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How to grade vinyl records (UK RRPG)

fastcakes
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Put ten record collectors in a room and ask them to grade a record, and you may well get ten slightly different answers, such is the enthusiasm and attention to detail that they display - hold a geekometer near a vinyl record nut and the nerd level will rise to unbearable levels - but they mean well, honestly. 
There are basic things to look out for when grading a record, let's take the vinyl first. Hopefully all records start out life leaving the pressing plant in "perfect" or "mint" condition, but even at that stage things can go wrong. Popular records in particular (as opposed to most classical music releases) were pressed up with recycled vinyl, and sometimes the melted down vinyl included the paper from the old labels in the mix, and this sometimes leads to small pieces of paper being embedded in the vinyl, so look out for these even when the vinyl, at first glance, looks unplayed. 

I also regularly see "new" records which have one or both labels askew (not centred), and some of the label is actually covering the playing surface, this renders the record not only unplayable, but unsellable. 
One also must take note of any writing (in pen and pencil) on the labels, and also any stickers that some previous uncaring owner has slapped on to help "catalogue" their prized collection, where in fact what they are doing is ruining and devaluing their prized collection. Don't ever write on any part of the record or sleeve, it's not funny and it's not clever. 
The only exception to the sticker rule is when there is a sticker saying something like "promotional copy - not for sale" or "manufacturers sample - do not sell" or other variations on that theme. 
These must NEVER be removed as they often (but not always) increase the value of the record, as there are usually fewer copies with this sticker than normal ones, in a small number of cases a record sold so few copies that the stickered version is more common than the non-stickered one, but in any event, keep them on. 
As for the vinyl itself, the accepted industry-standard grading system in the UK is the one pioneered by Record Collector Magazine, which features also in the popular "Rare Record Price Guide" book, which is published every two years (I am a consultant for this publication) and aims to value all UK released vinyl records (as well as CD's and cassettes) above a certain threshold (e.g. 7" singles worth £5 or over). 
There is a widely used US alternative by Goldmine, but to keep things simple it's better to stick to one guide, as they use quite different terminology (strangely, Goldmine do not use the word "excellent", which actually is the most common term used in the RRPG system) 
Truly "mint" record, even direct from the factory, are not a given - and the majority of vinyl sellers will only grade "near mint" or "mint minus" just to be on the safe side. I have only once seen a truly mint record, the debut UK Madonna 7" single "Everybody" (WB W9899 - 1982) which was just, well, mint. I sold it for about £150, so it can help if you find that "perfect" copy. 

The marks and imperfections you first need to consider when grading a record down from "near mint" are called "hairlines". These are really superficial scratches caused by the record brushing against the paper sleeve, and by general handling. To see them clearly it's best to view a record close to an electric light bulb, as strong as you can get. Natural light from a window is not as effective, but can still be used as a last resort, but avoid inspecting a record in direct sunlight as this can mislead the eyes. 
If you see only minor hairlines, but the disc itself retains its "sheen" then a grading of excellent+ could be granted, assuming the labels are clean. 
One way of finding out if the record has been played is to look for "spindle marks" around the hole in the centre - these are caused when the user tries to place the record on the turntable and moves the record about on the spindle, looking for the hole. Take a look at a well worn record and you will probably see a mass of spindle marks around the hole. Some records are played that much that the hole itself becomes worn and a white ring forms around the hole where the label has been pushed away and torn. 
As we go further down the grading from mint, you should note any fingermarks and greasy smudges, and deeper scratches that reveals that the record has not really been cared for and has probably been left out of its sleeve for a length of time. 
I will not go into great detail about all these imperfections, most of them are self-evident, and I reproduce the RRPG grading guide at the end of this article. I have actually expanded the guide with my own extra levels of grading, and altered the wording to include +/- levels of grading to allow for a more accurate description. 
I have also added a whole new grade, that I call "quite good". The reason I have done this is that time and again I was finding that the gap between the "very good" (vg) and "good" (g) grades was simply too great. 
As for sleeves, the same strict judgments should be made as for vinyl - "near mint" should really mean almost factory fresh, no creases, no finger smudges, no discolouration, and certainly no stickers, sticker marks or writing.
One of the first thing to go on a near perfect sleeve is what is called "ringwear". This is a ring mark, that looks rather like the ring a tea cup makes on a coffee table, and is caused by the ridged circle around the edge of the labels rubbing against the inside of the sleeve. Even the most carefully looked-after record will develop ringwear almost from day one. 
I worked as a singles buyer at HMV Stockton in the late 1970's, and most of the records in picture sleeves that came from the record companies as "new" stock had light ringwear before they were put on the shelves. 
Add to that the fact that we slapped a price sticker on every copy with a pricing gun, it is no wonder that sleeves in "near mint" condition (free from stickers, sticker marks, heavy ringwear, writing etc) are so hard to find, and consequently fetch the highest prices. 
You could grade a sleeve with light ringwear as ex+, as long as there were signs of only minor handling. Things like stickers, writing, small tears, deep creases etc, will all contribute to the overall grading, the more of these things you notice, the lower the grading. 
I could write a book about the subject of collecting, grading, storing and selling vinyl records, there is so much I want to share about this passion of mine, but that's for another day. In the meantime, I hope this short guide gives some useful information to help you grade vinyl accurately, and help you maximise the value of your items, and, crucially, keep the buyers happy. 

