The Once-Great Musical Heritage Society: a Preliminary Investigation into the Credit Mafia

What starts out seeming like a personal problem can quickly become evidence of a pervasive evil, probably affecting even you. 


There was a time, back in the 1950s, when the Musical Heritage Society was a noble addition to the commercial music scene. It was MHS which issued a complete Beethoven's Ninth on two ten inch discs, so that one would not have to suffer so many cuts. It was MHS which opened the catalogue of recorded music to the treasures of the Low Baroque, and made it possible to hear works which larger and more commerical companies would not risk issueing. MHS also took the chance of releasing modern works at a time when the idea of 'modern music' was anathema to concert goers and records companies. Eventually the company added to its catalogue recorded works which were no longer in print: a very valuable service indeed.

The MHS catalogue was simply enormous, and one could hardly hope to have money to purchase everything in it that one wanted. If you could afford any music, the MHS was the way to go.

As the years went by I was a member, off and on, several times. My reason for dropping my periodic membership was invariably the same. My finances diminished, and music, though a chief love of my life, had to take a back seat to rent and food. I have several friends who have been in the same boat. Until recently, the MHS was a thing to be held in high regard.

Not so any more.

In the Autumn of '98 things were going a little better, so I decided it was time to renew my membership. I went looking for MHS in various places. It was not easy to find, but find it I did. I wrote them the following letter:


24 November 98

Dear Musical Heritage Society:

I used to be a member, and was satisfied with MHS; but things got rough in my life for a while, and I dropped out. Things are going better now and I would like to re-join; but you are kind of hard to find. I checked the internet with no luck, but -- going through some files, I just found an advertisement in an old issue of Archaeology magazine.

I assume the offer that was current in that old issue is past and that you have a new current offer. Would you please send me particulars, so that I can re-join?

Thanking you for your prompt attention, I remain,

Very Truly Yours,


The company did, in fact, respond, and I got some Mozart violin concertoes as my opening selection. But I was dissapointed to discover that the enormous catalogue was no more, and that most of what MHS had to offer was re-issue. In the long run I suppose that was ok: I would never be able to afford everything they had to offer in any case. And, as a lot of what they were offering was duplication of things commonly available in other recordings, I wouldn't even be tempted.

I was annoyed, however, when I came home from The Wherehouse once day with a new recording and discovered that MHS was advertising that very recording (the cover was pictured in the MHS catalogue) as 'an MHS exclusive,' and that the price was actually higher than what The Wherehouse was charging. Add to that the postage, handling and shipping charges that MHS levies, and the price was considerably higher. In the old days, when MHS advertised an item as 'exclusive' it meant that the recording was available only from MHS, either in terms of the recording or often in terms of the music itself. Clearly the idea of 'exclusive' has been lost somewhere along the way, and become only a buzz word for sales promotion.

Still, there were some good things available, and by careful shopping I got a few of them. Then, however, things started to change. I ordered things according to the advertised prices, but was charged higher prices. I made notes on the invoices, advising that the prices being charged were incorrect. I got letters telling me that I was wrong, and that I must pay the higher price. I had to write more letters. I began to work for them, rather than them working for me.

Now this is important, so please note it carefully.

Companies are supposed to work for us, not us for them. It is reasonable to have to correct mistakes now and then, as mistakes will happen. But when the Customer begins to have to take over the work of book keeping, then the Customer is beginning to work for the Seller; and if you are working for them, you ought to be paid by them. Sitting down and writing a complex letter explaining just where the book keeping errors have occurred is work. You can rest assured that the person at the merchant end of the transaction is being paid to write those letters to you. Beyond a single letter, or two at the most, it is not even vaguely reasonable that you, the buyer, should be doing that work without compensation. Only the dominance of commerce in our culture, and the manipulation of social interaction by Big Business, could ever have convinced anybody otherwise.

The following letter picks up the discussion between your reporter and the MHS.


