On Grading Records

 

On Grading Records

THIS ARTICLE about grading records reprints the ar­ticle Grading The Records that ap­peared in the fifth edi­tion of Gold­mine’s Price Guide To Col­lectible Record Al­bums (Krause Pub­li­ca­tions, 1996). This was the last book that I au­thored for Gold­mine but this system has been used in one manner or an­other by every au­thor since.

It is not an exact reprint: I made some cor­rec­tions, added a few things, and mod­i­fied the layout for a more read­able look on the pages of a blog.

Please keep in mind that this ar­ticle specif­i­cally ad­dresses grading 33⅓ rpm LP al­bums. But most of the info per­tains to 78 and 45 rpm sin­gles. Nothing here should be con­flated with the grading of compact-discs (CDs).

I use the word jacket to mean the card­board or heavy paper sleeve in which the record is housed. I use cover to refer to the front (usu­ally a photo or art­work) or back (usu­ally text or ads) of the jacket.

 

A record al­ways looks better when you’re selling it than when you’re buying it.

 

I kept this piece as close to the orig­inal as is rea­son­able so the reader can see two things:

 My grading system of twenty years ago is the foun­da­tion for all sub­se­quent grading struc­tures in other Gold­mine books by other Gold­mine au­thors.

  This grading system is still ac­cu­rate and func­tional and, in some ways, su­pe­rior to what fol­lowed.

The fifth edi­tion of Gold­mine’s Price Guide To Col­lectible Record Al­bums was the biggest selling title of any kind of book that Krause had pub­lished at that time.

It may still be.

On grading records

When pur­chasing a record at a col­lec­tors show or through the mail, the buyer does not get to listen to it. For that reason, records are al­most al­ways graded by vi­sual stan­dards, not aural. Un­for­tu­nately, this method re­lies on three things:

1. the sub­jec­tivity of the grader’s eyes,
2. the grader’s un­der­standing of the grading, and
3. the fact that records do not al­ways play as good or as bad as they look.

For this reason, records al­most al­ways look better when selling than when buying!

The ar­gu­ments against play-grading are sim­ilar: the sub­jec­tivity of the listener’s ears is a HUGE factor, one that is mul­ti­plied by the type of equip­ment the grader is playing the record on to form his judg­ment. 1

So, for the sake of con­ve­nience and ne­ces­sity, vi­sual grading is the stan­dard by which al­most all dealers and col­lec­tors work.

Grade the overall condition

When grading a record for sale, grade the overall condition—mostly the gen­eral wear and tear—of the vinyl. A record graded as NM or VG should tell the prospec­tive buyer the shape of the playable vinyl.

Common sense should be used. For ex­ample, a brand new, just-out-of-the-sleeve, un­played record that is warped cannot be Mint. But such a record is not VG or even P, it’s an “Un­played record with warp that af­fects play.”

It’s dif­fi­cult to de­scribe sev­eral common grades without dis­cussing de­fects and/or the way the record plays; these are in­cluded to help de­fine the grade, not to cause con­fu­sion.

Both man­u­fac­turing flaws and de­fects such as stickers on the label, or tape on the jacket, or writing on the la­bels or the sleeve, should not be in­cluded in the ac­tual grade—they should be ad­dressed sep­a­rately with ab­bre­vi­ated no­ta­tions!

A re­li­able set of no­ta­tions has been de­vel­oped over the years that cover most types of de­fects that can occur to a record or its jacket. A list of most of the more common ab­bre­vi­a­tions and their mean­ings can be found below.

Grading for sale via mail

Vi­sual grading is most im­por­tant in mail-order trans­ac­tions, where a buyer doesn’t see his pur­chase until his check has cleared the bank. The aim of grading is to make the buyer vi­su­alize the record and not be dis­ap­pointed when the record ar­rives!

Usu­ally (but not al­ways), a record that is ac­cu­rately graded should play the same as the grading.

Al­ways grade records under a good, steady light. A 100-watt light bulb in a common desk-lamp will do an ad­e­quate job: most major de­fects will jump out and allow you to make a rea­son­ably ac­cu­rate as­sess­ment.

Grading records using light from a ceiling fix­ture or from de­flected sun­light en­tering the window will often hide paper-scuffs, dis­col­oration, groove-wear, and even some fin­ger­prints.

Grading for sale in person

In-person deals do not re­quire a grade of any sort; if you are holding a record that has ob­vi­ously been played a hun­dred times, you don’t need a grade to de­ter­mine whether or not you are going to pur­chase that record.

