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Las Vegas pawnshop center of new reality series

He has a World Series ring, a Super Bowl ring, two Olympic medals and he’s gone through more title belts than he can remember. But Rick Harrison has never been on a Wheaties box, never had to gulp raw eggs Rocky-style, and the closest he came to breaking a sweat to get them was reaching for his wallet.

Harrison and his father, Richard, are the owners of Gold & Silver Pawn, 713 Las Vegas Blvd. South, the setting for “Pawn Stars” (10 p.m. today, History).

It’s tempting to say that as the economy goes, so go Las Vegas-based reality shows. After all, in only two years we’ve gone from seeing high-end vehicles fly off the Towbin lot in A&E’s “King of Cars” to watching people unload their treasures in a pawnshop. But, then, Gold & Silver is no ordinary pawnshop.

“It’s the only pawnshop I know that’s got real Picassos hanging on the wall,” Harrison says. “I have Salvador Dalis on the wall. I have LeRoy Neimans.”

Indeed, with everything from gold rings to gold records on display, the shop resembles a cross between a museum and a Bond villain’s lair. And with plenty of cross-generational arguing thanks to Harrison’s son Corey being in the mix — in tonight’s premiere, Richard calls his grandson “an obnoxious little bastard” and tells him “I will piss on your grave” — “Pawn Stars” feels like “Antiques Roadshow” was hijacked by “American Chopper’s” Teutel family.

Harrison, who has the easy laugh and affable demeanor of a morning radio DJ, says other local shops usually send him anyone looking to pawn “something really expensive or weird.”

He’d already acquired rare World War II commander wings the day I talked with him, along with prints by 15th-century artist Albrecht Dürer, and it wasn’t yet 2 p.m.

“There was a guy in this morning with what he thought was an 1830s miniature painting,” Harrison says, “until I explained to him that it wasn’t. I said the frame was, but the painting wasn’t.”

The appraisal scenes are “Pawn Stars’ ” main draw. After more than two decades in the business, Harrison usually can assess the value of even the rarest of items. But when, say, a customer presents him with a jousting helmet that’s either an original from the Renaissance worth between $20,000 and $30,000 or a Victorian copy worth about $3,500, he turns to his Rolodex, in this case bringing in a Ph.D. in metallurgy.

“I’d say, like, once or twice a week I’ll call somebody up,” Harrison says. “A lot of the time, those experts I’m calling up are guys that are gonna want to buy it off me. I know a few of them are professors with Ph.D.s, they just love coming to see it.”

With a focus on high-end items, the series isn’t a reaction to the economy. Harrison started pitching “Pawn Stars” 31/2 years ago, made a pilot with HBO that didn’t turn out well, then had to sit out the rest of his yearlong contract before trying again. And even though Harrison stars alongside his father and son, not everyone in the family was thrilled with the idea.

“My wife got all freaked out when we started doing the reality show,” he says, “because she said she saw all these reality shows and everyone was getting divorced.” Working from Harrison’s theory that breakups only happen when both spouses appear on a show — The Gosselin Paradigm, if you will — she’s staying off camera. But so far, she seems to be about the only one.

Tonight’s premiere features an antiques restorer looking to pawn a 3,000-pound table saw, a collector looking to sell an 1890 Hotchkiss cannon that will fetch $30,000 if it fires, and a former Caesars Palace Caesar whom Corey all but laughs out of the store for asking $2,500 for a replica suit of Roman armor.

Harrison insists he’ll accept anything he can make money on, with the possible exception of construction tools — so many people have been laid off and so little building is taking place that there’s barely a market for them — and modern guns, which he stopped selling for liability reasons. (He still trades in antique firearms because, really, there’s only so much mayhem that can be caused with the 1864 single-shot Springfield Trapdoor rifle he buys in an upcoming episode.)

And the strangest thing that’s come through Gold & Silver’s doors? That’s probably the 210-year-old Japanese pornography, woodblock prints on a rice-paper scroll, he paid $3,000 for 10 years ago.

“My big problem with it is, I realized this after I bought it,” Harrison says, “is how in the world am I going to display this for sale?”

Christopher Lawrence’s Life on the Couch column appears on Sundays. E-mail him at clawrence@reviewjournal.com.

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