The following is how we grade our pulp magazines. This grading scale was created by John Gunnison for the Adventure House Guide to the Pulps. The only alteration to this grading scale from that book, is the NM grade, as I almost never grade a pulp higher than VF.
VERY FINE (VF)
The top grade for a pulp with overhanging covers. Should appear almost new, clean, with high cover glass and no fading. It should have white of off-white paper. The overhang may bend around the interior paper and exhibit several small edge defects.
A clean, flat copy with only minor defects generally confined to the overhang. The cover have lost some gloss. The paper may be yellowing but not browning.
VERY GOOD (VG)
A well-read copy with a proliferation of lesser defects including significant edge wear, tears that radiate from the overhang, light cover creases or drinking, a light rubber stamp of other minor cover discoloration, small pieces missing from the edge, light tape at spine ends, minor spine fading, light warping. Paper may exhibit light edge tanning.
A well-worn copy with a number of moderate to major defects including fading to spine or cover, taped spine, major tears cleanly repaired with tape on the inside, lighter tape on the outside, larger pieces missing from the cover, browning but not brittle paper.
A beat-up copy with many major defects including pieces missing from covers, or missing interior pages, missing spine, heavy cover tape, significant water damage or warping. Paper may be brown to brittle.
A badly-defective copy with most of the covers gone, interior pages missing, pages too brittle to make reading the magazine practical.
A number of times, we combine grades. You might see a grade as FN-VF which means the pulp isn’t quite VF, but is better than just FN.
We follow the old Kevin Hancer grading for paperbacks.
Virtually flawless. Superb. As new. For a book to receive this grade it may have only the slightest traces of wear noticeable upon very close inspection. Inside, the pages must be creamy, no trace of brown, and also there can be no name plates or other writing inside the book. Outside, the spine must be solid and clean with no fading. Very tiny amounts of wear to the spine may be present. No crease of any kind is permitted. The book appears to be perfect but upon close inspection tiny problems can be found.
An exceptional copy. Acceptable to all but the most finicky collector. This is a sharp, almost Fine copy. It can have no major defects but may have an accumulation of several minor ones, such as a tiny color chip on the spine or extremities. Other possible flaws might include a small, penciled arrival mark on the cover on an otherwise Fine book. No creases. Pages can be slightly yellowed, but not brown. Typical of books found on bookstore shelves.
The typical used paperback in average condition. A solid copy, although with wear and defects to be expected. Unusual problems will be noted. The book can have very slight browning of pages but not brittleness or flaking; it may also have a small name written on an endpage, or a small nameplate.
Minor peeling of the lamination covering the book can be expected, but extreme peeling will eliminate the book from this grade. A corner crease (1/4″ or less) or two can be present, but numerous creases are not allowed in this grade. A light reading crease along the spine is normal for this grade.
A minor spine roll is allowable, a heavy spine roll is not ailowable in this grade unless noted and the book is a higher grade otherwise. General spine wear can be expected, however, unusually heavy spine wear is not permitted in this grade. The spine should be complete and solid, if not – major problems should be described – such as a split spine. In any case, a spine split should be described to length and should eliminate the book from this grade if it is over 3/4″ in length. Tape anywhere on the book is not allowed in this grade. A small pen mark on the cover can be present if noted, but not if large, heavy, or if affecting the eye appeal of the book.
Dampstains prevent the book from being very good plus or higher. One small arrival date is allowable without being noted, but any other writing on the cover should be noted. Sun-fading on the spine or cover should be described, and if significant, should prevent the example from the VG grade. Insect or rodent damage is not allowable in this grade. Price stickers or peel-marks from removal of a price sticker is allowable in the VG grade only when the area affected is small and not a serious detraction from the cover art. No color touchup with colored markers is allowable in this grade.
A worn, creased, flaked example. Crumpled and worn corners. Tape, waterstains, writing, brittleness of pages, pieces or chips missing, heavily rolled spine etc., are to be expected in this grade. Typically a reading-copy only, with all pages complete.
For those books that have a dust jacket, we normally have a split grade, in which we grade the DJ first and then the book. Or VG/FN showing the dust jacket is in VG condition, while the book is in FN condition. The grades are the same as the paperback grades listed above.