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A guide by rainbowjam

When buying records over the internet, one of the most important things to be sure of is the condition of the vinyl and its accompanying packaging. We've been dealing and collecting records for many years and know only too well how frustrating it can be to receive a record through the post that's been over-graded.

When we started selling, CDs were very new, and our entire stock was vinyl. Now we still have a huge stock of vinyl and are selling more and more in our second ebay shop at We'd love to be able to grade every record we list as Mint but real life isn't like that! We aim to describe every record's condition as accurately as we would want when buying. If we grade a record as Mint then that's what you can expect but if it's not Mint then we'll say so and it'll also be priced accordingly.

In the UK, the accepted record grading system is the Record Collector magazine guide which can be found at the back of every issue of the mag (which is on sale monthly). This is the guide we use when selling vinyl and is reproduced below; from this you can see that EX and VG should still be totally acceptable to listen to and even Good shouldn't mean completely Bad! If Mint is what you want then a record described as Mint should be indistinguishable from brand new; the older the record, the harder it'll be to find. There are a lot less Mint records than many people would have you believe, and terms like 'minty' and 'awesome' or a string of exclamation marks don't really mean anything in terms of condition.

Record Collector Magazine's Grading Guide:

"MINT: The record itself is in brand new condition with no surface marks or deterioration in sound quality. The cover and any extra items such as the lyric sheet, booklet or poster are in perfect condition. Records advertised as Sealed or Unplayed should be Mint.

EXCELLENT: The record shows some signs of having been played, but there is very little lessening in sound quality. The cover and packaging might have slight wear and / or creasing.

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. Normal wear and tear on the cover or extra items, without any major defects, is acceptable.

GOOD: The record has been played so much that the sound quality has noticeably deteriorated, perhaps with some distortion and mild scratches. The cover and contents suffer from folding, scuffing of edges, spine splits, discolouration, etc.

FAIR: The record is still just playable but has not been cared for properly and displays considerable surface noise; it may even jump. 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."

As well as the above grades, Near Mint is often used as well; this is really for a record that appears new but is known to have been played because the label has light spindle marks or because it has come from a previous owner and is assumed to have been played by them. For records which appear to fall between the accepted grades, + and - are also often added to the grading.

In addition to the basic grading, any individual faults should be noted separately such as if an otherwise Excellent cover has a name written on it, or a 7" single is missing its original centre etc.

Grading is always going to be slightly subjective but there are a few things to bear in mind when trying to get it right:

  • Mint means perfect and there's nothing subjective about that. If it's not perfect (even if it's unplayed), then it's not Mint.

  • Mint Minus is a grade best avoided. It's either Mint or it's not. You wouldn't describe something as being perfect minus! If it's not quite Mint then it's Excellent or at best Excellent Plus.

  • If in doubt, err on the side of caution. Better to slightly undergrade and exceed your buyer's expectations than to overgrade and disappoint them.

  • Don't use excessive plus and minus signs. The grading guide is pretty fine-tuned so there shouldn't really be any need for more than one. You can't really distinguish between VG++ and EX- for example.

  • The age of a record has no bearing on it's condition. A 50-year-old record graded EX should be in no worse condition than one graded EX but pressed last year.  

  • Always state what grading system you're using and stick with an accepted system rather than making up your own. Record Collector's grading system is long-established and unchanging so is what collectors are used to. It's worth remembering that the US has Goldmine with it's own, slightly different, grading system but, if you're based in the UK, buyers generally expect grading according to Record Collector. (As an aside, I've always found Goldmine's system tends to overgrade when compared to Record Collector - which is at least a positive when selling to buyers who are used to Goldmine! Eg: Goldmine's VG+ seems more like RC's VG, Goldmine's VG seems like RC's G, Goldmine's G/G+ seems like RC's F. For me, this has generally been borne out with purchases from across the pond but maybe that's just me. Like I said, it's all a tad subjective.)

Although it's subjective to some degree, there shouldn't be a marked difference between different people's gradings. If you buy a record that's graded EX, it shouldn't be massively different to your expectation of EX. Likewise, if you buy a record graded only Fair or Good, no amount of cleaning is going to improve it much. When buying, always look closely at any photos; even if they're predominantly showing the label, spindle marks and wear can often give some indication of the grading accuracy. The worst overgrading I've seen personally has been on a couple of occasions where I've sold extremely rare but knackered records and the buyers have then tried to resell them but drastically overgraded - a G+ became EX and, the most unbelievable, a F became NM (and it wasn't even reggae!). That big an improvement is just not possible whatever you do. Granted, skimming will improve the appearance of the playing surface but that's about all it improves. You'd still have a knackered record, just skimmed to appear better. Most sellers are honest but it does still happen. If the pictures don't seem to match the grading, trust the pictures. 

Well, thanks for taking the time to read my guide - hope it's been of some interest and use; if so then please register a vote and take a look at my other guides. (I hope the user mamavintageshop gave me a vote as they certainly found it useful; they've slightly reworded large chunks of my text to write their own guide! Still, they do say that copying is a form of flattery so I should be flattered! ;) ) Don't forget to visit our eBay shops - rainbowtrax for strictly-graded vinyl, audio books, music DVDs, jigsaw puzzles and games etc and rainbowjam for thousands of 100% official Buy-It-Now CDs, starting at just £1.99. If you're looking for a particular item, then please send us an eBay message as we have hundreds more items to list. We offer speedy delivery and reasonable postage rates and have nearly thirty years trading experience; check out our feedback before you buy. 

All the best, rainbowjam

Guide created 2006, updated October 2014, and again in August 2016 to correct (as much as possible) all the formatting errors created by ebay's extremely broken editing software. Apologies if it still looks a mess; it displayed perfectly for many years until ebay decided to make "improvements" to their Guides editing software! All they achieved was drastically limiting its functionality. Had another go April 2017 but it's worse than ever! Can't even add images now.

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