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A Guide to Record Grading

About the Product
All titles are original issue U.S. pressing LPs unless otherwise noted. Grading is jacket/disc and strictly in accordance with our grading standards (see below). Within our listings, we employ a consistent set of abbreviations for countries, gradings, label and pressing variations, formats and audiophile codes, etc.

Regarding notation of stereo/mono recordings: While space is at a premium, and the experienced collector can usually infer whether an LP is mono or stereo from the catalog prefix and/or number, we usually do not specify this detail separately in our line-brief listings. We are aware, however, that for some labels it is more difficult to distinguish, and for those items we may add an "st" to denote stereo. By all means, don't hesitate to email us if you wish for clarification on a given item or items, as we are in full appreciation of the importance of this detail for most records that came out both ways. We know that not everyone has the experience and/or the reference books to discern catalogue numbers' codes!

Condition Grading of Records and Their Jackets See our special Care Guide for your records.

Sealed (ss)
Self-explanatory. Some record companies in the 60's sealed the disc in a plastic inner bag but not the record jacket. These are graded jacket="(as appropriate)≤ / disc="sealed." For instance a VG++ jacket and sealed disc would be: ≥VG++/sealed≤. Otherwise, a sealed item has only one grade.

Near Mint (NM)
This is the highest grade used by Saturn Records for an unsealed item. "Mint" is not used as a grade because, without a microscope and 40 minutes of listening per record, perfection cannot be verified to everyone's satisfaction (see explanation at bottom). Near Mint ranges from a record appearing unused, to an item that may have been used, but is without a notable cosmetic defect as evidence of that use.

For jackets, this means that the beginnings of some light yellowing of the paper, and perhaps one lightly bumped corner. Minor color flaking at the bottom or top seam may be allowed, but no splits, tape, ring wear, creases, tears, water staining, writing, or image defacement (such as blemishes from removed price stickers, etc.)

For discs, this means that faint impressions/patterns in the wax from sleeving in paper or plastic, or inconsequential pressing variations (i.e. small dips, bumps, or discolorations in the vinyl that do not affect play) are acceptible. However, multiple rubs around the spindle hole; loss of luster or wear to the wax; and certainly any scrape, scuff, or scratch in the grooves are unacceptible for NM (no matter how pristine the rest of the surface).

Basically, a NM/NM record should be a reasonable simile to a fresh, unused copy.

Very Good Plus Plus (VG++)
This grade refers to an attractive, fresh-in-appearance item that, upon closer inspection, has been disqualified from the NM category due to (usually) one flaw that could not be overlooked.

For jackets, this includes: a small split of the seam; faint beginnings of minor ring wear; some clear tape on one corner; damage or illegibility of the spine. Basically, and this includes discs as well, a VG++ item is qualified by having a noticeable, yet functionally insignificant defect that verifies that the item has been used. A VG++ item appears neither blatantly second-hand, nor does it have the sparkle of "brand-new".

Very Good Plus (VG+)
This is the broadest grade serving as a catch-all for any decent, presentable, average, usable (not marred or defective) item. People ordering VG+ items usually are prepared to accept an imperfect item representing the artifact that it is, and are going to enjoy it without being excessively preoccupied with cosmetic details. VG+ is a fine copy that is indisputably "used", being your basic "decent used record" for utilitarian purposes.

Jackets will have some combination of one to a few of the following defects: partial seam split (with or without clear tape repairs), minor ring wear, minor dirt ring, some minor warping due to moisture, a creased corner, faded spine. The jacket must be free of major defacements, and will certainly not have ALL of the preceding minor ones on the same piece!

Discs may have a series of light abrasions which catch light, but no dramatic defects that would hazard the stylus, or offend the ear. In other words, the disc will be free of any marks that can be detected by touch or which are likely to be an audible distraction when played.

Very Good (VG)
This is the beginning of "rough" for collector's purposes. A VG record is usually one that a collector will buy to fill a "hole" in his/her library until a better copy comes along. We usually don't advertise items with either VG covers or discs unless they are deemed scarce enough to attract a collector for this purpose.

A VG jacket is one that is beginning to look tattered and worn, while retaining a complete and sound construction (i.e. no chewed edges, no front-cover scarring larger than a price tag-removal blemish, no more than two seams splitting). A VG cover is adequate, but not fetching.

