Recollection 02 ch13 The Art Of Swapping
The Art of Swapping
Mail trading on the C64 has had many guises. Some people have traded locally with a handful of people, others have traded internationally with scores of people, sometimes in the hundreds. This aspect of the C64 scene is hardly known to our friends in NTSC-land (North America and Canada) and is something that is just a whisper from the past to those who have only found our scene recently since the internet revolution.
In this small article I hope give some facts and features about the history of mail trading. Looking around the scene today I think many people wouldn't have any idea about the thrill of mail trading and the amount of effort that was required to attain that thrill. During the early years of our scene, before the internet became a true force in communication, the boards and mail trading were our main tools to spread the wares. Swapping was the best way to trade software on a regular basis. In the very early eighties people swapped tapes. With the cassette tape would be sent a little piece of paper or inlay that would show what programs were stored on the tape, for example: 000 - 091 Galaga, 092 - 182 Hunter, 183 - 212 Letter Maker. The process of swapping tapes was more expensive than diskette and didn't last long. Trading tapes slowed down as the disk drive became more popular, the floppy disk became the main medium of trade and is even continued to this very day! The scene only had 10% or less of it's population on the boards, so swapping was the main bridge between people. During the first decade of the Commodore the post offices around the world were bombarded with many little packages that were only slightly bigger than 5.25 inches. :)
Trading in the mail developed from a simple 'small-time' task to an official scene occupation (just like coding, painting or any other skill). The need to have people in your group to spread your wares was just as important as the people making the wares themselves. As soon as something was finished, whether it be a game, crack or a demo, the swapper always received it as first and would then spread it out to the masses. Sometimes when a scener would chose who he would contact to swap with he would choose his favourite group's official spreaders, in this way he guaranteed himself to receive the wares from the groups or people he wanted to see stuff from. Or he may just swap with local friends which sometimes extended to friends of friends.
In the nineties it was considered to be a more friendly and personal section of the scene, especially compared to the BBS scene which was considered 'elitist'. During this period of time the scene was very divided. There was clear divisions between parts of the scene and the swappers were certainly in a scene of their own. Mail-based magazines were disk magazines aimed at the swapping scene. Some of these were The Tribune, Skyhigh, Addybook, Splash and many more.
The nineties were the peak of swapping on C64. It had matured so much that easily definable terms can be described as follows.
'Swapping' - The art of sending 5.25" disks and other media/content to fellow sceners. Fill a disk (or more than one) with hot, requested or entertaining programs. Use cardboard backing to protect disk. Wrap in paper. Post. Repeat over and over across an intricate network of like-minded enthusiasts.
'Swapper' - Usually the category of 'swapper' applied to people who traded on a normal basis. The normal swapper would trade with under 100 contacts on a regular basis. Most people fitted this category as a lot of people traded with a few people or more. Being a swapper also allowed enough free time to persuit other things on C64 also.
'Mega Swapper' - This title applied to someone swapping in excess of 100 contacts on a regular basis. Some people swapped with several hundred (I believe Penthagon swapped with over 500 contacts at once for a short period). Normally this job would consume the person's spare time totally.
'Packs' - The short term for the packages sent back and forth.
'Stamps Back' - When you initially establish contact with someone, you come to an agreement, one of these could be stamps back. Meaning that you want your stamps to be sent back to you.
'Stamp Cheating' - Officially known to law agencies and the postal departments as 'lackering'. How can young teenagers and even adults support a habit of having tens or hundreds of contacts to send to on a daily basis? Cheating of course. There are many forms of cheating but the result is the same: the swapper is fully in control if he pays or not. Some ways to cheat the postage stamps or postage in general included:
1. Covering the stamps in a thin layer of glue. Wait for them to dry, stick them on the pack and post. The receiver of the pack sends the stamps back to the sender. Then the sender would first use a rubber or just your finger and gently rub the dried glue from the stamps face. In doing this it would also remove the post offices postal mark which signifies the stamp is used. The second step the senders makes is to soak them in water to remove the paper from the back of the stamps. Thirdly he would dry the stamps out and then repeat the process. Poor stamp cheaters would not do the task that well so their glue is more obviously noticed than someone that has a superior technique. Types of glue and amount applied is what mattered.
2. The same as the glue procedure, except using certain brands of hair spray. This was less noticable than glue and also gave the stamps a fresh shine as opposed to the glue being somewhat dull. Brand and style of hairspray was important as the matter isn't as thick as glue and might not allow the postal mark from being removed after receiving the stamps back from the receiver. Hairspray was also applied to phonecards for public telephones, as the machines sometimes had problems processing a charge on a card that had been sprayed (at least on Australian phonecards).
3. Making stamps. In the early nineties in Germany and some other countries, postage stamp "automats" had been established before the post offices. You could get 10 * 10pf stamps out of them, the stamps looked all the same except for the value, so you could cut of the "0" from one stamp and stick it to the "0" from the other stamp so you got 100 for 20 or you got 200 for 30 with one 20pf stamp and one 10pf stamp, this worked for years, stupid people at the post office, i remember antichrist always used just one 5pf-stamp for his sendings which is really nothing, most foreign contacts didn't have to pay the excess postage and the most german contacts paid it and were delighted to get such fresh stuff. i also used the glue and hairspray method and can say it was a lot of work with 50 sendings a day as described in the article, : unstick the stamp from the envelope, remove the postmark, dry the stamps on a towel, press the dry stamps in a big book and afterwards cheat the stamps again.