22 February 2000


Dear Cecelia:

Allow me to quote:

"This Issue's Special Offer: If you order your Recording of Distinction by the date noted on your order card, you'll get 2 more selections FREE* The regular price of your free selections must be equal to or less than the price of your Recording of Distinction. Your Recording of Distinction is not available as a free or discounted selection. You may pick your two free selections from this brochure or the enclosed copy of the MHS Review.

*Shipping & handling charges are added to each order"

That is the offer, and those are precisely the conditions under which I ordered. The details of the order make it clear that the determining factor is the price of the selection, and I was careful to order selections which met the criteria. Nothing in this special offer suggests that additional criteria will be applied, or that the number of discs contained in a selection is relevent.

Although MHS offers are frequently less than clear (a condition which causes me to skip over them), this one is perfectly clear and I did, in fact, meet the conditions. To decide after the fact that you will charge me an additional amount based on unstated conditions (I realize that those conditions usually apply, but this is stated to be a special offer and different conditions are set forth for it) is unsuitable. I have paid according to the stated conditions of the offer, and that is that.

I have noted that MHS has been having a lot of problems with its communications. While I am not qualified to deal with the website, I am quite qualified to analyse the semantics of printed matter and offer assistance. For about $200 an issue I could provide feedback on what the brochures have said, as opposed to what the copy writers meant. It is not an uncommon problem for people too close to the content to miss communicating with people who are not part of the project, and it can cost sales.

It would, however, probably be more convenient for MHS to hire a local reader outside the company to fulfill this function. I strongly advise that MHS do so in order to avoid this unfortunate kind of communication gap.

Very Truly Yours,


Fee for Informational Letter: $25



You will note that at this point I made it very clear that informational letters are a matter of work, and that I charge for them. I specified the fee, but I waived that fee as there was no previous indication in the correspondence as to what my fee might be. This put MHS on notice that I considered the unfortunate problem to be work, and that I would charge for my work.


Here is another important item. If you have to write to a merchant to straighten out billing, then you must make clear that you are doing work, and you must quote a fee for your work. Given the going rate in the market place for this sort of work, I strongly urge you to charge not less that $25 for an informational letter. If you find it necessary to include photocopies of material, then a $15 charge for your trouble in going out and having the material copied is also a reasonable amount. You will find, if you ask any public or private agency for copies of information, that this is in the usual range of such fees. Remember, you are not a book keeper, and you are not employed by the merchant either in that capacity or in any other. You thus fall into the catagory of 'independant contractor' when it comes to doing work for people.

You might also remember that one of the definitions of slavery is having to do work for somebody under compulsion and without compensation. --Keep that in mind for later in this article.


Meanwhile, back at the problem: I am sure 'Cecelia' (who may be a real person, or who may be merely a computer generated name; one is suspicious when a business correspondent does not offer a last name) took my criticism of the company's incompetance in communication either as insult or simply ignored it. I have seen no evidence whatever that the people who now run MHS think of the 'members' as anything but cattle who consume their fodder.

My next letter was addressed to the Chief Executive Officer of the company, and sent via a form of mail that would provide me proof that it had been delivered. By that point I was hopping mad, and no longer willing to work for the company under other than strict business terms.


Chief Executive Officer

The Musical Heritage Society

1710 Highway 35

Oakhurst, New Jersey, 07755


12 April 2000


Dear Sir or Madam:

Enclosed you will find a copy of my letter to a person who signed herself only 'Cecelia,' which I wrote on February 22, 2000. In response to that letter I received a printed form explaining your return policy. My suspicion is that Cecelia was either too lazy or stupid to read the letter, and that she simply grabbed whatever form letter was at hand and shoved it into an envelope.

If you will read the letter you will see that it has nothing whatever to do with your return policy.

It does have to do with an improper billing.

I am not in the habit of doing the accounting for the companies with which I do business; but sometimes I am willing to clarify a mistake, and in this case I did just that, and waived my usual informational letter fee.

In good faith, I ordered more music from you; as usual, pre-paid.

