Movies on VHS tapes fetching high prices

Some movies that had not been released online or on other media could command higher prices, sometimes above US$1,000 (S$1,400). PHOTO: UNSPLASH

(AFP) - If you have been a detractor of digital films and have stuck to your guns in keeping your favourite movies on videotape, you could be sitting on a pile of money.

Long relegated to an obscure corner of the collectibles market, VHS, or Video Home System, tapes have been fetching eye-popping prices at auctions in recent months, thanks to nostalgia and an appetite for new investment opportunities.

At a sale by Heritage Auctions last month, a Back To The Future video cassette went for US$75,000 (S$105,000), while The Goonies and Jaws copies were sold for US$50,000 and US$32,500, respectively.

Videotape collectors have been around since the late 1970s, when the format was introduced, but these days most "VHS tapes are worth next to nothing", according to John from Newmarket in Canada, who claims to have sold about 3,000 of them over a span of more than 20 years.

"You'll be lucky to get US$5 each," said the active eBay user, who declined to give his last name.

Until recently, only some movies that had not been released online or on other media, as well as little-known horror movies, could command higher prices, sometimes above US$1,000.

But this new trend is mostly focused on blockbuster titles, particularly from the early 1980s.

To be considered valuable, a tape has to meet some specific criteria, with a premium put on first editions and sealed copies.

A limited edition, such as a larger box version of Star Wars, would also draw interest.

The George Lucas sci-fi cult classic is widely considered a must-have and several copies have already been sold for more than US$10,000.

The holy trinity could be movies from the first slate ever released on the United States market in 1977, namely M*A*S*H, Patton and The Sound Of Music, by a financially troubled 20th Century Fox with Magnetic Video.

Mr Jay Carlson, VHS consignment director at Heritage Auctions, said these could reach "a six-digit number, maybe seven".

Many long-time collectors are wondering about the sudden surge, 16 years after the last release of a film in this format (A History Of Violence). The last video recorders were manufactured in 2016.

"I think a lot of it is nostalgia and the compulsion to collect," said Mr Philip Baker, who runs the website. "One of the special things about VHS over the other formats is it was the first accessible way to watch a movie in your own home."

The host of the Completely Unnecessary Podcast, Mr Pat Contri, has a different take and draws a parallel between the current VHS trend and video games. He said both markets are flooded with "people who just decided to get into it. They said to themselves: 'I have money, let's invest in it'."

Over the last decade, several cultural staples, from sneakers to skateboards, have become collectible asset classes thanks to a new generation of investors, many of whom grew up with them.

A whole industry is getting together, as shown by the growing number of dedicated Facebook groups, grading services assessing authenticity and condition, and auction houses willing to add VHS to their sales.

Mr Contri is critical of the process, "where instead of letting a relatively new collecting hobby for the masses develop naturally, you sort of try to entice people with 'Fomo' fear", as in fear of missing out on a lucrative investment.

"There are people who are only open-box guys, and they're very sceptical of sealed guys and what it means to their own collecting," Mr Carlson said. "But I just think it's a good thing. It's just a difference in the way that you're collecting."

He sees even more potential in VHS tapes than in video games, which recorded two sales for more than a million dollars each last year.

"I know a lot of people who aren't into video games and don't play video games, but I don't know very many people who wouldn't have a favourite movie," he said.

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