Monday, October 26, 2009

'Vinyl Junkman' Howard Fischer uses record expertise to sell vinyl to collectors

written by Clem Richardson

Howard Fischer makes a convincing argument that selling old vinyl records is best left to experts.

The market for old 78, 33-1/3 and 45 records is so specialized that most times the casual seller will have no idea what they're selling or what it's worth.

"That's the problem," said Fischer, who ships to collectors worldwide. "All over the world they want these records, but they have special things they look for. The label, the condition is important. Is it a reissue or an original?

Then there are things in the deadwax - the wax around the label that doesn't have any grooves. "The producers scratch things in there, original things, and some people want to know what is in the deadwax.

"There is a guy named Rudy Van Gelder from New Jersey, who produced a lot of major, collectible records," Fischer said. "His name is in the dead wax in a lot of records. Collectors want to know that.

"People collect album cover art. David Stone Martin covers are very collectible. Some people even collect the inner sleeve, the paper envelope inside the album which holds the records.

"It's wild. It is not easy. I'm still learning myself."

Fischer, 72, has made several hundred dollars on albums he found or bought for pennies. But even he makes mistakes. He says the Smithsonian was interested in a collection of early radio comedies he found on the curb last year, and even agreed to up the offer at Fischer's urging.

Then the recession hit and the entire deal fell through. Fischer still has the recordings.

Fischer came by his passion honestly - his father, Hyman, collected 78s.

"I used to watch my mother and father dance around this little record player," he said. "They were great Lindy hoppers."

Those dances may have influenced his career choices. "I was involved in the music business, first as a lawyer, then I represented musicians," said Fischer.

He founded the New York Jazz Museum in 1972, but it went out of business in 1977. Fischer also wrote a book, "The New York Jazz Museum and the Power Struggle that Destroyed It," which he also sells at his shop.

For eight years, Fischer published Treasure Chest, a newspaper of antiques and collectibles. He also produced a documentary, "The Holland Avenue Boys; a Success Story," about several of his boyhood friends.

His office on W. 72nd St. in Manhattan, is stuffed with nearly 10,000 albums, as well as numerous books and movie posters. There are few classical albums, and no movie soundtracks or Broadway scores, which Fischer says do not sell.

Nothing gets in the shop that Fischer won't listen to himself.

"When I find an album I like, I take it home and play it," Fischer said. "I have over 2,500 albums at home that I play all the time. When I decide I've listened to them enough, I bring them here to try to sell them."

Fischer, who also goes by the name "Vinyl Junkman," finds much of his merchandise at flea markets, garage sales and sitting on the curb - thrown out as trash for any number of reasons.

"A lot of times, parents or grandparents pass away, or people find stuff in their attics they want to get rid of," he said. "I always say check your ABCs: your attics, basements and closets, for old records because they may have value."



Vizionheiry said...

I agree that vinyl appraisal will become a much needed skill. I just started collecting vinyl. I also inherited two great soul collections from my parents. I'm reluctant to re-sell because I'm not sure of the value. I have difficulty with the record grading system. It seems too complicated for me a beginner. If someone created a detailed simple visual example of each grade, more sellers would enter the market.

Robert Benson said...

Thx for your comment. Grading vinyl is one of the most subjective elements of the hobby and a source of concern for buyers and sellers alike. I like to use a 1-10 point grading scale, with 10 being the best. So, if someone rated an LP 8.7 that would tell me more than VG++. One thing to take into account when buying used vinyl is that you must trust the source, trust that the seller is grading the album conservatively and being honest in their description. However, there is no industry standard and becasue it it such a subjective thing, I doubt that we will see any changes in the grading methods anytime soon...