'Votesheets' - Before the digital age of convenience paper sheets were spread together with the disk 'packs'. These sheets would be sent out by disk/paper magazine officials. On them is the usual blanks ready for the receive to fill in. e.g. Top 10 coder, painter, musician, swapper, etc. These would be filled in and sent back to the magazine officials who would use them to compile their charts, sometimes up to 400 or more sheets would be used for one chart. A lot of paper! The sheets normally had their own artwork and style.
'Disk Covers' - Another thing swappers would spread would be disk covers. Artwork that is in the design of a disk jacket. Cut around it and fold and you have a REAL scene disk holder.
'Disk note' - In relevance to swapping this was the note from the sender! This would also be in the form of a paper note but usually a noter was used. Some guys wrote 10 page or more letters while others only wrote small notes.
'Mail Version' - This term was used to describe a game crack that was made for the swapping scene only. These releases were normally much better than the original first releases at the cracker had no time pressure of trying to get it out as first. The quality of the crack wasn't quite as good as what we see oldie-groups like Nostalgia and Remember do today, but it wasn't too bad either and certainly the best on offer at the time. Many guys wanting to keep the swapping scene alive in the face of the internet hype of the nineties spread their wares to the mail scene first. That way the net guys had to wait for around 4 or more days before the release would become available online.
I was classed as a mega swapper for some years and at one point obtained number one in Australia, as well as entering the charts top ten on an international level. Having over 220 contacts that I was actively swapping with was crazy. Cheating stamps like crazy, wrapping packs, cataloging and requesting wares, watching your disk and disk cover collection grow. It was like the C64 scene version of a pen pal, but with turbo boost! I was warned twice for stamp cheating by our local post office, they knew I was 'lackering' the stamps not because of the technique but because I foolishly used some old stamps that hadn't been in circulation for a long time. During the interview in one of their offices I confessed to being a stamp collector and that was short on money and needed to send some packages so I used some unused stamps from my collection. :)
Of course they saw passed this but it deflected punishment. After being released I went home and thought about how I could continue swapping but bypass the local small town post office altogether. An idea came to mind, a friend of mine studied at university in the city which was around two hours drive away. He would come home on weekends and we would hang out. So during the week I would arrange all my packages and give him on the Sunday just when he was going back to the city. Of course he would mail the packages from there, using different boxes so the mail was distributed to different post offices. That means mail was coming to me internationally through my local post office but I wasn't sending any out (that they saw) and it was no crime to just to receive mail! :)
I remember some of the days that I would come home and have like 15 or so packs. Sorting through them just by looking at the covers of them I would know who they were from just by the hand writing style. Reminds me when I first met Vengeance in 1992. He was a mega swapper also and on the first day I met him he got no packs. Which was real weird! But the following day he got like 17 packages. At this time I was just 'swapping' at a normal level, so when I saw this amount of packs it surprised me quite a bit. Being a swapper was like Christmas time every day, except the religion was C64 and the only Jesus I knew was a member in Silicon Limited. Being a swapper was something that was unsung and considered lowely by the elite, yet at the same time without swappers many things such as charts, fame and general wares spreading would cease to exist, in fact many of the scene wares you download from the net today are from the diskettes of the swapper!
At this point I'll leave you with some recollections from other swappers who were simply adored by their local post offices. Thanks for the memories guys! You can keep the stamps now, I don't need them back any longer...
"Regarding my views on swappers. I'd first like to say that I always thought there were different kinds of swappers. You had the normal swappers who swapped with a few people to get the latest wares. And then you had the group-wares swappers who only sent out when they any new group releases. Then you had the collectors who mainly swapped to get new stuff for their collections and then you have the megaswappers who swapped with a lot of people.
I myself started out as a normal swapper in small in the late 80's. I swapped to get the latest releases. Being a swapper in the late 80's was hard as you sent out to tons of people but very few of the guys in big groups sent back then as the whole elite scene was still going on. So one mostly had to get by with a few famous contacts in big groups and the rest was normal swappers like me who were in smaller groups. It wasn't until 95 that I decided to get more than 30 contacts. After a while I had reached the 100 contacts mark and was very proud. About the same time I also stared to swap demos I was now considering myself a collector and a swapper. About this time I also started to enter the charts in various magazines and that's where it really started for me. Getting higher in the charts where like a drug to me. I started to contact hoards of people until I reached 250 contacts and I was finally considered a megaswapper by many. Now it wasn't enough to be in the top 10 anymore I was going for the top spot and so I did. After being number one in many magazines during a period of 2 years getting numerous awards for being a top swapper I got tired and started to slow down.
