February 16, 2011 in City

Shawn Vestal: Spokane man strikes hard bargain for rare book on ‘Pawn Stars’

By The Spokesman-Review
Christopher Anderson photoBuy this photo

Rick MacKinnon was removing junk from a property when he came across a musty pile of books and documents, including this edition of the laws passed by the first Congress. The producers of “Pawn Stars” were impressed.
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Rick MacKinnon’s day-to-day life sometimes resembles reality TV: “American Pickers.” “Hoarders.” “Storage Wars.”

But it was MacKinnon himself lending reality to television recently, when a 220-year-old book he discovered while cleaning up a foreclosed home landed him on TV, wheeling and dealing with the country’s most famous pawn brokers, Rick Harrison and his father, Richard “the Old Man” Harrison.

MacKinnon appeared Feb. 7 on an episode of “Pawn Stars,” the top-rated cable show in the country. The Harrisons had two experts assess the book and a signature inside, and then tried to low-ball MacKinnon. He wasn’t having it.

“I would have loved to have sold it if it’d been worth a lot more money,” he said. “But what they offered me was not even close to what it’s worth.”

Still, it was fun, and his kids got to see him on TV, he said.

MacKinnon owns Rick’s Hauling, which cleans up abandoned properties and does other hauling jobs, and Tri-County Septic. In fact, he was wearing a Tri-County Septic T-shirt on the show, and as he walks out of the pawn shop, it shows the phone number on the back of the shirt.

“It’s been interesting,” said MacKinnon, a 42-year-old father of three. “I had a guy call me because his wife dared him to call the number on the shirt.”

His appearance also made interesting viewing for those of us who like this new breed of reality show – pickers digging through junk for treasure, trying to spot the gold among the dross. I watched MacKinnon on the show myself, without realizing he was a Spokane guy. Dennis Held, a local English professor, poet and owner of secondhand store Area 58, was watching, too. He was surprised to see “one of my favorite Spokane junkmen,” and he called to let me know about it.

MacKinnon discovered the book while doing a “property cleanup” at a home in northeast Spokane that had been foreclosed on. The former owner left behind a lot of stuff, built up over a long time. In a moldy old Plymouth on the property, MacKinnon came across boxes of books, maps and documents.

“I came across this whole back seat of more or less 1900s and older,” MacKinnon said. “This was the pick of the crop here.”

MacKinnon was referring to “Acts Passed at the First Session of the Congress of the United States,” a rare book published in 1791 for members of Congress and other bigwigs. The book, the first of a three-volume set, details the laws passed by the first Congress.

The book also bore a signature. MacKinnon thought it might have been from one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence – James Smith.

In the past, Held had told MacKinnon, “Don’t throw any books away. Bring them in and let’s look at them.”

So MacKinnon took a box to Held, and they looked it over. After they’d looked it over and realized what he had, MacKinnon thought he knew where to turn.

“I was a fan of ‘Pawn Stars,’ ” he said. “I watch it every week. That and ‘American Pickers,’ because I’m a junker.”

He e-mailed the show, the producers e-mailed him back, and toward the end of last August he was in Las Vegas at the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, book in hand. Rick and the Old Man brought in a rare-books expert, who said the volume was rare and valuable – $2,500 to $3,500, more if the signature was Smith’s.

The Harrisons wanted to bring in a signature expert. MacKinnon returned to Vegas for that taping in mid-September.

Unfortunately, the signature wasn’t Smith’s.

Still, the book was rare and valuable. Rick Harrison threw out a price.

“They offered me $1,000, and I turned it down,” MacKinnon said. “Then they offered me $1,500, and I turned it down.

“They said, ‘We give you $100 bills.’ I said, ‘That’s very enticing,’ but it’s not every day you find something from the 1700s with this kind of historical value,” he said. “That was that.”

Back home in Spokane – well, back home in Spokane five months later, as the episode aired – Held cheered him on for not giving in.

“I never felt so proud of Spokane in my life,” said Held, who had not known MacKinnon was going to be on the show.

MacKinnon said he might have the book appraised by another expert, and he’s not averse to selling it – but he wants the right price.

“This is probably the most valuable thing I’ve found,” he said. “I would really like it to go into the right hands if I do decide to sell it.”

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@spokesman.com.

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