How To Barter

By James Harvey Stout (deceased). This material is now in the public domain. The complete collection of Mr. Stout's writing is now at >


Before adults start a business, they usually go to college to learn about the business world. Now we are businesspeople, because we barter. We can get our education in this book; this chapter tells us how to make deals with people.

We can learn to barter with people in all types of situations -- talking at a flea market, or standing on a sidewalk, or relaxing in our living room, or shopping in Peterson's Second-Hand Store, or sitting on the limb of an elm tree (with our friend who wants to trade his box of raisins).

Let's watch Victoria Long of Barterburg, while she learns how to barter. The 14-year-old blonde has read this book. Now she wants to practice the ideas which she has learned.

Victoria started in her own room, sitting on a comfortable brown chair in front of her mirror. She pretended that she was setting up a deal with her best friend, Samantha. "Hi, Samantha," Victoria said into the mirror. "I just read a book about bartering, and it told me how to trade things. I want to trade my mouse pad for your radio. Do you want to swap your radio for the mouse pad? Yes? All right. Come over on Saturday, and we'll swap some more things. When you come here, I'll show you the book about bartering. Trading is easy, isn't it?"

Victoria practiced a few more times in front of her mirror. But she still didn't have much confidence. So she made a deal with her brother, Alfred. She agreed to make his bed every day for a month, in exchange for his black roller skates (which he had outgrown).

Victoria had some good ideas about bartering. But she wanted to watch other people barter so that she could learn the tricks of the trade. She took a bus to the Barterburg Flea Market, where she found a seller who said that he did a lot of bartering.

The seller was Franklin Jones, who had a table which displayed many of his wood carvings: little statues, music boxes, and other wood crafts. Franklin said that he had traded his goods for cassette tapes, violin lessons, turquoise jewelry, and other things.

Soon, a young woman walked to Franklin's table, and looked at a music box which played "The Skater's Waltz." He said, "The music box costs $20." She responded, "Oh, I don't have that much money."

Franklin paused, and scratched his chin. Then he said, "I am willing to barter. What can you trade?"

The woman smiled, and answered, "I don't know what you need. But I will tell you this: I make beautiful pottery. Usually, I just make it for friends. I sell some pots for $20 or $25."

She opened the music box, and listened to the tune for a moment. "Would you like a pot?"

Franklin grinned. "I might be interested. Give me your phone number, and I will call you. A big pot will be perfect for one of my houseplants."

After the woman walked away, a teenager named Tony began to look at the small totem poles on the table. Each totem pole was about 12 inches tall, with carvings of faces of people, bears, snarling dogs, fish, and deer with tiny antlers.

"What is the price of this?" asked Tony.

"Ten dollars," Franklin said. When Tony looked disappointed, Franklin knew that the boy didn't have enough money. Franklin said, "I'll let you barter for it."

"Oh, no thanks," Tony said.

Franklin looked at the boy and said, "It's a good, maple totem pole. Are you sure that you don't want to trade something for it?"

Tony shrugged and said, "The truth is, I don't know how to barter. I don't even know what the word means."

"It's the same as swapping," Franklin explained. "I will give you the totem pole, and you will give me something which I want."

Tony still didn't look happy. "I probably don't have anything which you would want."

Franklin was prepared; he had a list of things which he wanted. "Look at this list. I am willing to trade my crafts for anything on this list."

Tony read the list. It had a column of things: snow shoes, ski poles, house paint, Western novels, and someone to clip hedges. He said, "I can clip hedges. We have a long hedge at home, and I clip it."

"Good deal," said Franklin. "When you come over to do the job, I will give you the totem pole. It is worth a couple hours of work, isn't it?"

Tony nodded, with a big smile. "Here is my phone number," he said. "I'm glad I met you. Bartering is great! I will get this totem pole for free!"

Victoria watched Franklin all day, and she learned a lot about bartering. She discovered that many people don't think about bartering, so we have to mention it first. And some people are shy, so we need to encourage them to make a deal. Also, we should have our lists in our pocket all of the time. We never know when we will meet a "barter partner."

When Samantha visited Victoria's home on Saturday, Vic helped her to make lists of things to trade, and things to get by bartering.

Samantha wanted a banjo. Victoria knew that Stanley had a beautiful banjo, so she called him. (Stanley was one of Vickie's favorite "barter partners.") Victoria told him what was on Samantha's list, but he didn't want any of those things.

He wanted to trade his banjo for a CD player. Vic had a CD player, but she didn't want his banjo. What could they do? They set up a "triple trade." (A triple trade has 3 people in it.) This is how it worked:

  1. Stanley gave the banjo to Samantha.
  2. Samantha gave her old bicycle to Victoria, who needed one.
  3. Victoria gave the CD player to Stanley.

Everyone was happy!

We can even have a four-way deal (with four people in it), or a deal with five or more people.

When you barter, you can get "bids" from more than one person. You want to trade your harmonica. Johnny will give you an aquarium, in exchange for it. But wait. Before you trade, call Nancy. She will trade her Dan Fogelberg cassette for the harmonica. Carol will trade her wrist-watch. We can choose the best deal among these bids.

As you barter, you will learn how to talk to people about it. You will remember to take your lists everywhere, and you will help other people to make lists. (And you will keep the phone numbers of your barter partners so that you can set up more deals with them in the future.)

Don't hurry when you barter. Enjoy it, and make friends. Bartering can be the best time you have all day!