Written by Nathan Davis
If you’re planning to off-load or downsize your 78rpm collection, it’s always helpful to sell them to a buyer with full disclosure as to their overall condition.
And although in many cases, 78s are different from lps, (where often or not, 78s don’t come with a sleeve or illustrated cover), it’s still important to describe the condition as accurately and as knowledgeably as possible.
The following short guide can assist you in grading your 78rpm records if you wish to dispose of them via eBay or Discogs, so that bidders or buyers know what they are getting for their dollar!
In the UK, the most widely accepted grading system is found in the Record Collector Rare Record Price Guide and magazine. It’s considered to be the universal grading system for grading recording media.
The Record Collector Rare Record grading system is designed for all types of records, vinyl Lps, singles, box sets, albums as well as shellac 78rpm records. And to help 78s collectors, I have annotated the guide below specifically for them.
MINT: The record itself is in brand new condition with no surface marks or deterioration in sound quality. Sleeve (or cover) and any extras are usually in perfect condition.
As 78s will usually be at least 50 years old, a “Near Mint” 78rpm is usually considered to be brand new in condition (or at least unplayed or sometimes referred as “new, old stock”), with no surface marks or deterioration in sound quality. It’s bad form to grade 78s as Mint if they clearly are not! The very best may be graded as “Near Mint”.
EXCELLENT: “EX” The record shows some signs of having been played but there is very little lessening in sound quality. Sleeve or cover and packaging might have slight wear or creasing.
Note that 78s of the 1920s and 1930s will generally suffer audibly if there are visible signs of wear. This makes it a little difficult to grade and you may wish to say “sounds EX” if you have been able to play and check the sound quality. In most cases, you should grade more conservatively for records which are older than 1950. Use + and – to give a more accurate grading.
EX+ This rating usually indicates a really shiny 78rpm with hardly any marks on the playing surface. EX- will show signs of a scuffed playing surface but with no deep scratches and with only minor greying/worn looking patches.
VERY GOOD: “VG” A “VG” or very good record has obviously been played many times but displays no major deterioration in sound quality, despite noticeable surface marks and the occasional light scratch.
Many 78s are found in this condition. Those that sound pleasant enough, albeit with the usual background hiss and a bit of sound deterioration, can be graded VG+. Those which are still just about listenable but tough on the ears should be graded VG-.
As a buyer, avoid anything VG- or below unless it is a real rarity which you must have in any condition.
As a seller, if the record is a common one, you are probably wasting your time listing it. Take it to a charity shop!
GOOD: A “good” record has been played many times during its lifetime and the sound quality has noticeably deteriorated, perhaps with some distortion and mild scratches. A seller using the record collector grading system can grade a record as “Good” and the buyer, thinking “good means good” will not realise that, technically, good= not good. On the other hand, an inexperienced seller may look at a nice shiny, unmarked 78, think “that looks good” and grade it as “good” when it should be described as EX+.
FAIR: Just playable. Only great rarities are worth buying or selling in this condition.
POOR: Will not play properly due to scratches, bad surface noise etc.
BAD: The record is unplayable or might even be broken. Throw it away BUT before you do so give some thought as to whether it might be rare or of such great historical interest that even in this condition it is worth keeping. Is it by blues singer Robert Johnson? Was it recorded by a Jewish owned record company in Nazi Berlin in 1936? Is it a recording of a radio broadcast which might be unique? Does it have a very beautiful or unusual label? There are some very rare things that a specialist collector, discographer or museum might want even if it comes in two pieces!