Record Grading 101: Understanding The Goldmine Grading Guide

Record Grading 101 is taken from the 5th Edition of “The Goldmine® Record Album Price Guide” by Tim Neely
(To purchase the 6th Edition of this price guide, in large paperback format, click here)

Nothing is more important in determining the value of your records than their condition! Yes, their relative rarity and demand is important, but a collector or dealer will pay much more for a record in Near Mint condition than one in Very Good Minus condition.

However, I’ve found that most people with collections or accumulations have an inflated sense of the condition of their discs. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people who think they know what they are talking about tell me, “My records are all Mint!” Sure, and I’ve got some oceanfront property in Arizona to sell you.

The truth is that most records, especially from before the 1970s, are not in anything close to Mint or Near Mint condition. That is why a collector will pay a premium for such a disc if he or she has to have it.

This book lists values for records in Near Mint condition. Records in lesser condition are worth a fraction of the Near Mint prices.

For most collectors, Very Good is the lowest grade for which they will pay more than bargain-bin prices. And some won’t even do that. Lower-grade records are only good as place holders, until a better copy comes along, or as examples of truly rare records that are difficult to find in any condition.

Most of the time, LPs are sold with two grades, one for the record and one for the cover. We list only one grade, however, because with some exceptions, albums without covers are worthless, and covers without the accompanying record are worthless. If an album is graded VG for the cover and VG+ for the record, add the two values together and divide by 2 to get a rough estimate of the value of a “mixed grade” LP.

Most records are graded visually. This is because most record dealers have lots of records — hundreds of thousands in some cases — and they don’t have the time to play their entire stock. That said, some defects are easy to see, such as scratches and warps. Others are subtle, such as groove wear from using a cheap or poorly aligned tone arm. It has been our experience that older LPs (1950s to about 1971) tend to play better than they look, and newer LPs (at least until 1989) tend to play worse than they look.

When grading your records, do so under a strong light. Look at everything carefully, and then assign a grade based on your overall observations.

Some records will be worthy of a higher grade except for defects such as writing, tape or minor seam splits. Always mention these when selling a record! For some collectors, they will be irrelevant, but for others, they will be a deal-breaker. For all, they are important to know.

Also, some LPs were made for promotional purposes only. Again, always mention if a record is a promo copy when advertising it for sale!

One of the obstacles to the further growth of record collecting is poor grading and a lack of consensus as to what constitutes a “Very Good Plus” or “Near Mint” record or cover. Over the years, the Goldmine® Grading Guide has tried to standardize this. It is now the most widely used guide for the buying and selling of vinyl albums; many eBay auctions and stand-alone Web sites swear by it. But we recognize that there are many variables to grading a record. As a seller, you are better off grading conservatively and surprising the buyer with a better record than was expected, than by grading based on wishful thinking g and losing a customer.

That said, 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.

NM records are shiny, with no visible defects. Writing, stickers or other markings cannot appear on the label, nor can any “spindle marks” from someone trying to blindly put the record on the turntable. Major factory defects also must be absent; a record and label obviously pressed off center is not Near Mint. If played, it will do so with no surface noise. (NM 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 are free of creases, ring wear and seam splits of any kind.

NOTE: 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’s 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.

Don’t assume your records are Near Mint. They must meet these standards to qualify!

Click to page 2 to continue reading.

7 thoughts on “Record Grading 101: Understanding The Goldmine Grading Guide

  1. I’m sorry, but really to keep the grading of Lp’s less of a mystery to the average (and not so average) Joe, a VG+ record should be just that. It shouldn’t be also named “Excellent”, or allowed to be denoted with a +,or ++.
    If it deserves a higher or lower grade, assign it that. Too many sellers try and over grade their records, leaving the buyer frustrated especially when purchased over the Internet.

    Either it is a Very Good Plus Lp, or it is flawed and down graded to a Very Good rating.

  2. Only people that don’t need to use VG++ are people that overgrade things and just call it NM-. I’ll use VG++ anyday, but NM- once in a blue moon.

  3. How about someone comes up with a grading scale that actually makes sense. If a “Good” condition record is not actually “Good”, why then do we call it “Good”. This is grade school stuff here…And that’s not to mention that the grading scale is still vague/incomplete. There is no scale for anything between those grades. This is what has led people to use “VG++”…although in those cases it’s quite common to find out that they really didn’t know what they were talking about after all…which just adds to the confusion when buying.

    I do think someone could make a much better grading scale, but more importantly, ask the seller detailed questions before you buy. There is no substitute for a personalized assessment of each individual record. There’s just too much middle ground and grey area, in addition to people grading from an inflated scale who already don’t know what they’re talking about.

  4. All this is good for records that have been opened or played. I might sound like everyone else when i say this but its true. My record has never been opened or played so i dont want to open it to grade it. What do i do?

  5. A Still-Sealed record is the record-collecting equivalent of Schrodinger’s cat. In the physics postulation, a cat placed inside a box could be either dead or alive (some interpretations say at some point, the cat is simultaneously dead AND alive), depending on a series of random events, and for which the result is unknown until the box is opened.

    Once the seal is broken on the album, you probably won’t find a cat in any condition, but you may find any number of things that could decrease its value — a damaged disc, a mis-labeled record, even the wrong record packaged inside (which does happen more often than you think).

    If your record is still factory sealed, leave it that way to maintain the potential value, and be sure to note that the record is in Still Sealed (SS) condition. If you suspect at all that the seal is NOT a factory seal — it is possible to re-wrap an already-opened album and pass it off as otherwise — get another opinion from a trustworthy dealer or appraiser before you open or sell it. Should you decide to sell this record and have had an appraiser or dealer assess that it is a factory-sealed record, be sure to note that the record has been inspected by an expert and determined to be in SS condition..

    That said, Still Sealed doesn’t mean Mint. Inspect the record and its package for things that you can see without breaking the seal. Is the cover dinged, creased or bent? Is there any kind of fading or sun damage, etc. that you can discern? Be sure to note those imperfections, as they can weigh into the record’s overall condition and ultimate value.

    Good luck!
    — Susan

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