Vinyl Grading 101

CheckTheCoolWax uses Goldmine Standard grading for all albums listed in the marketplace.

Here are the standard grades for record albums, from best to worst.

MINT (M)

These are absolutely perfect in every way. Often rumored but rarely seen, Mint should never be used as a grade unless more than one person agrees that the record or sleeve truly is in this condition.

There is no set percentage of the Near Mint value these can bring; it is best negotiated between buyer and seller.

NEAR MINT (NM OR M-)

A good description of a NM record is “it looks like it just came from a retail store and it was opened for the first time.” In other words, it’s nearly perfect.

Many dealers won’t use a grade higher than this, implying (perhaps correctly) that no record or sleeve is ever truly perfect.

Near mint records are shiny and free of visible defects. No writing, stickers, other markings or spindle marks appear on the label. No major factory defects are present; a record and label obviously pressed off center is not Near Mint.

If played, an NM record will do so without surface noise. Near Mint records don’t have to be “never played”; a record used on an excellent turntable can remain NM after many plays if the disc is properly cared for.

NM covers have no creases, ring wear or seam splits of any kind.

These are high standards, and they are not on a sliding scale. A record or sleeve from the 1950s must meet the same standards as one from the 1990s or 2000s to be Near Mint!

It is estimated that no more than 2 to 4 percent of all records remaining from the 1950s and 1960s are truly Near Mint. This is why they fetch such high prices, even for more common items. They must meet these standards to qualify.

VERY GOOD PLUS (VG+) OR EXCELLENT (E)

A good description of a VG+ Record is “except for a couple of minor things, this would be Near Mint.”

Most collectors, especially those who want to play their records, will be happy with a VG+ record, especially if it is toward the high end of the grade, (sometimes called VG++ or E+).

VG+ records may show some slight signs of wear, including light scuffs or very light scratches that do not affect the listening experience. Slight warps that don’t affect the sound are OK. Minor signs of handling are OK, too, such as telltale marks around the center hole, so long as repeated playing has not misshapen the hole. There may be some very light ring wear or discoloration, but it should be barely noticeable.

VG+ Covers should have only minor wear. A VG+ cover might have some very minor seam wear or a split (less than one inch long) at the bottom, the most vulnerable location. Also, a VG+ cover may have some defacing, such as a cut-out marking. Covers with cut-out markings can never be considered Near Mint.

VERY GOOD (VG)

Many of the imperfections found on a VG+ Record are more obvious on a VG record. That said, VG records — which usually sell for no more than 25 percent of an NM record — are among the biggest bargains in record collecting, because most of the “big money” goes for more perfect copies. For many listeners, a VG record or sleeve will be worth the money.

VG records have more obvious flaws than their counterparts in better shape. They lack most of the original gloss found on factory-fresh records. Groove wear is evident on sight, as are light scratches deep enough to feel with a fingernail.

When played, a VG record has surface noise, and some scratches may be audible, especially in soft passages and during a song’s intro and ending. But the noise won’t overpower the music otherwise. Minor writing, tape or a sticker can detract from the label. Many collectors who have jukeboxes will use VG records in them and not think twice. They remain a fine listening experience, just not the same as if it were in better shape.

VG covers will have many signs on human handling. Ring wear in the middle or along the edges of the cover, where the edge of a record would reside, is obvious; it may appear on all three sides, though it won’t be obvious upon looking. Someone might have written on it or stamped a price tag on it, too.

GOOD (G), GOOD PLUS (G+) OR VERY GOOD MINUS (VG-)

Lower-grade records go for 10 to 15 percent of the Near Mint value, if you are lucky.

Good does not mean bad! The record still plays through without skipping, so it can serve as filler until something better comes along. But it has significant surface noise and groove wear. The label is worn and exhibits significant ring wear, heavy writing or obvious damage caused by trying to remove tape or stickers and failing miserably.

A Good to VG- cover has ring wear to the point of distraction, has seam splits obvious on sight and may have even heavier writing, such as huge radio station letters written across the front to deter theft.

If the item is common, it’s probably better to pass it up. But if you’ve been seeking it for a long time, get it cheap and look to upgrade.

POOR (P) AND FAIR (F)

Poor and Fair records go for 0 to 5 percent of the Near Mint value, if they go at all.

More likely, they end up going in the trash. Records are cracked, impossibly warped or skip and/or repeat when an attempt is made to play them. Covers are so heavily damaged that you almost want to cry.

Only the most outrageously rare items ever sell for more than a few cents in this condition — again, if they sell at all.

Goldmine Staff

https://www.goldminemag.com/collector-resources/collecting-101-grading-your-records

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