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   In the world of collecting, it's very important to properly rate or grade your collectibles - as an owner, you will be better able to place value on your items based on relative merits compared to other like collectibles on the market and, if you are a buyer, you can have a good idea of just what kind of condition your intended purchase/acquisition will be in when it arrives on your doorstep.
   If you've been looking at collecting anything (albums/records included), you'll surely have come across terms that are used in describing the relative condition of a collectable item. Though they can vary from one segment of the collectible market to another, terms that are used commonly include: Mint, Near Mint, Good, Fair, and Poor. Basically, these terms are part of a "grading" system used to convey the condition of any collectible with Mint (obviously) being the highest grade that an item can carry and Poor being the lowest. Ultimately, this system can contain flaws as your idea of "Good" may not be the same as the next person's. With that in mind, here are some basic guidelines as the rating/grading system relates to Vinyl L.P.s.

In regards to the actual vinyl:

MINT - This means that the vinyl is virgin - never opened, never played. Just like buying it brand new.
NEAR MINT - This describes vinyl that has been opened and either never played or played very minimally. The owner handled the record on by the edges and label and there are no scratches or fingerprints on the vinyl.
GOOD - This is for vinyl that has actually lived a life on the turntable albeit it a very pampered life. Ideally, no scratches though there may be fingerprints from handling.
FAIR - This term can include light or minor scratching with more fingerprinting. The scratches should not be so severe that the album skips or sounds poor.
POOR - Quite simply, this is for anything that doesn't fit into the above categories. Often this will mean that the vinyl is heavily scratched, dirty, and has seen lots of use (or even abuse).

   If you are just starting to explore L.P. collecting, it's important to know that the vinyl record itself is but one part of the collectible - the album jacket, outside artwork, included bonuses (posters, etc.), and the inner sleeve(s) all have inherent value. Many collectors look for complete packages when buying new items while other collectors may be interested in just one part of the package (like the jacket, for example). In some cases, the "extras" are worth much more than the actual record! Because of that, it's important to look at and grade the condition all of the pieces. Here are the same terms used for the vinyl but with definitions that apply specifically to the "extras":

MINT - Again, never opened. No bent corners, no fading or water damage and 100% complete.
NEAR MINT - This can include both unopened and opened. Either way, very slight bends on corners, 100% complete, and no fading or water damage.
GOOD - This fits if the jacket has been opened, plastic removed, minor fading, and slight bending on corners. If pieces are missing from the package or worn more than others are (inner sleeves, for example), you may have to downgrade to Fair.
FAIR - Bent corners, worn-in impression of album in jacket, faded or water-damaged (slight).
POOR - This covers badly worn circle impression of album, very badly bent corners, writing on jacket or sleeves, water damage, tears, missing extras, etc..

   Obviously, there can be many variables that affect the overall rating of a collectible L.P.. It can be difficult to get a handle on just how valuable a particular item is based on how complete the package is and the condition of the individual components that make up that package - if the vinyl is Near Mint but the jacket is trashed, you'll have to take that into account as you try to establish a value for that piece. If you are a collector trying to sell your items, you'll have to make concessions for certain items not being up to par with the rest of the package. If you are a buyer, place value on the things that mean the most to you - you may be able to get a great deal if you are looking to buy cool jackets for their artwork and don't mind if the vinyl is not in as good as condition as the jacket is.
   When trying to establish a value for a particular item (whether buying or selling), it's a good idea to check as many points of reference as possible so you get a clear picture of what the market is bearing at that point in time. Compare prices and conditions with other similar items to find out if the asking price is fair to both the buyer and seller. Above all, if something seems too good to be true, it likely is.  
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