MINT CONDITION

Records in Mint con­di­tion (M) should ap­pear to have just left the man­u­fac­turer without any han­dling. That is, they should ap­pear per­fect! No scuffs, scratches, botches, or stains.

No stickers or writing on the la­bels.

No tears or splits.

No nothing!

Age has nothing to do with con­di­tion! The same stan­dards for Mint apply to an LP from 1954 as they do to LP from 1994 or 2014!

Mint jackets should ap­pear to have never had a record in it: there should be no ring-wear. 2

No dog-eared cor­ners, no writing, no seam-splits, etc.

Many dealers and col­lec­tors take the po­si­tion that any opened album is a used album and cannot be ver­i­fied as Mint. They will use Mint-minus (M-) to de­scribe these al­bums.

A great per­centage of records from the 1970s on are avail­able in mint con­di­tion.

NEAR MINT CONDITION

Records in Near Mint con­di­tion (NM) are those that are oth­er­wise Mint but have one or two tiny de­fects that do not af­fect the play. For many, NM and M- mean the same thing; for the sake of this book, they are in­ter­change­able. When dealing with a seller that dis­crim­i­nates be­tween the two, in­quire as to what the dealer means when he calls one record M- and an­other NM.

Near mint jackets should still be close to per­fect with minor signs of wear or age just be­coming ev­i­dent. Any ring-wear or dog-earing of a corner should be noted in the de­scrip­tion.

A great per­centage of records from the 1970s on are avail­able in near-mint con­di­tion.

EXCELLENT CONDITION

Records in Ex­cel­lent con­di­tion (EX) are rarely ex­cel­lent in the way most of us un­der­stand the word: i.e., “ex­tremely good; out­standing.” This grade is often in­ter­change­able with the more common VG+ (below).

VERY GOOD PLUS CONDITION

Records in Very Good Plus con­di­tion (VG+) are ob­vi­ously not per­fect, but are not too far from it. This could mean there are light paper scuffs from sliding in and out of a paper sleeve, or the vinyl may have lost some—but def­i­nitely not all—of its orig­inal luster.

On jackets, some wear from storage is ac­cept­able, es­pe­cially light wear that does not af­fect the in­tegrity of the art­work.

Al­ways list the flaws in a VG+ record or jacket.

VG+ is some­times used al­most in­ter­change­ably with EX. If a dealer uses both in grading his in­ven­tory, you might want to in­quire as to what are the dif­fer­ences in the grades.

VERY GOOD CONDITION

Records in Very Good con­di­tion (VG) will dis­play vis­ible signs of han­dling and playing, such as loss of vinyl luster, light sur­face scratches, groove wear, and spindle trails from count­less spins on the turntable.

A VG record looks like it will have some au­dible sur­face noise when it is played, al­though any such noise should not over­whelm the mu­sical ex­pe­ri­ence.

VG records should ap­pear well-played al­though well-loved by a re­spon­sible owner. Gouges in the plating from slap­ping the record down onto the spindle, rips in the label from pulling stickers off, etc., are all un­ac­cept­able.

As more col­lec­tors spend more money on their ac­qui­si­tions, the lower limits of ac­cept­ability for an item to be ad­mitted into their col­lec­tion rises. That is, to many col­lec­tors, a record in VG con­di­tion is not ac­cept­able un­less the item is truly rare and vir­tu­ally un­avail­able in any other con­di­tion! Even then, it is ac­cept­able only if the price is scaled ap­pro­pri­ately to match the con­di­tion.

This is a dif­fi­cult grade when dis­cussing paper goods. Like a record, usu­ally a jacket is VG when a va­riety of prob­lems are ev­i­dent: ring-wear, seam-splits, bent cor­ners, loss of gloss, stains, etc. An ag­gra­vated com­bi­na­tion of two of these problems—never all of them—would likely cause a jacket to be graded VG. Used but not abused might sum up this grade.

GOOD CONDITION

Records in Good con­di­tion (G) in record col­lecting par­lance all too often means a beat trashed take-it-to-the-flea-market frisbee. Good should mean that the record was played fre­quently and has any number of de­fects that col­lec­tors nor­mally shy away from, such as an al­most com­plete loss of sur­face sheen, ag­gra­vating sur­face noise, etc.

