line about 100 fans deep waiting for entry into the shop, which is quite cozy when filled with tourists, but authentic to its portrayal on the History Channel series.

Of the show cast, during my visit only Rick Harrison, the shop's owner, was on site -- I stood across the counter from him while he spoke with a camera operator and they filmed b-roll for a deal in progress involving what appeared to be some very old firearms.

It was my hope Rick would make time to answer some questions about the many Olympic items for sale in the store, but Flip cameras are not allowed, and Rick left the building before many of my questions got answered.

Lots of Olympic collectors know about the two Joe Greene Olympic bronze medals -- one each from Atlanta 1996 and Barcelona 1992 -- and how they made their way to the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop.

Going into the store, I vaguely recalled a brief "Pawn Stars" segment with the back story, but not the exact story.

According to Yamil, a worker in the shop, Greene's medals were pawned by a thief (who was later caught), but when Greene came to the shop to retrieve them, the Olympic medalist and Rick worked out a deal with the condition that the Harrisons would never re-sell the medals. To this day, the two bronze medals remain on display among the many "priceless" artifacts that draw throngs of visitors to the store.

Of course, Yamil's story and the store's claim that Greene's Olympic medals are not for sale, doesn't  jive with past news articles and YouTube videos about the medals, so I would still love to get the straight story from Rick.

What may surprise Olympic collectors or fans is that the shop also displays a 1960 Rome Olympic bronze medal (history unknown as of this blog post), a 1948 St. Moritz Olympic gold medal (priced at $8,000), a 1984 Longines pocket watch cast in gold with diamonds on the cover (see photo below) and other Olympic items such as a Calgary 1988 poster (overpriced -- way overpriced), a gold 1996 commemorative coin and a bronze statue of a slalom skier which may or may not be Olympic-related.

Non-Olympic items of interest include some rare first and second-edition books, a Chicago World's Fair/Columbian Expo souvenir photo book, many of the iconic items purchased on "Pawn Stars" and stacks of newly-printed Chumlee T-shirts.

Rick's new book, signed or unsigned, is also available.

A young sales associate, Krista, was helpful in providing more detail about the 1988 Winter Olympic poster (left) by artist Melanie Taylor Kent, signed and numberd 285/400 titled "Let the Games Begin." It's displayed at the front of the shop, while the Olympic medals, watch and coins are mostly in the same middle section of the store.

I asked a lot of questions about the 1960 Rome medal, which featured an older shop price tag of about $3,900. Wishing now I bought it on the spot with no questions asked, because later during my visit, the shop changed the price tag to "not for sale" (as shown in photos). I have call planned early next week to learn more about the history of this item and how it arrived at Gold & Silver Pawn Shop.

If you decide to visit the store, be prepared for a wait outside ("up to three hours on some days" according to one shop security guard) as the store now hosts an average of 6,000 visitors per day, according to Krista.

The shop is open to the public and free to enter from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., with a pawnbroker's window open overnight providing 24/7 options to barter. They have no Olympic pins in the store -- in fact, there were only a handful of rare military pins, and a few boxed sets of NASCAR pins, about which to write.

While in line to enter the store, a man my age was waiting to negotiate a sale of several mint in box G.I. Joe action figures. He did not make it onto the "Pawn Stars" show but he did successfully negotiate a decent pawn deal at the counter, so don't be shy about bringing your wares to Gold & Silver Pawn Shop.

Thinking I'll bring my cassette tapes and VHS collections next time. Think they'll buy?

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver

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