Many shops develop their own grading systems, but there is one set that is commonly used when grading vinyl records and that is the Goldmine Grading System, the standard for record collectors worldwide, named after the vinyl record pricing magazine Goldmine Magazine. Using this standard is very helpful when one is buying records “sight unseen” — you can’t actually look at the record yourself before you choose to buy it.
At 3GreatDogs, we rate our vinyl using the Goldmine Grading System and we don’t ship any records to members that are in less than VG condition! There is an extensive overview of the system posted under the YouTube video below, but the levels of the grading scale are as follows.
- Mint (M)
- Near Mint (NM)
- Excellent (EX)
- Very Good (VG)
- Good (G)
- Fair (F)
- Poor (P)
Generally speaking, the higher the grade of the classic vinyl, the higher price. But our subscription rates don’t change for the higher grades records and are fixed, so you can be sure that you’ll get high quality product at a consistent price.
Goldmine Grading System Defined
The following grades defined are derived from the system used by Goldmine magazine. This is not to say that other grading systems are not viable. The grades defined here are among the mainstream. They are not to be confused with any other system. It is to be used only as a reference but to keep in mind, that when grading, anyone can choose alternative grading sytems for records as long as they can define the terms they use without confusion.
What is the Goldmine Grading System?
The Goldmine Grading System was first created in the early years of record collecting. These grades were established from various other resources pertaining to collecting (for example coin, book, comics, and card collecting). Goldmine Magazine first published a grading scale in 1974. It has undergone changes throughout the years, yet has for the most part remained the same.
Remember! Two people may not come up with the same grade for the same record. One person may feel a record is MINT and another may say NM (Near Mint). After reading the next part of this answer, perhaps you will be able to identify each grade without too much confusion, and allow yourself to grade more conservatively (fairly).
How can I grade my own vinyl based on these grades?
MINT or M: Perfect! A mint record should look like it has just left the manufacturer, with NO flaws what so ever. It should look as though it had never been handled. No scuffs or scratches, blotches or stains. No stickers address labels, writing on the covers or labels. No tears or seam splits. No wear to the cover or record period! Age of the record has nothing to do with it. A MINT record from 1949 should look like a MINT record from 1996. The number one complaint from collectors about grading over the years, have been the deteriorating standards that dealers and private sellers have had when grading. It is only natural for most people to turn to the “MINT” grade and read “highest prices” listed in price guides. Since most price guides have a high and low price range, the assumed grade most often is NOT mint, but near mint (NM). *Okay, but how can I honestly grade a record MINT?
Mint Covers: Simply put, a mint cover should appear to have never had a record inside it. No wear to the corners or any marrs on the face or back of the cover. EP jackets (for 7 inch extended plays) and 45 single picture sleeves also apply to this rule. The record inside can cause an impression (a round shape in the face of the cover/sleeve). Many dealers or sellers feel that the artwork (the ink) has to be worn or starting to rub off, before there is any ring wear. NOPE! Mint means perfect and nothing else!
Note: Anytime a person calls anything MINT, you should expect a perfect, visually flawless item. We should actually use the term PERFECT, rather than the term MINT. Probably no one would ever use this grade. PERFECT is to say that man (who is not perfect) can produce a perfect item. No way! MINT is already abused in the open market and many people would be dissapointed when they find some flaw to cause it to be an overgrade. My feelings are,”NOTHING” is perfect and to call anything MINT, is purely “Hype.”
2nd Special Note: It has been brought to my attention that because stickers may involve promo and special track listings that were applied from the factory, it is still not a standard practice. Promo stickers and large white programming labels (on the bottom of the covers) are considered a turn off. Therefore even these stickers would lower the grade from a MINT status to perhaps only EX. For stickers that show special announcements, such as “Featuring the hit song…etc”, were not applied to all the commercail releases. Some earlier copies may not have the sticker since the song in question had not even charted yet. It was to advertise the whole LP and draw attention to the buyer. Some stickers are worth money! That means they actually have value. Most companies applied the stickers to the shrinkwrap and thus, one should save these items, but if applied to the covers, NM is the best way to grade these covers. If you wish to place value on the sticker (most are anywhere from 50 cents to $2.00) then do so but make mention of the sticker being on the cover to potential buyers! Many people want sticker free covers!
