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Magazine Helps New Englanders Swap Almost Anything--Except Guns and Wives

March 22, 1987|KEN FRANCKLING | United Press International

DUBLIN, N. H. — Two months after Robb Sagendorph began Yankee magazine in 1935, the young publisher decided he didn't like his printer's habit of putting his false teeth on top of the press.

Unbeknown to the printer, Sagendorph put a joke advertisement in that November issue reading: "Will swop one set of store teeth (like new), for a broom."

When more than 20 people showed up at his office over the next three days, Sagendorph knew that he had a good thing going.

An Old Custom

The prank spawned "The Original Swopper's Column," the monthly journal's way of perpetuating an old New England custom.

"The printer sure wasn't amused, but it's been going every month since then," said Judson Hale, Yankee's current editor and Sagendorph's nephew.

The 100 free swap listings Yankee publishes each month let people barter genealogical information, recipes, property, or goods and services for something of subjective equal value.

"Swapping is an old country custom that goes back a helluva lot farther than 50 years. There are still a lot of people who exist on bartering. You hire a plumber and pay him with potatoes. That's still a very common country practice in northern New England," Hale said. "It is very New Englandy--people save things. They never throw things out, so they have things to swap."

Many folks read the Swopper's Column--still spelled the way Sagendorph put it--more for amusement than bargain seeking.

Ring for a Stove

Hale's favorite swap, published three years ago, read: "Will swop handmade size 5 champagne-color wedding dress with appliqued lace and chiffon skirt, and size 5 1/2 keepsake .17-carat diamond ring for a wood-and-coal burning stove."

"They sort of tell little stories," Hale said. "You can sort of picture what somebody might be like by what they put in as a swap.

"A lot of people want to swap, so they put up something that is interesting. So they make a swap. There is something that, on a one-to-one basis, is personal and enjoyable, and they always believe they got the best of it."

Lida Stinchfield took over editing of the Swopper's Column last July. She considers sorting through the hundreds of requests a special job.

'Mind-Boggling' Trades

"I enjoy it for the variety that comes in--all over the country and all kinds of things," Stinchfield said. "To imagine somebody wants what you have--a 1928 slide projector--for what you want--a B-flat piccolo--is mind-boggling."

She said that virtually every one of the swap offers published each month gets an answer.

Vacation swaps are the most popular and are of interest to young, adventuresome people. Then come collectibles: plates, books, stamps, glassware and bottles.

Every month, Stinchfield gives high prominence to a "Swop of the Month." The magazine ended 1986 with one from a reader in Florida offering to "Swop Will Rogers' autograph (and tell why he was forced to give it) for small fold-up sleeper-camper."

"Another time, a couple wrote in, wanting a swap in which they could be foster grandparents through visits and letters," Stinchfield said.

Swappers Marry

The Swopper's Column has even produced a marriage. Hale recalls the case of a woman, originally from Massachusetts, who was living in Alaska. She began swapping with a Massachusetts man, then they started writing, decided to meet each other, and got married.

There are limits. Yankee accepts neither swaps that are veiled "for sale" offers nor any involving modern firearms or live animals.

"And we don't accept personals," Hale said. "Wife-swapping is not included."

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