Today I received correspondence from the Mail Assurance Service, an ostensible collection agency, demanding payment of the unjustified charge referred to in my previous correspondence, and advising me that you had advised them that you had received no explanation as to why I had not paid it.

I believe my letter to Cecelia to be ample, even abundant, explanation. My receipt of the form letter signifies your company's receipt of it.

In the most recent brochure you sent to me you make it even clearer, in the shipping section, that there is a distinction between 'Selections' and 'Multi-Unit Sets;' therefore clarifying even further that my reading of your advertisement was correct, and that I do not owe you the money which the collection agency is demanding.

I took the trouble to seek out the Musical Heritage Society, and membership therein, because of previous favorable experiences. I have been satisfied, even pleased, with the products which you purvey. But if I have to work for you, writing endless letters and straightening out inappropriate accounting procedures: you are just not worth the trouble!

As you have chosen (as a company) to ignore my correspondence, and as you have placed me into collection under false pretences, I have been forced to cancel my most recent cheque to you (and I hereby render you the charge which you have thus caused me to incur) and hereby tender you my resignation of membership, effective immediately.

A copy of this correspondence will be sent to the collection agency in the same mail.

If this matter is not concluded to my satisfaction by the First of May I will forward this correspondence to the appropriate authorities and publish my end of it in my regular column dealing with consumer issues. I believe it to be a questionable practice to make use of a collection agency to extort monies which are not owed, and I suspect that most people will agree with me, possibly including the management of the collection agency.

Very irately yours,



Please Pay:

$25.00 (extraneous correspondence fee)

15.00 (copy fee for previous correspondence)

12.00 (cheque cancellation fee)

Total: 52.00


At the same time, I sent the following letter to the collection agency.


Mail Assurance Service

2269 South Saw Mill River Road

Building 3, Elmsford, NY., 10523


12 April 2000


Dear Sir or Madam:

Enclosed you will find copies of my correspondence with the Musical Heritage Society.

The fee for this informational letter is $25, but as you have been involved in the matter inappropriately, I will waive that fee. The fee for copies of the correspondence is only $15.

Very truly yours,



Enc: Copy of letter of 22 February 2000

Copy of letter of 12 April 2000


Please Pay: $15.00 (correspondence copy fee)


Eventually I received the cds which I had ordered, pre-paid, and for which I had been forced by the company's determination to ignore my correspondence to cancel the cheque.

Not long after this I received a letter from MHS stating that the inappropriate charge had been removed from my account. But I did not receive any payment, either for my work or for the expenses I had incurred because of their 'putting me into collection' for a bill which I did not owe, or even for the cheque cancellation fee which I had had to pay because of their actions.

Nor did I receive the $15 copying fee from the Mail Assurance Service.


And, the Musical Heritage Society continued to send me promotional material, even though I had, in the above correspondence, made my resignation and disgust quite clear.

At this point MHS would have been well advised to simply chalk up the matter to misfortune and try to ignore it until it went away. I was willing to do just that. But they were not. I got another letter, regretting that MHS had not heard from me, and offering me 'preferred membership" if I would just come back: and I respondded thus:



The Musical Heritage Society

1710 Highway 35

Oakhurst, New Jersey, 07755


21 May 2000


Thank you for removing the unjustified billing in the amount of $19.11 which caused me so much grief, anger, and billable work.

Thank you for the offer of preferred membership. As your products are quite excellent I was tempted... However...

The form letter which you sent states that my cheque in the amount of $21.91 was presented against insufficient funds. That is not the case, as was made clear in previous correspondence.

Form letters are often a good way of solving correspondence problems; but they will not take the place of reading the correspondence which comes to you, and in this case the form letter came far too late. It was also, this late, inadequate and in error.

Thank you for your payment in the form of merchandise in the amount of $21.91. This form of payment is acceptable. If you wish to clear the rest of your debt in this form, to help with your accounting, it will also be acceptable.

As a further courtesy, I have held back on any commentary in the press.


