Standard Phonograph Company of New York

Location: New York, New York
Date Founded: March 20, 1900

It would be easy to dismiss the Standard Phonographic Company of New York City (hereafter, Standard Records) as just one of the many fly-by-night record labels that launched and crashed in the nascent days of the popular recording industry. Its recorded output was minimal, and the only known recordings appear to survive because of—rather than despite—its early demise. Yet in its brief, three-year existence, Standard Records captured the earliest recorded performances of Yiddish music made by some of its most influential performers, providing us with a unique opportunity to hear this music at a critical moment in its history.

The history of what is believed to be the first ethnically-owned and -focused recording label remains stubbornly obscured, but here is what we know: optician and wholesale phonograph supplies merchant George Lando, along with Jacob Brody (a Russian émigré and furrier living in New Haven, CT) and Louis Pleskit, established Standard Records on March 20, 1900 at 451 Grand Street, where Lando had been in business since 1897. Their location on the Lower East Side allowed them to draw upon talent from within the heart of New York’s Yiddish theater district and, indeed, their roster of recording artists included the luminaries Solomon Smulewitz and Kalman Juvelier, the latter having just arrived in the U.S. several months prior to Standard Records's founding.

 


Advertisement for Standard Records. The text reads "The Standard Phonograph Co. of 451 Grand St New York. Has the largest stock on the East Side of Edison and Columbia phonographs. Supplies and records [songs] in all languages. Special arrangements for wholesalers stock of optical and sporting goods. Glasses will be fitted by the famous, trained optician G. Lando. Eyes examined free, according to the latest medical knowledge. Country orders quickly filled repairs of glasses and phonographs done inexpensively." Source: “Advertisement.” Arbeiter Zeitung, June 30, 1901: 2. Translation by Henry Sapoznik.

Lando waited more than a year before promoting this new enterprise, with advertisements in both the Forverts and the Arbeiter Zeitung appearing in the spring of 1901. While Lando gave equal billing to both of his ventures in the Forverts, his Arbeiter Zeitung advertisement prominently featured his recording company by literally surrounding the copy in phonographs. The Arbeiter Zeitung advertisement is also notable for its marketing of “records [songs] in all languages,” a testament to the polyglot Jewish community then living on the Lower East Side.

By 1902, however, Lando’s advertisements were gone from the Yiddish newspapers, and no record of him or his company has been found between November 1901 and April 1903 when Lando filed for bankruptcy. There is, however, tantalizing evidence regarding the company’s demise that suggests it may have briefly continued after Lando's ownership: the 1904 general directory for New York City businesses lists an Elizabeth Ludarsky as owner of a Standard Phonograph Company, located at 451 Grand Street. The surname may be a misspelling of Lubarsky, however; the 1898 directory lists a Lubarsky Brothers (no trade is listed) at the same address.

 

Standard Records anticipated a wave of vernacular music recording that would reshape the industry in the decades to come.

 

At some point in its all-too-brief history Standard Records entered into an agreement with the Lambert Company of Chicago, which began distributing the Yiddish recordings on its famous pink cylinders possibly as early as 1902. Unfortunately, we know of only one surviving catalog of the Lambert Company: its September 1903 edition, which includes the Standard Records-recorded Yiddish releases under the heading “Attractive Hebrew Selections.” The bankruptcy notice for Standard Records, meanwhile, lists Robert G. Perry as receiver of Lando’s assets; Perry was a lawyer for the firm Wheeler & Silber, located in Chicago, so it is possible that Lambert acquired the recordings after Standard Records filed for bankruptcy. To date, we have not been able to establish a concrete link between the law firm of Wheeler & Silbert and the Lambert Company.

Regardless of their provenance, the discovery of these recordings expands our understanding of the early recording industry while also raising important questions about the industry’s development, especially when it came to the market for foreign-language recordings. While the major recording labels (Columbia, Victor, Edison, and Gramophone) were beginning to focus attention on recording vernacular musics, Standard Records's releases stand out as a grassroots effort to capture the folk, religious, and popular songs of newly-arrived immigrants. In producing the earliest recordings of Yiddish music, Standard Records anticipated a wave of vernacular music recording that would reshape the industry in the decades to come.

Scott A. Carter and Henry Sapoznik

Sources
“Lando Fails.” The Music Trade Review, 36(5), April 11, 1903: 1.

“New Corporations.” New York Times, March 21, 1900: 11.

“Petitions in Bankruptcy.” New York Times, April 7, 1903: 6.

Byron, Eric. Crank Up the Phonograph: Who We Are and Where We Came From in Early Sound Recordings. Self-published, n.d.

Standard Records. “Advertisement.” Arbeiter Zeitung, June 30, 1901: 2.

Standard Records. “Advertisement.” Forverts, May 30, 1901: 5.

Trow's (Formerly Wilson’s) Business Directory of the Boroughs of Manhattan and the Bronx, City of New York. New York: Trow Directory, Printing & Bookbinding Co., 1898: 1140.

The Trow (Formerly Wilson’s) Copartnership and Corporation Directory of the Boroughs of Manhattan and the Bronx. New York: Trow Directory, Printing & Bookbinding Co., 1902: 557.

The Trow Copartnership and Corporation Directory of the Boroughs of Manhattan and the Bronx. New York: Trow Directory, Printing & Bookbinding Co., 1904: 576.