- Profession: Antiques dealer
- Age: 58
- Hometown: Calgary
- The vehicle: 2008 Toyota Sequoia
- Canadian Pickers debuted in April, 2011; it also airs in England, Australia, New Zealand and the United States
- Fourth season of Canadian Pickers airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on History
- Teaches continuing education courses in antiques collecting at the University of Calgary
Sheldon Smithens is a third-generation antiques dealer, auctioneer and appraiser. And he’s on the road to riches, proving one person’s trash is another’s treasure.
Smithens stars alongside Scott Cozens on History’s hit TV series, Canadian Pickers. Donning their signature cowboy hats, they drive across Canada rummaging through basements, barns and attics for antiques and collectibles they can turn into cash. Their passion for finding treasures has landed them a huge fan following and a fourth season on History.
When Smithens isn’t searching for hidden gems, he’s driving around Alberta in a 2008 Toyota Sequoia which, like his philosophy on the show, he bought used in 2012.
Why did you buy a Toyota Sequoia?
It’s somewhat in keeping with what we do. Last year, its four-year lease was up and I found what I consider a cream puff of a lease-back. It was owned by a spoiled rich boy so it was a 4x4 that was gently driven. It was a good deal in keeping with Pickers.
I bought what would have been a very expensive vehicle in retail new for a fraction of the price. It’s a big massive SUV. But I also have a large dog and the type of vehicle I have seats the 80-pound Bouvier as well.
Do you know what’s under the hood?
It’s got a 5.7-litre engine, a V-8 so it’s great big massive power. And it has lots of towing capacity. It’s the power that I really like about it. On the highway, I can be in that danger zone and passing vehicles for as short a time as possible.
What does a Sequoia say about you?
It says I definitely like to get out of the city. It says I’m happiest when I’m out in the country side and the Sequoia is the perfect vehicle for that.
What I like to do when I’m out in my cabin is go fishing. I like to go off-road or on rough secondary gravel roads. 4WD was a requirement. Snow is also an issue for a good part of the year, so this gives me more security.
What did you own before the Sequoia?
I had a Honda Odyssey minivan. I took the seats out so I could fit more into it. I could put the contents of a small condo in the back of that minivan. It was quite good for camping and canoeing as well.
What was your first car?
The first car I drove was a 1964 Vauxhall, an English car. And I split it with my sisters. It was $300 at auction and we each came up with 100 bucks and bought it.
It was a challenge having an English car in Calgary’s climate in the wintertime. My parents knew how to push-start me.
Do you always buy used?
I’ve only had one new vehicle in my life. In 1984, I bought a new Bronco II – that was the first year of the Bronco IIs. But it didn’t come with a factory roof rack. So I went to Canadian Tire, strapped on a roof rack and then proceeded to strap on a canoe on my Bronco II. Then, I went on a camping trip and canoeing to eastern Alberta where it’s quite windy. When I was driving back directly into a very strong head wind, a large transport truck came the other way and sucked the canoe and the racks off the top of my new Bronco II. I stopped my car immediately and the canoe was about half a kilometre back in the ditch. Thank God, it never killed anybody.
What’s the coolest car you’ve snapped up on Canadian Pickers?
In this new season on a couple of occasions, one in particular in British Columbia, Scott and I both got to choose a car off the seller’s own private selection off his lot.
Scott chose a ’70s muscle car and I had a ’50s cruiser. Scott and I differ in that matter. Scott likes his speed and I’m much more of a cruise along in comfort guy. I’m not a real speed demon. I just want to get there safely and, ideally, comfortably.
Is there a vintage car you wish you could have?
I like the classics from the ’50s and ’60s. As far as style goes, I love an old station wagon – I’m talking about the very early ones from the late ’50s and early ’60s. A classic like a Woody.
Can you make money buying and selling antique cars?
The short answer – no.
We encounter a lot of individuals who have antique cars and, if you ask them for the honest answer, it’s a labour of love. There’s a lot of blood, sweat, tears and bank accounts into cars they fix up and rarely does somebody make money on it.
There are some exceptions – those ’70s muscle cars seem to have had a real peak in sales, but even those seem to have withdrawn a bit as well.
What trends are you seeing when you’re scouring for gems?
Very much like antiques, there are trends, and a lot of elderly fellows that we encounter were enamoured with really early vehicles – those old Model Ts and Model As. That’s a market that has almost vanished and that’s just a demographic thing.
My background is classic antique – period furniture, silver, and glasswares. Unfortunately, the classical things have fallen out of flavour. Much more in demand are mid-century modern and nostalgic items. That is a changing trend as well.
What was nostalgic for someone my age – 50s or 60s – those are quickly falling out of flavour as the new expendable market wants mid-century modern. There’s a demand for toys and signage.
Oil and gas is what we find is really hot at the moment. There’s a lot of fellows who like to collect oil and gas signage, early gas pumps and anything to do with service stations. They’re well-to-do and have driven up the market. They’ve scooped them up and they’re becoming really scarce. As a consequence, the prices have gone up accordingly.
What would an antique gas pump fetch?
For a good double-visible gas pump, Scott and I got shut out. We were prepared to go $7,500 at an auction sale in Ontario and we weren’t even in the running. It sold for about $11,000.
What modern cars do you think will drive demand in the future?
That’s hard to say. We hit a period in the 1980s and 1990s where you look at vehicles and they don’t seem to have the same sort of desirability trying to project forward.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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