Statement of account:


Previously Due: $52.00

Extra Postage Costs: .......... 6.18

Subtotal: 58.18


Payment 21.91



Payment Now Due 36.27



Very firmly yours,




Former Member


You'd think they would get the message. They could, at that point, have got out of the matter with a loss on their books of $21.91 rather than paying the amount due of $58.18. They would still be ahead by $36.27.

Did they jump at the chance? They did not.


Another letter, another demand (less than polite), another response:




The Musical Heritage Society

1710 Highway 35

Oakhurst, New Jersey, 07755}



24 July 2000



To The Musical Heritage Society:


Enclosed you will find a copy of my last correspondence, dated 21 May 2000. The copy fee is $15. You will also find your letter to me, dated 17 July 2000. You should have read what I wrote the first time. It would have been cheaper. My basic correspondence fee continues to be $25.

I have been patiently waiting for your cheque in the amount of $52 since April. As you will note, I was willing to accept merchandise as partial payment; but I have not received any further payment from you, and now you are billing me again without any move toward paying the fees for which you have been billed.

If it would be better for your accounting department, you can send me a cheque for services rendered in the amount listed below, and I will then send you a cheque in the amount for which you continue to bill me. That should clear your books, and mine.

Please do not continue to address me as 'Dear Member.' I have not been a member of the Musical Heritage Society since 12 April 2000, the point at which I lost patience and refused to work for you any more without payment and resigned in disgust. I have allowed this matter to rest, doing my best to get the bad taste out of my mouth; but your persistance in ignoring my billing for the work you required of me and your determination to keep the wound raw does not impel me toward any further compassion.

You haven't signed your letter. I won't bother either.


Statement of account:


Previously Due: $52.00

Extra Postage Costs: 6.18

Subtotal: 58.18

Further Extraneous

Correspondence 25.00

Additional Copy Fee 15.00




Total Now Due $98.18


Or, if the $21.91 is discounted: 76.27


Please Pay Immediately so that we may clear this matter from both

our books!




As you can see, my patience had run out. My letter was framed in the same language as their letter to me.

I then received another demand for payment from the Mail Assurance Service, the collection agency which still owed me $15 in copying fees.

Another another!



At this point we need to stop and consider not merely my personal relationship with this odious organization, but the overall implicatioins of what is going on. For, you well may say, what is $21, or $19, to get so bothered about?

Perhaps nothing, on the level a single transaction. But in the time since this whole mess began I have taken the trouble to investigate other mail supply music companies, and other kinds of companies as well, and I have discovered a curious pattern.

Somewhere down the line, and not very far, it seems to happen again and again The company makes an offer, the customer responds, then the customer is billed for a higher amount. The customer corresponds, the company ignores the correspondence. Then, if the customer does not grow tired of the demands and simply pay the improper charges, the company puts the customer 'into collection,' which means that a collection agency begins to threaten the customer with the ruination of his or her credit unless the money is rendered up.

Relatively few customers have the patience to conduct the kind of extended correspondence of which I am capable. Most will give in and pay the money. Most have been educated by the commercial media to go right on doing business with the sleazy company which so conducts its business.

Do I really believe that companies do this sort of thing regularly?

Let's look a the economics of it.

Say that you sell a cd for $15. Say that you overcharge the customer $5. Say that you have 500,000 customers who regularly buy from you, perhaps one cd every couple of months. If you make that overcharge of $5 once a year to 500,000 customers, what is your take?

Is my math slow, or does that look like $2,500,000?

Try it with the overcharge of $19.11 that was shuttled my way.

In the days when all this was done by hand it would, perhaps, have been a costly form of larceny. But today a computer can be programed to generate the overcharge, the billing, the 'signed' letters by some person who may or may not exist, and then, if the money is not forthcoming, the letters from the collection agencies.

"If you don't give us tthe money, we're gonna' ruin your credit."

"If you don't give us the money, Guido here is gonna' break your hands."


Is there a striking similarity between those two statements?

