Sellers of toys, comics, coins and other collectibles frequently describe items as being in "mint condition." A mint condition item commands a much higher price than a lower-condition version of the same item, but the definition of what constitutes mint condition varies depending on the type of item being described.
Origin and Meaning
The term comes from coin collecting; institutions called mints produce coins. As a result, a coin that is as perfect as if it had just come out of the mint is said to be in mint condition. For other collectibles, the term has different meanings, but the basic meaning is always the same -- an item in mint condition is an item in the same condition as if it had just been produced.
Books, Comics and Cards
For printed products like books, collectible cards or comic books, mint condition requires an absence of folding, tearing, creasing, wear or color loss. Damage is most common along the corners or edges, as well as the spines of comic books, the dust jackets of hardcover books and the backs of trading cards. For this reason, older comics are almost never found in mint condition -- shipping from the printer and display on a comic rack can inflict enough damage to reduce the book's quality to "near mint." Similarly, shuffling and play can reduce a collectible card's value very quickly, which is why players of games like Magic: the Gathering tend to put their cards in protective sleeves immediately.
Toys and Games
In addition to damage, toy and game collectors also look for completeness. To be in mint condition, a toy or game should be unopened in its original packaging. The packaging itself should be pristine, with no wear, creasing, marking or faded color. Some collectors even seek out toys where the small hole used to hang the package on a rack has never been punched out. As with comics and cards, this level of perfection is extremely rare because most toys were never thought of as collectible -- they were sold, bought and played with without any regard for their condition.
Preserving Mint Condition
If you're lucky enough to own a mint condition collectible, it's important to preserve its condition. In most cases, this means placing it in a protective container. Comics collectors use archival sleeves to protect their books from sunlight and air, sometimes even placing the sleeves inside hard plastic cases known as "slabs" in the comics trade. Action figure collectors store their mint-condition figures inside hard acrylic boxes to protect them from damage and fading. Similarly, collectors protect mint condition coins, stamps and other collectibles within hard or soft plastic sleeves to protect them from damage or deterioration.