MINT VINYL: This should be very simple to define (said with tongue in cheek). A mint record should look perfect, as described earlier. Any defect from the factory pressing, such as bubbles or pits in the vinyl are not acceptable! Even if they do not cause any problem when played.It should, as we said, be a perfect pressing. Records were ALL packaged by hand and the simple placing of the record into a paper sleeve can caused minor scuffs. Probably very insignificant, but they are flaws as never the less. For this reason, it is impossible to call a sealed record mint, thus any sealed record that is sold, should be sold only with the guarantee that it is assumed to be unplayed. Unplayed records will always play better the first time unless. Of course there was a factory flaw. A sealed record cannot be inspected for flaws in the vinyls grooves, so it not wise to call a sealed record MINT. Sealed records have sold for more than the high end of price guides. If you are selling sealed records, be advised that many collectors shy away from them. A sight unseen record (through mail order) is hard to sell. A sealed record is even harder to sell. If you sell a sealed record and the customer finds flaws (such as paper scuffs or defected vinyl) you won’t be able to claim that the damage was caused by them, or that they swapped a good pressing with a bad pressing. If you sell sealed records, you will have problems with some people, so be alert to those claims of overgrading sealed items!
NEAR MINT or NM: Sometimes dealers use M- (Mint Minus) grade.You may need to ask the dealer if he/she uses the M- grade the same way as NM. They should mean the same thing however many people have had used several confusing grades all based around the Mint grade. We define NM and M- as being almost mint. This grade should be, for the most part, the most widely used grade for records that appear virtually flawless. Virtually flawless records are not perfect. As we mentioned above, no record truly will be perfect, cover or disc. A very minor scuff and very little else can appear on the vinyl. This will most likely have occured during packaging, or removing the record from the inner sleeve but had been handled with extreme care. It should play without any noise over the flaw. The flaw should be very hard to see. If a scuff covers more than a few tracks yet can be seen, it will not be NM, however it may come very close. You should always use strong judgment when evaluating the vinyls condition. Any blemish no matter how small, prevents records from being MINT (or our PERFECT grade).
NEAR MINT COVERS: The cover should look as close to perfect with only minor signs of wear and or age. Minor impressions to the cover (due to the outer edge of the vinyl resting inside) may be acceptable, however the artwork should be as close to perfect as can be.
EXCELLENT or EX or VG++: This is truly NOT a Goldmine defined grade, however it is becoming more and more mainstream among collectors and sellers. It is also a very conservitive grade for those who don’t want to grade NM, for fear they may overgrade the record and cover (buyers ar every picky remember!). In which case it is a very acceptable grade yet should not command the highest price based on NM value. To put it simply, when collectable records are concerned, there are only 2 collecting grades. NM being “Collectors Condition” and everything less than NM is not. We are not saying EX records won’t have any value, they just should not be sold for the highest end of book value. EX records will play just like NM or MINT, meaning no audible noise will be heard during the play. They should sound as good or better than they look. Many very rare (collectible) items can command very close to NM value, simply because NM copies may not even exist. This will be explained under a different topic.
How to value your collection based on grade.
EX VINYL: An excellent (EX or VG++) condition for vinyl will allow minor scuffs which are visable but only slightly. There may be more than a few, so be careful not call a record that has wear to more than 15% of the surface. The wear should be minimal and of course should play mint! Any scratches that can be felt with your fingernail can NOT be called scuffs. Scuffs lay on top of the grooves. If there any break in the grooves that can be felt, they ARE scratches. And most often, they will be heard when played (soft clicks or even loud pops). Once again, “No scratches can make this grade”! Only a few minor paper scuffs and that’s about it. The play should be as close to perfect as well!