Still, the pur­chaser, knowing full well that he is buying a G record, should be able to take it home, slap it onto the turntable, and have a good time lis­tening to it. Records that do not pro­vide this most fun­da­mental re­quire­ment are just no good.

A G jacket has seen con­sid­er­able han­dling over a course of years and dis­plays the ob­vious signs: some seam-splitting, par­tic­u­larly along the bottom, which would re­ceive the brunt of the record’s sliding in and out; cor­ners may be dog-eared to a light de­gree; an in­fat­u­ated owner may have written his or her name some­where; etc.

If a record or jacket is be­neath your con­tempt, it is not in G con­di­tion.

POOR CONDITION

Records in Poor con­di­tion ℗ are those records and jackets that do not qualify for the above Good grading.

When I have de­sir­able records in G or P con­di­tion and I am selling at a record show, I give those record away as a freebee to anyone who ex­presses in­terest in it. Nice way to make a friend …

Keep in mind that vi­sual ev­i­dence can be de­ceiving. Records man­u­fac­tured by major Amer­ican com­pa­nies from 1948 through at least 1968 often used high-quality vinyl and high-quality vinyl plating. These records may look VG yet play NM.

During the first twenty years of LPs and 45s, print runs were dra­mat­i­cally smaller, vinyl was fresher, and more care was paid to the en­tire pro­ce­dure. Records from this pe­riod are a better in­vest­ment in VG and VG+ con­di­tion than the more re­cent Amer­ican product (the ’70s on up).

The op­po­site can also be true: records man­u­fac­tured from in­fe­rior vinyl or with poor plating may look M and play VG. Most dealers do not have the time to listen to each item in their in­ven­tory, so vi­sual stan­dards re­main.

Record collecting abbreviations

Listed here are common ab­bre­vi­a­tions used in ad­ver­tising to de­scribe flaws and their lo­ca­tions on a record or jacket or sleeve:

cc: cut corner
co: cut-out
coh: cut-out hole
cvr/cr: cover
dj: disc jockey or pro­mo­tional copy
imp: im­port
ips: inches per second (refers to reel-to-reel tapes)
lbl: label
lp: twelve-inch 33⅓ rpm long-playing album
nap: (does) not af­fect play
ol: on label
org: orig­inal
pln cvr: plain paper or card­board cover, jacket, or sleeve without pic­tures or ti­tles
promo: pro­mo­tional
q: quadra­phonic
re: reissue
repro: re­pro­duc­tion (may or may not be a coun­ter­feit)
2nd: second pressing
slt wrp: slight warp
sm spt: seam-split
sol: sticker on label
srw: slight ring-wear on the front cover
ss: still-sealed
stkr: sticker
t&t: disc jockey title and timing strip
toc: tape on cover
tol: tape on la­bels
ts: tape on jacket seams
wlp: white label promo
woc: writing on cover
wol
: writing on label

That said, this stan­dard of grading leaves a lot to be de­sired. While it’s not as con­vo­luted as the 100-point system used by such or­ga­ni­za­tions as Pro­fes­sional Sports Au­then­ti­ca­tors (PSA), Beckett Grading Ser­vices (BGS), Sports­card Guar­anty (SGC), and In­ter­na­tional Sports Au­then­ti­ca­tion (ISA), it’s not as en­com­passing as it could be. 3

Experience is the best teacher

Like al­most every other field of en­deavor, learning to grade records and sleeves takes time, con­cen­tra­tion, and de­ter­mi­na­tion. You know it don’t come easy …

 


FOOTNOTES:

1   Those collectors/sellers blessed/cursed with ‘golden ears’ would be at an ex­treme dis­ad­van­tage in grading any­thing less than near mint (NM) or better, as 99% of used records—and maybe that many new records!—would all sound noisy and crappy.

2   Here, ‘no’ is de­fined here as ‘none, zero, nada’ while ‘ring-wear’ is de­fined as ‘any im­print on the front or back cover from the record within.’

3   In the years since writing the above, I have con­sid­ered a new record grading system with ten grades in­stead of the six listed below, and does away with mis­leading terms like VG (which usu­ally meansnot re­ally very good at all”) and G (o.e., “bad”). It is more user-friendly than the ex­ces­sively com­plex sys­tems used for comic books and base­ball cards, which ac­tu­ally re­quire paid ex­perts to de­ter­mine the grade of a high ticket item prior to sale.

Subscribe
Notify of
Rate this article:
Please rate this article with your comment.
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
This is my footer.