On July 2, 2011, Nashville, Tennessee welcomed her newest business: Antique Archaeology. Owner Mike Wolfe of History Channel’s American Pickers, has long had a relationship with Nashville, with antique dealers, designers, sellers and private customers.
Wolfe has owned the parent store of Antique Archeology in LaClaire, Iowa for about five years. Since the debut of American Pickers, the store has not only gained in popularity, it has turned LaClaire into a destination in the midst of the prairie. The success of that first store led to the grand opening in Nashville. When Mike planned to open this shop, his intention was to create a ‘vintage experience’. He has succeeded, and then some.
When you make your turn off Charlotte Avenue onto 11th Avenue North, you go quickly from what is a bustling city street to a small, almost desolate looking warehouse area. Then 11th Avenue passes Jo Johnson Boulevard, and you veer to the left onto Clinton Street. Suddenly, you are transported back in time. The Marathon Motorworks building took up two city blocks when it was built in 1914. The company’s original name and logo are still painted on the brick facade. You can park either on the street, or on the free lot across the street. Automotive traffic is minimal, although you may encounter some students from Fisk wandering about during a break. The nondescript glass door with the muted cockerel logo takes the visitor on a trip that is not to be forgotten
The first thing you see from the street, aside from the classic Schwinn bike that parked on the sidewalk, is the mint green Vespa in the window. Inside, there are several other bikes, from a 1940 Indian that looks ready to cruise down the highway, to a custom built dual engine BSA that pulled 177 miles per hour and set a land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats. It is easy to see that Mr. Wolfe has a passion for all forms of transportation. There is even a Velocipede, which the store’s owner has ridden
The store is illuminated with Edison light bulbs, most in custom made fixtures. Funnels have been re-purposed into hanging lamps. Rebar has been welded into a huge cruciform chandelier, or as Mike Wolfe calls it, a ‘Mandelier’. On the black enameled Rebar a local artisan has welded wrenches, screwdrivers and other ‘guy things’.
The stock is as varied as it is interesting. There are odds and ends, bits and pieces, from all over the country. A large silver hubcap with an Art Deco figure hangs on the wall, and below it is the grill panel from a Model T Ford. One wall is covered with the original exterior wall from Mickey Gilley’s in Texas that burned several years ago. The corrugated steel wall, and a sign, are all that remain, and they reside in places of honor in downtown Nashville.
Mike Wolfe himself is the sole buyer for both the Iowa and Nashville stores. On Monday after Saturday’s grand opening he was still in town, and close to noon pulled up in front of the shop and began unloaded a cache of 1950s lamps and bric-a-brac. He happily greeted the customers, posed for photographs and was more than willing to discuss some of the various bits and pieces in the store.
The staff is equally as helpful. Lauren Wray Grisham is a wealth of information. As the assistant manager, if she is unsure of an items provenance, she has the courage to say she doesn’t know, but she knows where to find out. And she does.
Anyone who is familiar with American Pickers understands the premise: Mike Wolfe and his ‘picking partner’ Frank Fritz (owner of Franks Finds) drive through the rural US, buying everything from old printing press letters and naughty photos of Flora Dora girls (signed to a faithful fan of course) to a ‘jet plane’ from an old carnival ride and a neon sign from the Shriners.
Yes, there is a certain amount of excitement at the thought of perhaps meeting a television personality. Then again, this is Nashville, where you might find yourself standing in line at Walmart next to Carrie Underwood, or buying a box of nails while George Strait checks the price for horse feed. Celebrities are the norm here. Antique Archaeology is anything but.
Benjamin Franklin’s famous “Disputes with America” letter of 1767, one of the most important and widely quoted letters from this legendary founding father, will be sold at public auction by Heritage Auction Galleries Beverly Hills on Oct. 14 as part of the company’s Signature Historic Manuscripts Auction. It is estimated to bring more than $300,000.
