Yankees "swopping" since 1935

Every generation seems to discover barter anew. A few companies are using the internet to work out the kinks of trading one thing for another with no cash. But for 73 years the readers of Yankee Magazine have been able to do the same for free, first on the pages of the New England institution and now on its website.

Jamie Trowbridge, the president of Yankee Magazine wrote in after our previous post on bartering. I talked to him about the "Yankee Swop," which I think must be the oldest barter forum in the country. Trowbridge's grandfather Robb Sagendorph started the swop shortly after he started the magazine. Trowbridge explained that his grandfather was annoyed that the local printer kept a jar of dentures out and kidded him with an ad: "Will swap one pair store teeth for a broom."

Much to everyone's amazement the ad got a response and soon the "swop" column was born. The magazine itself received the letters, then sent them on to the person who placed the ad. The only rule was that you couldn't swap for money -- that would just be buying, not swapping, and fit in the classified ads. "I'm sure that somewhere in a file drawer there's a policy, but we just use editorial judgment on the part of whoever is editing the column," says Trowbridge. "We didn't run stuff that appeared to be really inappropriate."
The "swops" have always been at least as much entertainment as commerce. "The stars had to align around them," Trowbridge says. "I think most people just use it as a way of introduction." Many of the swaps center around collectibles and vacation homes. "One of the most poignant swops we ever published," says Trowbridge, was one that read "'Will swop one wedding dress (unworn) for a wood stove.'"

For 40 or 50 years the swop was so popular the magazine couldn't print all the offers. That fell off in the late eighties and early nineties. I wonder in this new heyday of barter and thriftiness if it will catch on again.

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