EX COVER: Artwork should still be as close to perfect as can be. Some impression to the cover (minor outer ring wear) but no ink wear! Some slight creases to the corners, but not wrinkled and obtrusive to the eye. The corners can show white (where the artwork pasted slick was) meaning, slight wear. No seam splits or writing on the cover or taped repairs can make this grade. If you don’t think a cover is NM than call it EX or less. There will be obvious reactions to the EX grade but if you use the EX grade and price a bit lower, your risk of overgrade will be reduced dramatically. You will also make more people happy, rather than trying to call it NM.
VERY GOOD PLUS or VG+: What does this mean? Some people will call a less than NM record VG+ and skip the EX grade. Goldmine defines it as Excellent (EX), yet commands only 50% of the value (for most records). It can easily be defined as 2 ways. VG+ should be the next grade below a NM value when grading 45 singles. EX can be used for EPs. 45 singles have only 2 songs and EPs (7″ by the way) can have anywhere from 3, 4, 6 and 8 (seldomly found) songs on the record. With 45 singles one side may be NM and the other side may not. If the flip side is not NM but still plays well (or great, no noise), VG+ is a conservitive grade. Very few 45s should be called EX unless they are of rarities. This means you can allow a valuable item to be worth a bit more than just calling it VG+. Perhaps the buyer will think a VG+ is EX and you can under sell yourself. Use careful judgment when buying and selling them with this grade!
VG+ VINYL: Now for LPs (the big ones ). VG+ will show wear, surface scuffs, (or spriral scuffs that came from turn table platters or jukeboxes for 45 singles) and some very light scratches. Surface scuffs are caused from blunt (not sharp) objects. Often the minor scuffs are caused from inner sleeves. The vinyl should still have a great luster, but the flaws will be noticeable to the naked eye. Sometimes holding the record up to a very bright light, you will see many tiny lines across the surface. If the flaws don’t cause any surface noise, the vinyl can still make the VG+ grade. Most (but not all) VG+ records should still play like a NM record. Because the vinyl has more than 15% (yet less than 30%) wear to the surface, it can make this grade. Remember, the record still should look as though it was handled with extreme care. Sometimes people find records that have no scuffs that are visible, yet a careless needle scratch causes a break in the grooves. Play the record. Any obtrusive clicks or pops, which cause the song to be less than enjoyable, may not even be VG+! Be cautious! Scratches are not acceptable to a serious collector in any way. If you call a record 95% NM but note the record as having 1 track with a bad scratch, many will only consider it as VG (explained next). You should seldom call a record “A Strong VG, plays mostly VG+”. Remember the more conservative you are about the visuall and audio part of the grade, the better chance you will not have complaints from those who buy from you. Be honest. If you were buying that record, what grade would you say it was? There are many serious collectors in this market and they won’t hesitate to call your grading lousy if you put a VG+ grade on a record wthat plays less than great.
VG+ COVERS: Now that we defined the EX grade, a few extra flaws will make this grade. A virtually clean cover, but may have small writing on it. (Magic marker in big letters will not cut it. They are an eye soar, so be weary of overgrading). The artwork should look clean with slightly more aging. The back of the cover usually gives away the age of the cover. Flat white paper will be somewhat yellow yet no stains or mildew from water damage. Some minor wear to the seams or spine, but no tears or holes popping through. The corners will be slightly dog eared yet no crackly bends, defacing the artwork. In essence, a VG+ cover should have no more than three flaws mentioned. If all apply, it is less than VG+. (see next grade below)
VERY GOOD or VG: This grade has become the much lesser demanded item. A lot of people feel that a VG record is a record that is good enough. They are not really going to look very good, but they should STILL play very good. there will almost always be some surface noise when they are played. The Dynamics should still be excellent, overpowering the surface noise. A VG record will appear well have been played but still have some luster. The vinyl may be faded, slightly grayish, because of surface scuffs, which often happens to records that are played and left out of jackets. Still they should appears to have been handled as carefully as it could have been helped. Records that get continueous playing time will always start to deteriorate. Records that get less play are easily evident since they almost always look as though they were played only a few times and then packed away for decades. More and more surface scuffs and scratches, and audible sound defects WILL be heard. They should not overpower the dynamics of the music. With VG records, the surface noise will be minor crackle or a slight hiss, but should only be heard in between tracks or in low musical passages.