The letter is being released by renowned American history collector and author Claude Harkins who counts this among his greatest American treasures.
Harkins, who regularly loans pieces from his collection to museums around the nation – including The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library & Museum in West Branch, IA – and makes regular presentations on the Revolutionary War to elementary school students and other organizations, has decided that the time has come for this significant piece of history to make its way to a new guardian. Harkins’ hope is to inspire a new collector to continue his work of honoring the rich American tradition this letter represents.
“The thing about this letter that caught my eye had to do with the fact that Franklin was the first patriot to predict the American Revolution, and here it is in his own writing from eight years before the fact,” said Harkins. “Franklin captures the very flavor of freedom when he writes, ‘the seeds of liberty have been sown.’ Clearly a revolution was coming. The letter is also a beautiful travelogue of what America was like during that time; Franklin cites her rich resources and predicts her destiny to become a grand country.” “
But America,” Franklin writes in his bold, neat script, “an immense Territory, favour’d by Nature with all Advantages of Climate, Soil, great navigable Rivers and Lakes… must become a great Country, populous and mighty; and will in a less time than is generally conceiv’d be able to shake off any Shackles that may be impos’d on her, and perhaps place them on the Imposers… For the Seeds of Liberty are universally sown there, and nothing can eradicate them.”
Equally resonant are Franklin’s poetical phrases and ideas which anticipate those of the Declaration of Independence. Franklin served alongside Thomas Jefferson and John Adams on the committee tasked with drafting the Declaration. On February 25, 1767, Franklin wrote his “Disputes with America” letter to his friend, Lord Kames, from London where he was serving as a representative of the Pennsylvania assembly. Due to the simmering tensions between the two nations, and the fact that Franklin was being closely watched by the English government, the letter never made it to Kames – it is believed to have been seized by the British. Franklin did not learn until January 1769, two years later, that Lord Kames never received it.
In a matter of weeks, he rewrote and resent the letter – this letter – labeling it at the top “Copy.” Along with this copy, Franklin sent a letter to Kames dated February 21, 1769, which explains, “I am sorry my Letter of 1767, concerning the American Dispute, miscarried. I now send you a Copy of it from my Book. The Examination mention’d in it, you have probably seen. Things daily wear a worse Aspect, and tend more and more to a Breach and final Separation.”
The Revolutionary War, it can be said, really is in Harkins’ blood. A collector since he was a boy, Harkins can trace his ancestry back to the Revolution, through his great-grandfather, to Sergeant Robert Gamble of the Second South Carolina regiment, and was commanded by Francis Marion “The Swamp Fox,” within George Washington’s Army, the Continental Line.
“I started out as a 12-year-old collecting Indian arrow heads,” he said. “I made a museum in my little 10’x10’ playhouse and became a curator. Classes in my hometown of Tallassee, AL would take field trips to my little museum.” It was the beginning of a lifelong passion that would stretch over seven decades and culminate in a collection of some of the greatest pieces of Americana extant, including three 18th Century thirteen star flags, and what is perhaps the finest celebratory engraved powder horn made in 1777 to honor the one-year anniversary of the signing of the Declaration.
“I’ve always collected. I made a promise that once I was able to, I would take the profit from my business and put it into Americana,” he said, “and that’s what I’ve done over these years. Instead of CDs and stocks, I bought historical artifacts. I stress to the children I talk to, and to anyone who is starting to collect, that it’s an important pursuit, to preserve and promote our rich American tradition. It has become my passion. You need to have a passion to continue to live a healthy life.”
It is of particular note that Kansas City Regional Office of the National Archives will be presenting an exhibition of Mr. Harkins’ entire collection in June of 2011. The exhibition will coincide with a book signing for a book co-authored with John Harker, a descendant of Betsy Ross’ third husband John Claypool. Their book, Betsy Ross: The Mother of our Flag, presents compelling new evidence that Ross was indeed the originator of the “Stars and Stripes.”