A funny story was that one day the cops decided to make a visit to my house fortunately while I was out. They weren't looking for illegal wares but searching for cheated stamps but since I had posted all my packs that day there where no stamps in my room so they left. Had they just opened the bathroom door they would have found around 300 cheated stamps. After that I started to mail my packages in various postboxes around my hometown in order not to draw attention to myself again. Something that has always been on my mind is the word "megaswapper". How many contacts did you have to have before you would consider yourself a megaswapper? It seems to me that it was lowered all the time as in the late 80's you had to have more than 300 contacts to even be considered as a megaswapper while in the late 90's many people claimed to be megaswappers with only 100 contacts. Was it really the amount that counted or were you a megaswapper when people started to call you that? Something that has always seemed unfair to me is that a whole lot of people claim that swappers are lazy sceners that never contributed with anything important. Which I of course think is completely wrong. Try having 250 contacts for a long period sending out each day to 15 guys, always trying to type a personal note to each contact and see how easy that is. Without the swappers many of the famous sceners or groups wouldn't be famous today since no one would have been able to see most of those wares without the swappers or the collectors who are doing a great job even today sharing demos on various commodore sites on the internet for everyone to view. Many of the swappers were also the best suppliers of originals for the crackers, at least in the 90's. Swappers also sent out tons of votesheets that people filled out so that all magazines could host their own charts. Another topic that is closely related to swapping is stamp cheating, something you had to do when you where a teenager with no real income. During the years I tried numerous ways to cheat stamps my favourite method was to add a thin protective layer with a gluestick and then add another small layer of hairspray. After that I let it dry for 24 hours so my packs wouldn't stick together when I put them the mailbox at my local post office."
"As with Violator I also often got more than ten sendings a day during quite a while. It all became unbearable when I stopped replying immedieatly though, making the pile of disks rise.
Megaswapping took all days, from coming home from school until riding the bike to the postbox in the evening. I still miss the scent from an unopened package."
"I was never really a swapper, at least I never planned to become one. My case was that when my addy started to appear in different diskmags and got contacted and always replied. Since it was such a long time ago I can't really recall how many contacts I had, but I believe it was around 50 at most and then I simply had to cut down to around 30.
These days you couldn't log in to an FTP-site or a place like CSDb and just grab whatever old demos you want, instead I tried to focus mainly on oldie demo-swapping and was swapping 5 or more disks with several people, Acidchild, Violator, Leming and Hornet are those I can remember right now.
One thing I will never forget was when the postman came to my mother's work with 30 sendings that I had put too less postage on. I had used envelopes from her work which had their logo-type on it, I had tried to cut away that part of them but obviously missed it somewhere so they probably thought the were just delivering back the letters to the sender. You can imagine her surprise and how her co-workers were staring at her.
Later, as my amount of contacts increased, I started cheating the stamps using fix-it spray normally used by artists drawing with coal. It worked quite well but it was too much hazzle cleaning & drying the damn stamps so eventually I got tired of it and in the meantime the pile of unanswered sendings grew bigger & bigger making it almost impossible to send out again. I finally stopped in 1996 or so, but I still have the last bunch of received sendings in a box...maybe I'll return them one day. All in all I guess I was a lousy swapper."
"It was a really great time without the internet with very long letters between Remix and myself or with Morris/Cross and some others, don't know where I took the time from for all this, still have some letters from Remix, wish I will meet him again one day, he once visited me, great guy. Weirdest packs were always from Remix, 50 page-letters, beer mats (i collected them) and several things.
I had about 300 contacts, record sending went to 520 I think, can't remember if one more or less. Other good spreaders at that time were: Antichrist and Steamhammer for Genesis*Project, Airwolf for Action, Derbyshire Ram for Dominators and Illusion, R.C.S. for Ikari+Talent, Brego for Paramount, Deathstralker (legal stuff), Mr. Wax for Chromance, The Penthagon for Enigma, Stormlord for WOW, TBB for Arcade, Moren and Nightshade for Success, Jerry for Triad did great work for their groups in my opinion, not ranked in any way.
The amount of contacts was not the most important thing, if you had 60 contacts and 40 of them sent your stuff to all of their contacts could be better than sending to 250 and they all kept it for themselves.
I had trouble with the post in my hometown, so I had to change town, and after some months I had to go to the third, good for me that very large cities are very close to another here. was hard to see all the seized sendings at the public prosecutor's office. the whole room filled with big bags full of sendings to me.
The prosecutor was so bird-brained, I still can't believe it. I should come with my equipment, i.e. c64 and 1541 and had to show him what is on the discs, I had a final cartridge in and always did the following: F8 n:, F7, so all the discs that were not protected were formatted before the directory came and at the end there were 20 discs left for which I had to pay about 1600 German Marks (about $800US at that time). Another recollection was when I teamed up with Airwolf for a sending out of the disk magazine Propaganda. It was about 400-500 sendings with Propaganda, nice sending, Unbelievable, but we copied this sending with one drive, changing disk 4 times source, 4 times destination a copy in 15 seconds was great fun with Airwolf, we did this several times at parties, so that we could throw the sendings in the post when driving back home."