So, as promised, here is the full grading guide that I use on my listings. 90% of it is based on the RRPG guide, but I have added my own intermediate gradings as well. 

RECORD GRADING GUIDE 
near MINT: The record itself is in near brand new condition with no surface marks or deterioration in sound quality.
 
near MINT: The cover and any extra items* (*if relevant - please see item description above) such as the lyric sheet, booklet or poster are in near perfect condition.
 
 
EXCELLENT plus: The record shows very few signs of having been played, and there is very little lessening in sound quality.
 
EXCELLENT plus: The cover and packaging might have very slight wear and/or creasing
 
EXCELLENT: The record shows some signs of having been played, but there is little lessening in sound quality.
 
EXCELLENT : The cover and packaging might have slight wear and/or creasing
 
EXCELLENT minus: The record shows some signs of having been played a few times, with some minor lessening in sound quality.
 
EXCELLENT minus: The cover and packaging might have some wear and/or creasing
 
VERY GOOD plus: The record has obviously been played many times, but displays no noticeable deterioration in sound quality, despite minor surface marks and the occasional light  scratch.
 
VERY GOOD plus: Light wear and tear on the cover or extra items* (*if relevant - please see item description above), without any major defects, is acceptable.
 
VERY GOOD: The record has obviously been played many times, but displays no major deterioration in sound quality, despite noticeable surface marks and the occasional light  scratch.
 
VERY GOOD: Normal wear and tear on the cover or extra items* (*if relevant - please see item description above), without any major defects, is acceptable.
 
VERY GOOD minus: The record has obviously been played many times, and displays some minor deterioration in sound quality, with several noticeable surface marks and the  occasional  scratch.
 
VERY GOOD minus: Some wear and tear on the cover or extra items* (*if relevant - please see item description above), without any major defects, is acceptable.
 
QUITE GOOD plus: The record has obviously been played many times, and has some deterioration in sound quality, with noticeable surface marks, audible scratches (but no jumps), and possibly finger marks etc.
 
QUITE GOOD plus: The cover and contents may have corners creased, partial scuffing of edges, and may have some or all of the following: partial spine splits, minor discolouration, price sticker damage and/or writing on sleeve.
 
QUITE GOOD: The record has obviously been played many times, and has some deterioration in sound quality, with noticeable surface marks, audible scratches (but no jumps), and possibly finger marks etc.
 
QUITE GOOD: The cover and contents may have corners creased, partial scuffing of edges, and may have some or all of the following: partial spine splits, minor discolouration, price sticker damage and/or writing on sleeve.
 
QUITE GOOD minus: The cover and contents may have corners creased, partial scuffing of edges, and may have some or all of the following: partial spine splits, minor discolouration, price sticker damage and/or writing on sleeve.
 
QUITE GOOD minus: The cover and contents may have corners creased, partial scuffing of edges, and may have some or all of the following: partial spine splits, minor discolouration, price sticker damage and/or writing on sleeve.
 
 
GOOD plus: The record has been played so much that the sound quality has noticeably deteriorated, perhaps with some distortion and mild scratches.
 
GOOD plus: The cover and contents suffer from folding, scuffing of edges,spine splits, discoloration, etc.
 
