– The videocassette, the unlikely new collector’s item
VHS records break records at auction, especially those of 80s blockbusters like Jaws or Back to the Future.
The market for used videocassettes, hitherto limited to modest prices, has picked up steam in recent months for those who have managed to sell them, a heatwave that fuels nostalgia but also investors’ appetite for new investments is attributed.
At the same auction, organized by Heritage Auctions in early June, a Back to the Future VHS tape sold for $75,000, while a copy of Jaws sold for $32,500 and another of Rambo for $22,500 was sold .
Cassettes have had their collectors’ circle since the first copies came out in the late 1970s, but today, for almost everyone, “VHS is worth next to nothing,” assures John, who lives in Newmarket, Canada, he has in more than twenty sold about 3,000 years ago. “You’ll be lucky if you get $5 of this.”
Only certain confidential horror films or feature films only available on this medium have so far managed to do better at a few hundred dollars or even over $1000 big hits from the first half of the 80’s, provided the tapes meet certain criteria.
More interesting will be a released VHS of a film’s first edition in the original unopened packaging, as well as a limited edition special series that automatically excludes most of the inventory, particularly the funds from former video rental companies.
Released in 1977, the year the first videocassettes were released in the United States, “Star Wars” is a current reference and has already sold several times over $10,000. The Grail would be a copy of the very first American VHS shipment, namely the films “MASH”, “Patton” and “The Sound of Music” released in 1977 by the studios 20th Century Fox and Magnetic Video.
The price? “It’s really hard to say. I’d say a number with six numbers, even seven, estimates Jay Carlson, head of VHS activity at Heritage Auctions, a position created just a few months ago.
“A Specific Object”
Many, including longtime collectors, are amazed at the sudden acceleration of this market, sixteen years after the last release of a film in this format (“A History of Violence”), VCRs have not been produced since 2016.” I think it has a lot to do with nostalgia,” says Philip Baker, who runs the website Video Collector. “What’s unique about VHS is that it was the first accessible way to watch a movie at home.”
Pat Contri, co-host of the Completely Unnecessary podcast, sees this movement as paralleling video games. Long-time collectors have been superimposed, “people who have just decided to get in. They said to themselves: I have money, let’s invest it. For the past ten years, therefore, multiple families of objects have been attacked by individuals looking to diversify their investments, be it sneakers, video games, or now videocassettes. These items have replaced stamps or coins for a new generation of collectors who value their cultural values.
Dedicated Facebook groups, proliferation of rating services that assess the authenticity and quality of a cassette, auction houses on the move, the VHS collecting industry is being structured at breakneck speed: Pat Contri is afraid of this organized fever. “It’s similar to the video game market,” he says, “where you’re trying not to allow a hobby to evolve naturally, but rather to create a fear of missing out and missing an opportunity to make a lucrative investment. “There are people who collect opened (used) cassettes and are very skeptical about what’s on the (still wrapped) cassettes,” admits Jay Carlson, “but I think[this movement]is a good thing. […] It’s just a different way of collecting.”
For him, the market potential of videocassettes is greater than that of video games, with two sales exceeding $1 million last year. “I know a lot of people who aren’t interested in video games, but I don’t know a lot of people who don’t have a favorite movie.”
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