The disc is usable, and could be tossed onto any turntable for some sound entertainment, but visually won't impress the esthete, and definitely not the investor. Note: Understandably, in any other application, the word "good" supported by "very" is quite affirmative, but as it is used in record collecting, this is not the case. The above describes how most dealers utilize this grade, despite the optimistic Webster definitions of these terms.

Good Plus (G+)
Averaged between VG and G,

Good (G)
Items graded "good" are very used and only presentable to the least discriminating enthusiast. This classification is usually employed for jackets when it's the disc that's worth collecting, and vice-versa; or when the component in question is so very rare that its existence in any condition is regarded as manna from heaven. "Good" indicates "sound", really meaning that the record is useful for sound and will "soundly" serve that purpose. It should not be confused as referring to "Good" COLLECTIBLE condition.

A G Jacket must be able to enclose the record entirely, protecting it from the elements, dust, other frictive surfaces, and especially from other records, which have been left out of their covers by the same careless owner. Artwork and information must be legible and splits are OK, even expected.

All a G disc must do is play from start to finish, and provide source music which is just any louder than the background noise.

Fair (Fr) or Poor (P) or Missing Component (*)
For advertising purposes, if either disc or jacket is either Fair or Poor, we treat it as functionally missing , and we have graded only the component that is G or better, essentially selling that component "as is", theoretically without its decrepit companion. In these cases, the grade should include an asterisk in place of the Fair/Poor cover or jacket to reflect its effective absence.

Supplementary Notations Condition augmentations: there are some common exceptions to the overall condition of a record and its jacket that merit independent notation from the overall grade assigned, rather than being "averaged in" as with standard gradeable wear. These are usually after-production aberrations courtesy of the record company such as:

  • cut corners, cut-out holes, bb holes, announcement stickers on covers, timing strips on covers, etc.

There is also the consumer aberrations variety, such as:

  • writing on front cover, back cover, label, or on custom inner sleeve, tape on seams or spine, water damage (especially if it's growing "hair"), applied era "pop-culture" stickers (such as "right-on" with fist) etc.

These are noted in addition to an "overall" grade. In other words, the cover is graded as though it does not have the defect, and then the augmentation is added. For example, if a cover has a cut-out hole, but would otherwise be NM, then its grade would be abbreviated as "cohNM."

Why Saturn Records does not use the grade "MINT" when evaluating records
"Mint" as a condition appraisal is numismatic in origin. The term "mint" comes from the Latin surname "Moneta" in whose temple at Rome money was coined. A place where coins are stamped is still called a "mint". Mint as a condition grading has come to refer to an artifact that remains in appearance as perfect as having just been "minted". "Mint", "Stone Mint", "Dead Mint", "Drop-Dead Mint", "Gem-Mint", "Minty Fresh" and the logically-questionable "Mint-Plus" are slang superlatives which ultimately, however unwittingly, honor the doings and memory of the coin-making family of Italy.

Unlike the components of record albums, whose pressing and printing are mere stages of an assembly process, a coin is created during a moment of mechanical synthesis - the metal that becomes a coin is but struck and called money. After being minted, it is by definition axiomatic that a coin is in mint condition. Paper and vinyl, however, are subject to stresses during record manufacturing processes that tax the fibers of their basic materials (i.e. the cutting, folding, gluing and manipulation of the paper and board, the stacking and spindling of the still warm, highly fragile freshly pressed discs, and the hasty factory handling; including the sleeving and boxing of the records, etc.) Consequently, the material of all new (unused) records show some stress of their manufacture, however minute. Every experienced collector can recount occasions in which he or she has opened a "factory sealed" record only to discover that while clearly never used, the disc did not appear "mint", and often not even "near mint". There are also occasions when an apparently mint-looking record plays poorly due to invisible groove damage or to poor pressing conditions and/or materials.

Aside from the impeachable idea of an assembled object, such as a record album, having a "perfect" state, there are also the pragmatic concerns of the labor and efficiency involved in a thorough inspection process. It's elementary to verify the perfection of an uncirculated coin because its surface may be surveyed at a glance. By contrast, a record is far too complex of an object to assess thoroughly within a practical time-period. The physical object is the subject of the collecting, but the sound it makes (usually about 40 minutes worth) when rubbed against something else (the stylus) is the verification of the true "condition" of arguably its most important element. Unlike coins, stamps, posters, and other collectibles, a record has countless minute surfaces which are significant to the true appraisal of its condition, and consequently, the aspiration to verify the absolute grading of "mint" for a record is impractical and implausible.

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