GOOD: The record has been played so much that the sound quality has noticeably deteriorated, perhaps with some distortion and mild scratches. 
 
GOOD: The cover and contents suffer from folding, scuffing of edges,spine splits, discoloration, etc.
 
FAIR: The record is still just playable but has not been cared for properly and displays considerable surface noise; it may even jump.
 
FAIR:The cover and contents will be torn, stained and/or defaced.
 
POOR: The record will not play properly due to scratches, bad surface noise, etc. The cover and contents will be badly damaged or partly missing.
 
BAD: The record is unplayable or might even be broken, and is only of use as a collection-filler.
 
NOTE: The sound quality of picture discs and coloured vinyl are often not up to the standard of standard vinyl records.
 
near MINT: The record itself is in near brand new condition with no surface marks or deterioration in sound quality.
 
near MINT: The cover and any extra items such as the lyric sheet, booklet or poster are in near perfect condition.
 
EXCELLENT plus: The record shows very few signs of having been played, and there is very little lessening in sound quality.
 
EXCELLENT plus: The cover and packaging might have very slight wear and/or creasing
 
EXCELLENT: The record shows some signs of having been played, but there is little lessening in sound quality.
 
EXCELLENT : The cover and packaging might have slight wear and/or creasing
 
EXCELLENT minus: The record shows some signs of having been played a few times, with some minor lessening in sound quality.
 
EXCELLENT minus: The cover and packaging might have some wear and/or creasing
 
VERY GOOD plus: The record has obviously been played many times, but displays no noticeable deterioration in sound quality, despite minor surface marks and the occasional light  scratch.
 
VERY GOOD plus: Light wear and tear on the cover or extra items without any major defects, is acceptable.
 
VERY GOOD: The record has obviously been played many times, but displays no major deterioration in sound quality, despite noticeable surface marks and the occasional light  scratch.
 
VERY GOOD: Normal wear and tear on the cover or extra items without any major defects, is acceptable.
 
VERY GOOD minus: The record has obviously been played many times, and displays some minor deterioration in sound quality, with several noticeable surface marks and the  occasional  scratch.
 
VERY GOOD minus: Some wear and tear on the cover or extra items without any major defects, is acceptable.
 
QUITE GOOD plus: The record has obviously been played many times, and has some deterioration in sound quality, with noticeable surface marks, audible scratches (but no jumps), and possibly finger marks etc.
 
QUITE GOOD plus: The cover and contents may have corners creased, partial scuffing of edges, and may have some or all of the following: partial spine splits, minor discolouration, price sticker damage and/or writing on sleeve.
 
QUITE GOOD: The record has obviously been played many times, and has some deterioration in sound quality, with noticeable surface marks, audible scratches (but no jumps), and possibly finger marks etc.
 
QUITE GOOD: The cover and contents may have corners creased, partial scuffing of edges, and may have some or all of the following: partial spine splits, minor discolouration, price sticker damage and/or writing on sleeve.
 
QUITE GOOD minus:   The record has obviously been played many times, and has some deterioration in sound quality, with noticeable surface marks, audible scratches (but no jumps), and possibly finger marks etc.
 
QUITE GOOD minus: The cover and contents may have corners creased, partial scuffing of edges, and may have some or all of the following: partial spine splits, discolouration, price sticker damage and/or writing on sleeve.
 
GOOD plus: The record has been played so much that the sound quality has noticeably deteriorated, perhaps with some distortion and mild scratches.
 
GOOD plus: The cover and contents suffer from folding, scuffing of edges,spine splits, discoloration, etc.
 
GOOD: The record has been played so much that the sound quality has noticeably deteriorated, perhaps with some distortion and mild scratches. 
 
GOOD: The cover and contents suffer from folding, scuffing of edges,spine splits, discoloration, etc.
 
FAIR: The record is still just playable but has not been cared for properly and displays considerable surface noise; it may even jump.
 
FAIR:The cover and contents will be torn, stained and/or defaced.
 
POOR: The record will not play properly due to scratches, bad surface noise, etc. The cover and contents will be badly damaged or partly missing.
 
BAD: The record is unplayable or might even be broken, and is only of use as a collection-filler.
 
NOTE: The sound quality of picture discs and coloured vinyl are often not up to the standard of standard vinyl records.
 
 
 
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