Grading a Record
The Goldmine Grading Guide is the most universally recognised guide for American based record collectors who buy and sell vinyl albums. Nothing is more important in determining the value of your records than their condition. While their relative rarity and demand is important, a collector or dealer will pay more for a record in Near Mint condition than one in Very Good Minus condition. Most records, especially pre-1970s, are rarely in Mint or Near Mint condition. That is why a collector will pay a premium for such a disc. For most collectors, Very Good is the lowest grade for which they will pay more than bargain price. In some instances, LPs are sold with two grades, one for the record and one for the cover. However, some graders will combine the ratings. For example, if an album is graded VG for the cover and VG+ for the record, they add the two values together then 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 dealers have lots of records and they don’t have the time to play their entire stock. While some defects are easy to see, such as scratches and warps, other issuse are subtle, such as groove wear from using a cheap or poorly aligned tone arm.
Experienced collectors tend to believe that older LPs (1950s to early 1970s) tend to play better than they look, and newer LPs (at least until the end of the 1980s) 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 the condition when selling a record. For some collectors, they will be irrelevant, but for others, they will be a deal-breaker. Overall, they are important to know. Also, some LPs were made for promotional purposes only. Again, mention if a record is a promo copy when advertising it for sale. Here are the standard grades for record albums, from best to worst:
Absolutely perfect in every way. Certainly never been played, possibly even still sealed. Should be used sparingly as a grade, if at all.
Near Mint (NM or M-)
A nearly perfect record. A NM or M- record has more than likely never been played, and the vinyl will play perfectly, with no imperfections during playback. Many dealers won’t give a grade higher than this implying (perhaps correctly) that no record is ever truly perfect. The record should show no obvious signs of wear. A 45 RPM or EP sleeve should have no more than the most minor defects, such as any sign of slight handling. An LP cover should have no creases, folds, seam splits, cut-out holes, or other noticeable similar defects. The same should be true of any other inserts, such as posters, lyric sleeves, etc.
Very Good Plus (VG+)
Generally worth 50% of the Near Mint value. A Very Good Plus record will show some signs that it was played and otherwise handled by a previous owner who took good care of it. Defects should be more of a cosmetic nature, not affecting the actual playback as a whole. Record surfaces may show some signs of wear and may have slight scuffs or very light scratches that don’t affect one’s listening experiences. Slight warps that do not affect the sound are ‘OK’. The label may have some ring wear or discolouration, but it should be barely noticeable. Spindle marks may be present. Picture sleeves and inner sleeves will have some slight wear, slightly turned-up corners, or a slight seam split. An LP cover may have slight signs of wear, and may be marred by a cut-out hole, indentation, or cut corner. In general, if not for a couple of minor things wrong with it, this would be Near Mint.
Very Good (VG)
Generally worth 25% of Near Mint value. Many of the defects found in a VG+ record will be more pronounced in a VG disc. Surface noise will be evident upon playing, especially in soft passages and during a song’s intro and fade, but will not overpower the music otherwise. Groove wear will start to be noticeable, as with light scratches (deep enough to feel with a fingernail) that will affect the sound. Labels may be marred by writing, or have tape or stickers (or their residue) attached. The same will be true of picture sleeves or LP covers. However, it will not have all of these problems at the same time. Goldmine price guides with more than one price will list Very Good as the lowest price.
Good (G), Good Plus (G+)
Generally worth 10-15% of the Near Mint value. A record in Good or Good Plus condition can be played through without skipping. But it will have significant surface noise, scratches, and visible groove wear. A cover or sleeve will have seam splits, especially at the bottom or on the spine. Tape, writing, ring wear, or other defects will be present. While the record will be playable without skipping, noticeable surface noise and “ticks” will almost certainly accompany the playback.
Poor (P), Fair (F)
Generally worth 0-5% of the Near Mint price. The record is cracked, badly warped, and won’t play through without skipping or repeating. The picture sleeve is water damaged, split on all three seams and heavily marred by wear and writing. The LP cover barely keeps the LP inside it. Inner sleeves are fully split, crinkled, and written upon.
Within the context of grading items in the Discogs Marketplace, the term ‘generic’ refers to a type of sleeve that is not specific to the release. A generic sleeve is either a plain sleeve or a company sleeve with standard company artwork. A sleeve that is graded as “generic” needs no further grading, as a generic sleeve generally adds little value to the item and can be easily replaced. Sellers can further specify a generic sleeve’s condition in the “Item condition comment” field if needed. A seller can also note if the sleeve is a company sleeve in the “Item condition comment” field.
Sealed albums can bring even higher prices than listed. However, be careful when paying a premium for sealed LPs for several reasons:
- They may have been re-sealed
- The records might not be in Near Mint condition
- The record inside might not be the original pressing or the most desirable pressing
- The wrong record might be inside
Unfortunately, The Goldmine® Record Album Price Guide lists only those vinyl LPs manufactured in the United States or, in a few instances, manufactured in other countries, but specifically for release in the United States. Any record that fits the following criteria is an import, and you won’t find it in the price guide:
- LPs on the Parlophone label by any artist, at least before 2000. Parlophone, best known as the Beatles’ British label, was not used as a label in the United States until very recently
- LPs that have the letters “BIEM,” “GEMA” or “MAPL” on them
- LPs that say anywhere on the label or cover, ‘Made in Australia’, ‘Made in Canada’, ‘Made in the UK’, ‘Made in Germany’, etc.
There are few general rules about the value of an import as compared to an American edition. Some import albums, especially well-made Japanese imports that still have their “obi strip,” can go for more than the United States counterpart. Others seem to attract little interest in America. One rule is just as true of imports as it is with U.S.A. records – Those discs that are originals in the best condition will sell for more than reissues and those in less than top-notch shape.
A promotional record is any copy of a record not meant for retail sale. Different labels identify these in different ways. The most common method on LPs is to use a white label instead of the regular-color label and/or to add words such as the following:
- Demonstration — Not for Sale
- Audition Record
- For Radio-TV Use Only
- Promotional Copy
Some labels used colours other than white, while others used the same labels as their stock copies, but add a promotional disclaimer to the label. Most promotional albums have the same catalog number as the regular release, except for those differences. Sometimes, regular stock copies have a ‘Demonstration — Not for Sale’ or ‘Promo’ rubber stamped on the cover; these are known as ‘designate promos’ and are not of the same cachet as true promotional records. Treat these as stock copies that have been defaced. Most promotional LPs sell for approximately the same as a stock copy of the same catalog number.
Coloured Vinyl Promos
- Special numbered promotional series include Columbia albums with an “AS” or “CAS” prefix; Warner Bros, albums with a “PRO” or “PRO-A-” prefix; Capitol albums with a “PRO” or “SPRO” prefix; Mercury albums with an “MK” prefix; and other similar series on other labels
- Promos that are somehow different than the released versions, either because of changes in the cover or changes in the music between the promo LP and the regular-stock LP
- Promos pressed on special high-quality vinyl; these were popular in the 1980s and can bring a premium above stock copies of the same titles