The Taxidermy Head That Cost American Pickers $9,500
When the History Channel’s “American Pickers” debuted over a decade ago, few could have imagined the series would become such an instant hit with viewers, prompting it to be renewed for an additional 21 seasons (and counting). The show owes a large part of its success to its small, yet charismatic team of antique experts and Iowa’s Antique Archaeology shop owners and employees – Danielle Colby-Cushman, Mike Wolfe, and (at least until early last year) Frank Fritz, whose comedic, often lightheartedly antagonistic dynamic (at least on-screen) provides the show with a narrative to ground all the hunting and haggling.
In addition to that dynamic, a not-so-insignificant part of the series’ appeal is that it not only follows the cast as they track down these rare and interesting finds, but that it often shows how the team turns a profit on the item by selling it to another collector. Inevitably, these collector interactions are every bit as fascinating as the hunt and purchase itself, and this is certainly true in the case of one of the show’s strangest finds — an elephant head.
Unsurprisingly, Mike and Frank had to talk the elephant head seller down
Prior to purchasing the item, Mike was quick to reassure viewers that the elephant head hadn’t been acquired through nefarious or illegal means. “Buying endangered species is very tricky,” he noted, calling the species “majestic and beautiful” and adding that “you have to have the right paperwork to know that this elephant wasn’t poached or smuggled illegally.” The animal’s export papers were acquired from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, thus verifying that it hadn’t been a victim of poaching. All that was left for the famed hidden gem hunters to do now was strike a bargain with collector and taxidermist Al, who told Danielle Colby he was ready to “thin out the herd.”
Al had originally priced the item — a real elephant head with artificial tusks and ears — at $12,000, but as usual, Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz had other ideas. After glancing at and purchasing some other taxidermied items in the shop (including a massive muskie, a 10-foot-long alligator, and an objectively terrifying piglet that they bundled for $850) the duo returned to the elephant head and was able to talk the collector down to $9,500 in cash. It was then up to Danielle to do her own hunting and find a buyer. “Who buys an elephant head?” she asked rhetorically, “anybody?” As it turned out, there was somebody — and not just any somebody, but a somebody who just happened to be, well, an actual somebody.
Jack White wheeled and dealed his way into purchasing the elephant head
“Word around town,” Danielle said, “is that Jack White collects crazy stuff.” As a fan of the artist, Mike was thrilled to discover that the White Stripes and Raconteurs frontman (and Dead Weather drummer) was interested in purchasing the huge and costly find. “He even has an album called ‘Elephant'” the “American Pickers” creator pointed out, referring to the White Stripes album.
The duo then traveled to White’s recording studio in Nashville, and after offering to sell the head to the rocker for $12,500, White was able to talk them into a few trades to bring the price down. Among those trades were a classic black-and-white photo booth from Woolworths featured in the Dead Weather’s video for their song “Hang You from the Heavens” (via YouTube), and an antique jukebox owned by White when he was still an up-and-coming musician in Detroit. At the end of the day, White purchased “the weirdest looking giraffe (he’d) ever seen” for $6,000, with Mike and Frank offering $1,000 for the jukebox and $5,000 for the photo booth (via History).