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.

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.

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.

About Patrick Prince

Patrick Prince is the Editor of Goldmine

18 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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  7. OK. I have a 1963 Beatles fifth pressing UK Please ,Please Me album. In the UK they never used shrink wrap. ( All my Beatles are UK or Italian first pressing,or in the year. Hence PPM came out with first pressing Gold labels 1. Mono 2. Stereo,the the yellow labels without the ” first published in 1963″ on labels ,hence 3. Mono,4. Stereo,then the fifth pressing,I own Mono,but with ” first published in 1963 ” on labels . This makes it a fifth pressing,although still within months of first pressing,technically. It should be the third pressing,but collectors consider mono and stereo as being 1,2,3 and 4.
    Parlophone rims etc.
    Now,on to,the grading . This PPM has an E J Day cover. These are laminated on front and on flipbacks of rear of cover,and has the thin tissue Emitex poly lined inner sleeve. This record has NEVER been played. It has however,been on a turntable for a few revolutions to be certain it’s flat . ( It is ) no lines coming off around spindle hole . However,it has been in and out of the Emitex inner sleeve several times, each time it leaves a ” trace ” these are possibly considered hairlines,but they are not even that . There are no scratches and labels appear as new . The cover has a couple laminate lifts. When you bought a record in London in 1963,they were in bins and each time someone took any given record out to look at,it left a trace of something ,and the covers ALWAYS paid the price . The only Beatles first sixties pressings without ANY laminate lift or lacking any inner sleeve removal marks are an anomaly . Most likely kept stored by someone in the music business .
    I’ve had quite a few I never played ,but all have similar small thumbnail laminate lifts ( these are over fifty years old now ) and records ,even unplayed have ” inner sleeve removal ” hairlines .
    How could you possibly claim a record that was never played is less than Near Mint ? Also, remember ,I have babied these albums. All records have been transferred to poly lined padded inner sleeves ,and original Emitex,remain in the covers .
    I’m about to sell off a few Beatles albums of this nature. These are very,very rare . Not in the sense of the records ( they sold in the tens of millions ,in some cases ) but rather an unplayed vinyl record,with a cover that looks like it did the day it was original sold fifty some odd years ago. Labels look as new. But ,again,you can see several sleeve removals under strong or natural light.
    Any thoughts on how to sell for premium price,for a premium record ? Ps. E bays grading is a joke . Especially UK sellers .
    I’m in San Francisco … Wish I could post pix…

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  10. Agreed that many people selling records have no idea how to properly grade them. The sometimes vague standards don’t help. I think we’ve all bought records ‘claimed’ to be NM or NM- only to find readily apparent hairlines and scratches on them that we know the records are definitely not NM or NM-. Many people don’t know how to handle a “scratch” vs. a “hairline” in terms of grading.. isn’t a hairline still a scratch even if its only visible at a certain angle of light? Grading for covers/picture sleeves can also be all over the place, too, but it seems to be slightly better (an actual grade compared to what is advertised) than for the actual vinyl.

    I collect mostly Beatles US records and from my years experience, I’ve seen grades all over the place compared to what I would grade an item as either using Goldmine standards or the grading standards from the Cox/Daniels Beatles (2009) price guide. Personally, I prefer the grading standards of the Cox/Daniels guide as it’s a bit more specific such as b/w NM- and VG+ about exactly the differences are. They also don’t differentiate b/w “a scratch” or “a hairline”.

    Personally, I would prefer using VG, VG+, NM-, NM, etc. The “-” and “+” I think help fill in the gaps b/w things like VG and NM and many times, helps ‘declare’ an accurate grade closer to what it really is.

    It would be best for record sellers to simply state clearly if they don’t know how to properly grade records/covers. The Goldmine standards are a good start, but often leave a bit to be desired when it comes to those of us who buy to collect or even resell.

    Speaking of manufacturing errors as noted above.. back in 1987 or so, I bought the Beatles “Magical Mystery Tour” on CD when it came out only to find a Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band CD in the Beatles sealed case. Of course, original sealed Beatles LPs are very rare and the earlier (pre-1967) copies can fairly easily be determined/verified what is really inside without opening the seal by looking at the manufacture info on the cover or even seeing a touch of the inner sleeve since Capitol changed these every so often.

  11. Also, on sites like Discogs, eBay, etc., it would be nice (wishful thinking) that when someone is listing a record for sale, it would list record grading standards in the data entry section so when the seller is inputting info, they can see what the various grades mean. I would help help us buyers have a little better chance of actually getting an accurately graded item. Just my $0.02.

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  14. I find Goldmine Grading in quite stupid. Because of these “+” after VG and G. It’s like in School: Mom I’ve got today Mathe 2+, Physics 2 and Chemistry 3+ – bullshit. + or – should mean just a little better or worse than canonnical Note.
    Therefore there is this total chaos with VG+ – I’d got everything possible as VG+ and each country means theirs owns.
    The GM grading must be changed on stable one without signes. Singes can be used by users like written higher.
    Like this:

    My vision: M(-) NM(-) EX(+/-) VG(+/-) G (already the bad note, +/- don’t help) F/P
    Goldmine now: M M-/NM VG+ VG G
    School note: 1 2 3 4 5 6

    for Example NM- – shiny glossy but with a little more light hairlines
    EX+ – realy very good but not glossy, etc.
    so, the singes are just personal emotions because we are the humans)
    And the faster the better

    Happy collecting

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