Important Note: With Jazz and Classical recordings, the music can become very low to the point where no music is even heard. If any crackle, tics, clicks or pops are heard, these records will have very little value to a serious collector! Classical and Jazz is seldom wanted if they are in less than VG+ condition. It is wise to play these records (as should all records) when evaluating grades. Some classical records may look VG+ or even NM, however play less than than perfect. Beware of overgrading these. They are difficult to grade and conservative grading is a must with them. Also equally as important. Most dealers truly will not have a lot of time playing every single LP they sell. It just is impossible. However when records have questionalble flaws, the record should be tested at least where the flaw occurs in the playing surface. Visually noting the flaw may not be good enough. If the record skips, you will have made a mistake and the value would thus be much less. A Classical LP in VG condition often will only be worth 10% of the NM book value. If they are even wanted.
VG COVERS: VG covers will look worn, used. There may be some seam splitting (but not completely separated!). There will be some ring wear, where the ink has begun to wear off. Giving the cover a look of snow falling. If the artwork looks snowy all over, it is less than VG condition. There may be some writing on the cover (still, no Large letters in magic marker). It will look aged and more yellowish due to contaminations in the air (sometimes looking like cigarette smoke). Still it should be decent. If damaged beyond any formadible beauty, it will not make this grade. VG should at least still have some attractive life to it, and not have taped seams or water damage to it. If you decide to tape repair a cover, to prevent further damage, use clear acid free, scotch tape and place it on so that it is not obtrusive to the eye. If only a small split, only tape the split. Don’t run tape across the entire spine or seams. Too much tape means too little interest. Use as little as possible. If the split is minor, it is best to just leave it alone. Note the flaw and go from there with the grade. Place the record in a polyvinyl jacket and then behind the cover (outside of jacket but behind it).
GOOD or G (including the G+ and VG- grades) A good record will look very well played, dull, grayish and possibly abused. However a Good record should still play. It will have distracting surface noise. Such as crackle that is continuous or some hiss. Will also have some loss of dynamics caused from grooves being worn. It should play without any skips or any obtrusively loud pops or repeated clicks, caused by deep scratches. If you can’t enjoy the record, it is not no longer even good. Good means that it will play with some form of decency, so one can still enjoy the music even though you can still hear noise caused from the wear.
Note: Rock and Roll records generally play loud. G condition records for them will be the most likely thing that will still sell well. Jazz and Classical and easy listening in G condition are almost worthless to a collector, since the musical passages often get very low and surface noise is too distracting to the listener. Also check on 45 singles for the length of time. Records that play longer than 3 minutes, may not be as dynamic and thus any where will be heard more than the music (overpower the dynamics). Use conservative judgment when grading these types of singles.
GOOD COVER: a Good cover will have just about everything wrong with it. It will have seam splits (possibly taped repaired, but only with scotch tape. No duct tape or masking tape repairs. These are big turn offs. May have magic marker writing on the cover but still if they are in huge letters, it is a big turn off. In essence, the cover will looked vitrually trashed, but some artwork will still be noticed. If the artwork is worn, it is POOR and the cover is worthless. Huge tears or gouges in the cover will also make the cover POOR. Be careful about sealed records, that have been water damaged. Mildew still can get inside and cause great damage to the cover, and the disc. Use common sense and you will save yourself from an overgrade.
Note: Sealed records that have water damage should be opened. Otherwise you will be in trouble later on when the cardboard starts to deteriorate inside the shrinkwrap. Attempt to dry the covers using a hair dryer (be sure to remove the record first!).
