Dukes of Haggle – the underground barter and auction economy

Step inside the underground barter and auction economy, where one man’s trash is truly another man’s treasure.

The Internal Revenue Service of the United States (IRS) based in the nation’s capital, likes to remind American small business owners that the fair market value of property or services received through barter is taxable income. Bartering is the trading of one product or service for another. However, the fair market value of the goods and services exchanged must be reported as income by both parties.

That’s the official word from DC.

Dukes of Haggle is about folks who barter for a living deep in the heart of Appalachia and only about six and a bit hours from Washington DC. Saying this, the reminder from DC would most likely fall upon deaf ears amongst the barterers of Appalachia.

This reality series follows trading teams from an underground barter community on the back roads of Appalachia. It stars veteran barterer Gene Roberts and his novice sidekick Robert Price, friends Fred Ford and Andy King, traders Jimmy Sandzik and Nicki Rhodes. Picker Ron Boudreaux, a city slicker from New Orleans, is also featured. The teams scour junk yards, flea markets, and other locations for big ticket items they can fix up, trade, or auction off at the Neal Auction house every Friday night.

Throughout it all, the Dukes discuss the history and value of the items they uncover. From a unique Civil War sword and a Prohibition-era “keg-erator”.

The good folks of North Carolina, home of the NFL’s Panthers and birthplace of NASCAR show how it is possible to get what you want and need if you can recognise a diamond in the rough, and if you know how to wheel and deal.

The great thing about A&E’s Dukes of Haggle is that it offers an interesting look at how old barter-and-trade traditions are being revived in order to survive a seriously cash-strapped economy with great humour and humanity. For us in Australia, it also provides a great insight into Appalachia and, more broadly, The South. This is indeed a long way from Hollywood.

The Dukes show us how the minor details of a seemingly worthless item can potentially reveal its historic (and therefore monetary) value. It also highlights some of the negotiating techniques individual barterers will use to make a trade, and the occasional mistakes they’ll make when trying to restore items.

The Dukes’ colourful personalities, combined with the excitement generated by the Friday night auction, create some genuinely entertaining moments. Some of the weird things they try to trade might also get you laughing out loud.

When all’s said and done, The Dukes of Haggle remind us that sometimes taking an educated risk pays off, and that doing things the old-fashioned way can often lead to surprisingly positive results.


By: R.J. Hawksworth