How much simpler, and less physically dangerous, is the use of the computer and the mails to operate such an extortion racket.

And dare I suggest that 500,000 customers is probabaly way, way on the low side? And if so, might your own imagination fill in the kinds of numbers which could be more confidently realized, and the kinds of profits made by credit loss intimidation?

Perhaps you can see now that this is not about me and my lousy $20; this is about an enormous racket, a kind of criminal profiteering the Mafia never dreamed about. No more guns and brass knuckles, just computers and stamps.

And yes, they can ruin your credit, just as surely as Guido can break your hands

(If I turn up with broken hands or shot, you can guess what sort of criminal was at the other end of the contract.)

Back to the immediate case at hand:


I received the following letter from the Musical Heritage Society in October, on the letterhead of Donald W. Nissiim, Executive Vice President:


"October 2, 2000



In response to your recent letter regarding fees, be advised that you have an open balance of $21.91.

You have stated in your letter that you will charge us fees for processing of correspondence. Please be aware, you joined the club as a voluntary act and, therefore, any time you spend in resolving issues is of your own volition.

If you would like to arrange payment, please send us $21.91. If not, your accouint will be placed in collection.

Very truly yours,

(A Squiggle, which might be interpreted as a signature, only maybe not)

Donald W. Nissim"



But, as I said in the beginning, I never agreed to be their accountant or their book keeper.

It is clear from Mr Nissim's letter that MHS reserves the right to do whatever it damn well feels like doing to the customer, and that MHS feels it is the problem of the customer of straighten out any mess which MHS makes, and at the customer's expence.

It is also clear that MHS will not pay for the work I did on it's behalf, although MHS was advised there would be a charge if I had to do it, and that MHS intends to do violence to my credit if I don't give it the money it demands.


Next came a letter from Guido inthe form of correspondence from

Retrieval Masters Creditors Bureau, Inc.

2269 South Saw Mill River Road, Building 3

Elmsford, NY 10523


Note that this is the same address as that of the Mail Assurance Service.


""We have been asked to contact you regarding your account with our client, Musical Heritage Society, for your purchase of musical selections.

Please be advised that you have thirty (30) days from receipt of this letter to request validation of this debt or to dispute its validity. If you do not request validation of this debt or dispute its validity within 30 days as specified, you are expected to remit payment in full. Please send us your check or money order for $21.91, made payable to Retrieval Master Creditors Bureau, Inc. in the reply envelope enclosed.

If we do not hear from you within thirty (30) days from receipt of this letter, you will be subject to addtional collection efforts.


(There is what appears to be a stamped signature, Joseph Howard, on the form.




As this agency, under another name, already has all the correspondence (in copy) applying the initial problem, and as the agency has not paid the billed copying fee, there is no point in further correspondence. There is not even any point in spending the money for postage to send them a scrawled advisory.

Today they sent the following:


"You missed the deadline, but we think everybody is entitled to a second chance.


If you miss this one, we will proceed with further collection steps, to the full extend we are empowed by our client, Musical Heritage Society.

The amount of money involved is $21.91. This amount has been on the books of our cleint for much longer than is reasonable. A full payment is expepcted in this office by 01/05/01. Please mail it with the bottom portion of this letter.

(Again, the stamped signature of Joseph Howard)




So, Guido says pay up or else!


I think it is time for Congress to start investigating, both the mail order music industry (starting with a full investigation of the books and practices of the Musical Heritage Society), and an even fuller investigation of the use of the Credit Industry to intimidate people into paying debts which they do not owe.


As for you, gentle reader, you are cautioned thusly:

Avoid the Musical Heritage Society. You know now that this organization plays this game, and that you are likely to become its victim.

There are other mail order music companies with better deals, believe me!

Do not, under any circumstances, do work for merchants without first stating the cost of that work up front. If you have to write a letter to correct a billing, state in that letter that the cost of extraneous correspondence is $25 at minimum. Waive the fee out of courtesy (it could be a genuine mistrake rather than the first move in extortion), but if you have to write a second time, charge the bastards! You know that they will charge you for anything and everything.

