Religious items very popular in pawn business, says Pawn Stars’ Rick Harrison

Image: Menachem Wecker If television adds 10 pounds to some unlucky actors, it evidently does the same for pawn shops. … Continued

Image: Menachem Wecker

If television adds 10 pounds to some unlucky actors, it evidently does the same for pawn shops. Gold & Silver Pawn, which is located a few miles north of the Las Vegas Strip, feels smaller in person than it does on the History channel. But on a recent visit to the store’s 713 South Las Vegas Boulevard location, the wares included an impressive array of religious holdings.

A glass display case at the front of the shop featured an early-to-mid-18th century German bible with handsome illustrations and an elaborately decorated cover with floral and geometric patterns. (Although Rick Harrison, who owns the shop, referred to the bible as “16th century” in an email interview, a note from Cynthia Davis Buffington, principal at Philadelphia Rare Books & Manuscripts Company, that I was shown at the shop diagnoses the book as 18th century—noting that references to the 16th century “refer to the dates of Luther’s translation and its first publication, not to the printing of the volume in hand.”)

Tucked high up on a shelf on the wall, an oil painting on canvas copy of Rembrandt’s “Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem” bears the enigmatic signature: Cubillo and the price tag of $200. And other offerings—at least for those with thousands of dollars burning a hole in their pockets—included a Rembrandt etching from 1632 of the “Raising of Lazarus” ($10,500); a Marc Chagall print depicting a red sun overlooking a green nude, a large yellow bird, a flying man with a hat, and a fish (or other obscured animal) holding up a tree ($10,000); and an Albrecht D rer etching ($64,999), “Knight, Death, and the Devil.”

Image: Menachem Wecker

“Religious items are very popular and come through the shop quite often,” Harrison said in a follow up interview after the visit. “Most of the pre-20th century items do well. We have had some flops.”

Asked whether the abundance of Chagall works in the shop pointed to a large clientele interested in the works or buyer’s remorse from collectors hoping to unload their Chagall collections, Harrison said there is a great deal of interest in the works of the Jewish artist, who was born in Vitebsk in 1887.

“Chagall was not only a great artist; he was a great businessman as well,” Harrison said. “He printed a lot of his works.”

Another fixture in the shop was religiously-themed necklaces, which could be found in a glass case near the entrance to the store. “[Crosses and Stars of David] have been steady since the early 80s,” Harrison said. “It’s the bread and butter of jewelry stores and a good part of the pawn business.”

Most collectors interested in religious works want art from the 19th century, as those tend to contain “religious tones,” according to Harrison. “Which religion isn’t relevant to buyers,” he adds.

As for Harrison himself, although it’s easy to get the sense from his show that he harbors a healthy skepticism about a lot of things—and, for example, in season three episode 26 (2010) he refers to relics of saints that actually contain bone or other bodily shards as “creepy”—he actually has “quite a few religious items at home,” he says.

Menachem Wecker is a freelance writer based in Chicago. He Tweets @mwecker.

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