As a collector, Mike Wolfe knows how hard it can be to let go of a treasured item. So, when he comes across a first-time seller, he always tries to ease them into doing business. He and Danielle Colby had to do that with a New Jersey man who was sitting on a gas signage Shangri-La at his New Jersey home. He’d collected for 50 years and never sold a single piece. The American Pickers aimed to change that.
In the 2019 American Pickers episode, Mike and Danielle teamed up to take on Frank Fritz and Mike’s brother Robbie Wolfe to see who could find the best honey hole. Mike and Danielle hit the sweet spot when they found Sam Tripsas. He started collecting signage when he was just 10 years old. Now 60, he felt he was ready to get rid of some of his pieces. But it took some coaxing.
Tripsas had a shed filled with several rare and hard-to-find pieces signs dating back decades. He didn’t realize they could one day be worth a lot of money. He just wanted to “save them from oblivion.”
Mike and Danielle Colby clocked right away how much these pieces meant to him. Being collectors themselves, they could share in his obsession, and they delved into what drew him to these items. That kinship was enough to convince Tripsas these items would be in good hands. Mike Wolfe walked away with two Mobile gas signs and a near-pristine Flying A that’s more than 50 years old.
“Seeing them get excited about what I get excited about was neat,” Tripsas told a New Jersey newspaper before the episode aired. “They were very nice to us. It was an experience of a lifetime.”
Mike Wolfe: Stars of ‘American Pickers’ Are the Collectors We Meet
Mike Wolfe said the appeal of American Pickers isn’t what they buy. It’s the people they buy from. He believes they’re the real stars of the show, and he revels in meeting them and exploring the reasons why they collect rather than what they collect.
“A judge I met in Florida has an incredible collection of petrobilia, signs, and gas pumps. A lot of people have beautiful collections that are clean and on display. This guy, his stuff was piled on top of each other,” Mike Wolfe told Southeastern Antiquing and Collecting Magazine in 2011.
“For me, I want to know why people go down this path, why they buy all high-quality stuff. For this guy, it was because he worked in a gas station when he was 13. Just that one experience changed his path. That’s what interests me. I go in, and people have one hundred or one thousand of one thing, and it’s the back story that is intriguing to me.”