If the sort of thing that happened to me happens to you, make sure you copy all correspondence (both sides, yours and theirs) and forward it to your Member of Congress, with a demand that the organization doing you the harm be the subject of investigation. Your Representative in Congress will know to which Federal Agency to direct the matter, and will thus be advised that you are one of the many people being preyed upon.

Last: It is time to stop customers from being the helpless cattle of commerce. In the past, if a company wanted you to advertise its product it gave you the item with the advertisement on it, or even paid you for the privilege of being associated with your good reputation. Companies paid farmers for the privilege of painting their advertisements on the sides of barns (and agreed to paint the rest of the barn in the bargain). T-shirts with advertising material were happily supplied by advertisers to customers in the hope that the customers would wear them. in public.

Stop wearing commercials unless somebody pays you to do it!

You are a customer, not a consumer! It is your money that makes commerce happen, not the other way around. Excercise your right to say No to crap of all kinds!




This material is being reluctantly uploaded to the whole damned world because this customer has had it!

Go thou and do likewise!



Here's the latest letter from Guido


Retrieval Masters Creditors Bureau, Inc.

2269 South Saw Mill Road, Building 3, Elmsford, NY 10523


January 9, 2001 


90 to 95% of all debtors are conscientious and intend to pay their bills.

I am sure you are one of them and plan eventually to pay the $21.91 you owe to our client, Musical Heritate Society for your purchase of the musical selections.

You should know this: "eventually" is not good enough. The fact that our client has emplyed us to colelct from you means they ar serious. They want the money you owe them, and we intend to pursue collection to the fullest extent.

You have alrleady received several notices regarding your unpaid account. At this point, we simply do not believe that you have a reasonable excuse for your failure to reply.

Pay the $21.91 and save us both trouble. Be sure to include the bottom portion of this letter with your payment.


(Printed Signature)

J. J. Jacobs




A little refresher here, gentle reader. The Musical Heritage Society has stated that it will not pay me the money that it owes me: guess it is not in the 90 to 95% of debtors mentioned above. The previous collection agency (with the same address as the second agency) has not paid me the copying fee for the documents sent to it. Guess it is not in the 90 to 95% mentioned above either.

Note the next to say sentence above. "Pay... and save us both trouble."Does that sound like Guido talking? Is that an outright threat? You bet it is!

I realize here that I am challenging the way 'business as usual' has been conducted lately. I also watch as the abuses of the business community against the customers whose money support it grow to the point where the whole system is in danger of breaking down. In California the public utilities are on the verge of bankruptcy and nobody feels at all sorry for them. The doctrine of deregulation which was supposed to spur competition and lower energy prices has done just the opposite. A limited supply of energy allows the suppliers to jack up the price to any level they wish.

The writer William Tenn once told me: "What happens in California happens to the rest of the world in ten years."

Watch out!




Another Notice From The Bad Guys



Retrieval Masters Creditors Bureau, Inc.

2269 South Saw Mill Road, Building 3, Elmsford, NY 10523



February 6, 2001

Your odered a musical selection from Musical Heritage Society, and it was shipped to you as requested. You have an every opportunity to make payment of $21.91, but have neglected to do so. As a result, your account has been placed with the delinquent accounts in our bad-debt files.

It is so simple for you to close this account right now, and clear your account with us. Just tear off the bottom of this letter, and send it with your payment by 03/09/01.

Otherwise, we will make further collection efforts.

(There is a reproduced signature of)

Joseph Howard.



It would be so simple for Musical Heritage to either pay up on its debt to me, or shut up!

But that is not how this form of extortion works, now is it? No, the computer just keeps on generating this stuff. Eventually it will have cost them much more than they say that I owe them. Eventually it will have cost them more than they owe me.

I would say: "They'll get it either when they pay me, or when Hell freezes over." But I have lived in New York, and Hell freezing over wouldn't impress people who've been through an Upstate New York winter.