Barter Town Phenomenon

By: Mary of Montevale, Features Reporter

SCA Medieval Barter Town has come to Pennsic for a face-to-face swap meet in the Great Hall on Tuesday, beginning at 12 noon. Everyone is welcome to come take a look at how it works, ask questions, and maybe even find something you’d like to barter for. However, space to display your wares had to be reserved in advance. All transactions must be swaps; no money can change hands since Barter Town is not intended to compete with the Pennsic merchants.

Normally, Barter Town is located on Facebook (just search on it by name). In its first year of existence, it has acquired a membership of almost 4,000, according to founder Mistress Michal Almond de Champagne (East), who is affectionately called “Auntie Em” by the members of the group. Some other typical town features are part of Barter Town as well: a sheriff (Lord Alexander Makcristyne, also of the East) and a “welcome wagon” group of experienced members who are ready to help newcomers learn the layout and to offer some pointers for more successful bartering.

Bartering as a form of commerce dates to back to antiquity and was routinely practiced by all levels of society throughout the time period covered by the SCA. Often it included not just a trading of goods, but also of services and everyday needs such as food and shelter. In the modern day, SCA members are not the only ones who make use of bartering. However many of the SCA-related Barter Town members attribute its greater success and higher levels of customer satisfaction than the average modern barter set up to the fact that “our” Barter Town incorporates some of the most important precepts of the Society as a whole: service, chivalry/honor, and artisanship. Auntie Em would point out to you that those three attributes also spell SCA.

Prior to the start of Pennsic, members were including Barter Town in their preparations for the War. Garb and accessories, gear, assistance with set up, exchange of services like cooking or dishwashing for camp meals—all of these were being arranged on Facebook. This particular venue for communication has also contributed greatly to Barter Town’s success thanks to the ease with which items can be advertised with photos included and then seen by members from every kingdom of the SCA. Someone with garb they no longer need is not limited to spreading the word within their local shire on just to those who attend the same events in a specific area and hoping somebody within that relatively small circle will need the items on offer.

In An Tir, Tamar of Evensong Forest thinks she is getting close to 100 barters by now. She explained to me that Auntie encourages Barter Town members to keep an accurate record of their barters to keep them all straight. Use a spreadsheet program to keep track of what you put up, what you are receiving in return, shipping numbers for tracking, shipping insurance that has been purchased, etc. Yes, members have to pay shipping, but think of the cost of going to events. And the items you receive may come from an artisan who is trading you something you could never afford for whatever it is you are trading that this other person needs.

One of the most important rules in Barter Town is that the exchange of goods via shipping should not take place until both parties are ready to ship. Sometime, even with the best intentions in the world, one side of a barter may not be able to deliver within the promised time, and so it is better to be patient and wait than to rush to ship your side of the deal.

As a rule though, since Barter Town is part of the SCA, most people are reliable and honest. There is a real sense of community and once you join, according to veteran members like Duchess Roxane Farabi (East), you will feel like a part of the family—just as often happens to someone attending their first SCA event or very first Pennsic—within a surprisingly short period of time.

Her Grace became a member of Barter Town for a quite common reason: after 30 years in the SCA, she had a lot of garb, reference materials, and other items which she no longer regularly used and wanted someone else to be able to make use of these things. She loves the fact that she has been able to connect with other SCAdians doing research in her very specialized field (Persian culture and garb) and provide them reference sources that are no longer available through traditional channels. From a distance, she has taught someone to sew. Plus, there is nothing with having a “lifetime supply” of new chemises!

There are a few limitations on what can be bartered: items must be “in keeping with the Dream”; no firearms; no endangered species; and alcohol cannot be shipped across state lines (private transport is a different matter) or traded to anyone who is under 21.

I encourage you to visit the Swap Meet on Tuesday to learn more about Barter Town and perhaps become a part of this rapidly growing aspect of the SCA and living in the Current Middle Ages.