G+ and VG-: This is seprate from the above. Many records that appear in VG condition often play less than very good. Goldmine defines them as better than Good, but less than Very Good. The value should not increase more than the value of a Good record. Meaning they all should be priced somewhere within the same guideline (most often it is 10 to 15% for Good, and only 15% for Good Plus (G+) and Very Good Minus (VG-). With a G+ record, it will look just as the described condition for Good, yet may play better than it looks. Dynamics for are usually good enough to overpower the surface noise. Same for VG-, However VG- and G+ are of the same value. It is more of a visually and audibly combined grade. There should be no large price increase for these records. Price them like G records and you should not have a problem.
FAIR, POOR: The easiest way to define this is if does not meet the lowest grade above (GOOD), it is trash. It is worthless. Unless it is so rare, it won’t sellable at all. It is ok to throw them away or give them to someone who just wants to have them. It won’t be playable for the most part, and so they are not much good hanging onto them. Very few poor records are collectable. Some rare colored vinyl or picture discs are ok, and can still be nice to have, but they won’t be good enough to play again.
Special Note About Vinyl Quality
Many people will buy reissues of past oldies. The era in which the vinyl is pressed makes a big difference to the way it will last and how it will sound for years to come. Original 50s and early 60s used quality materials to produce LPs. Smaller labels used less than great vinyl. A good pressing is often identified by it’s thickness. Also the depth of the grooves. These will generally be better for the person who seeks qaulity originals. There is still the question as to the use of styrene. These are more brittle and damaged easily when played on poor equipment. Finding good playing styrene can only be found by playing them. Some styrene will play better than others. Styrene was used in all decades (late 50s up to the late 80s). Recycled vinyl was used in the mid 70s up to the late 80s as well. Poor vinyl meant less playing time for these items. Finding them NM is a problem. Many issues can be found, brand new, with hairline cracks and grayish discoloring. They may play nice but are unless you find them flawless and play perfect, don’t overgrade them! Beware of imports from countries such as Tiawon and Korea. Although the vinyl appears thick (almost too thick), the sound mastering and plate mastering are inferior. They sound as bad as bootlegs, since they were massed produced using less than superior technology. They also were placed in paper sleeves that looked cheesy. Some may sound better than others, but beyond that, they are not very collectable. They are more of a conversation peice rather than a valid peice of sound recording. Collectors often just pick them up for the novelty factor, not because they expect them to play good.
Quick Rundown of Grading System Abbreviations
- MINT (PERFECT)
- EX or VG++
- G (minor exceptions to G+ and VG-)
- F and P (Trash)
Grades That Don’t Exist
M+: They are trying to say the record is better than MINT! No such animal. If you see this grade, avoid the record like the plague. Mint is the highest grade anything can ever be. And 99 out of 100 times the record won’t even be mint! Man is not perfect! So how can a man-made product be better than perfect? Answer: Impossible.
NM-: Near Mint Minus. Just another way of trying to get top book value for a record that is less than NM. If a seller uses this grade, ask what it means (thoroughly) as opposed to the NM or M- grade. It’s your dollar and if they are selling it as less than NM yet for top dollar, you may be out of luck trying to convince them that it was an overgrade on their part. If a record is slightly less than NM, then use EX or VG++.
EX+: If you read the above the same rule holds true here. No such thing as EX+. It is just another confusing grade that does not have any defined level of agreement among collectors. People who use this grade don’t want to lose money on there collectables. By upping the grade, means upping the price. Just be fair. Use conservative grades When you grade a record, put yourself in the shoes of the potential buyer. Would you want to get a record with this grade and discovery some overlooked flaws? If you sell a record for big $$$ be prepared for criticism. People will examine the record with more than just a quick glance once they receive it. Overgrading will only make you look bad. And too many unhappy customers, means very few repeats ( perhaps no customers ).
VG+++: Come on, 2 plus marks are enough! No such animal.
G++: Ok so I use it once in a blue moon. But at least I describe the way the record plays, to a tee! The price does not go up. The grade is just a good selling point. Realistically though it does not exsist. Use it seldomly if ever.