If you’re reading this, you’re too late. Recently, I was doing a deep dive into the classic comic strip hero, The Phantom, trying to sort out his first comic appearance (it’s Ace Comics #11, by the way). This deep dive into the “first costumed superhero” led me to the 1996 Phantom film starring Billy Zane. Several factory-sealed VHS copies of the film on eBay are listed for over $100. That got me thinking; how much are sealed videocassettes for movies that people actually care about?
OK, LET’S BACK UP
Any collector is familiar with sealed collectibles and how census numbers affect rarity, but why should or shouldn’t you jump on the sealed VHS train? What things should you look out for? From there, should you get your sealed copies graded?
If I had a time machine, I would do a couple things, (not including complicated historic changes, but down to trivial ones that I like to focus on.)
First, I would go back to when I donated most of my VHS tapes to a local video rental store and at least keep the sealed copies of Jaws 3 or whatever random tape I never watched. The next thing I would do is go back about a year ago to March 2021 and nab up as much sealed VHS as I possibly could.
WHO HAS SEALED VHS TAPES?
And to those reading this thinking, “why would you have sealed VHS; they’re for watching, not collecting?” I get it, and emotionally, I agree with you. As a collector, I don’t tend to collect anything I wouldn’t otherwise use. It doesn’t make me the most investment-minded collector, but it takes all kinds. This is often the same conversation with video games, but, like VHS, I can buy an unsealed VHS copy of The Phantom for next to nothing. The allure of the possible sealed copy is what’s driving this conversation. There are plenty of unsealed and inexpensive copies of Super Mario 3 available if you’re just looking for a copy to play. It’s best to separate the two. Let me put it another way. Comic collectors often will buy a “reader copy” if they really want to check out the contents of the comic.
Recently, you may have seen a graded, sealed (IGS 9.5 mint) copy of Terminator (1984) that sold for $32.5k at ComicConnect after only three days in auction. In December of 2021, a copy of Star Wars sold via Goldin for a whopping $57,600. It’s likely that a lot of that dollar amount had nostalgia wrapped up in it. It’s a little too early to tell, since not a lot of graded VHS has been sold on the open market.
SHOULD I GET MY COPIES GRADED?
VHS collecting is definitely an industry to keep an eye out for if you are looking for more avenues in which to invest. Or, if you’re like me, just very invested in the medium. The two companies that currently grade them are VHSDNA and IGS.
Both companies grade on a ten-point scale. While IGS will only grade factory-sealed copies, VHSDNA will grade unsealed as well.
MY GRANDMOTHER MIGHT HAVE SOME SEALED VHS LYING AROUND, ARE THOSE VALUABLE?
She may have five copies of Steel Magnolias laying around, just like many of us. Remember, scarcity is the name of the game. The other thing to keep in mind is when the tape was made. It’s possible that your copy of Star Wars: Episode IV is a re-release. Doing research on first pressing information would be beneficial before taking the plunge and submitting it to be graded. All sealed VHS would have some intrinsic value more than unsealed, but identifying correct generations could make a world of difference.
A movie’s popularity doesn’t mean it holds more value. While Star Wars might be the big no-brainer, it’s worth identifying tapes that are cult classics or were produced by specific houses like Cannon Films or New World Pictures, to name a couple. Also, identifying hang-tabs and early production eras can help before spending a lot of time at your local thrift store.
“IS THIS JUST A NEW COLLECTING FAD?”
That’s a great question, voice in my head. To be perfectly honest, that appears yet to be seen. In my opinion, though, no. As I mentioned at the top, I’ve been an avid collector of VHS for over 20 years. While my collection has ebbed and flowed, I always am drawn back to the medium. On a personal note, any of the collecting I’ve continued to do over the past few years has just made its way to friends, video stores, or local music venues who like to have VHS on hand for a lonely door guy or the aesthetic of having VHS tapes strewn throughout the premises.
In comics, there are two types of collectors – raw and graded. With VHS, you have three – unsealed, sealed, and, to a growing degree, graded. In my younger years, I found myself squarely in the unsealed market for all types of collectibles I owned, whether it be VHS, vinyl, or cassettes. Adding my concert posters, video games, and comics into this pile, I primarily looked at owning only what I would use. (A lot of that was limited by purely financial factors.)
ALL OF THIS IS TO SAY…
VHS collecting has been a big thing in underground circles for a long time. Even after VHS were no longer made and even longer than that, depending on who you ask. I’ve had many friends with a wall of VHS in their house; it just seemed like a common thing to do in most of my fellow punk rock living quarters. Within a lot of those same circles, the ones that didn’t give away or sell their collections are ten or so years older and have begun looking at the objects around their houses a lot differently. Does this bring joy? Does this have value? Or in my case, do I have the space in my home with my partner’s and my collections merging into one?
So no, this is not a new hobby, there are just new eyes in the market.
SO, IS NOW THE RIGHT TIME TO COLLECT?
Without a doubt, I would say yes – but with a big caveat. Collect what you love, so start with titles that bring you joy. It’s always the best rule of thumb that, in my opinion, wins out in the end over any collectible investment. If you invest in something you love, you can’t lose.
Above, I briefly touched on my deep dive into The Phantom. While the Billy Zane film was not well received, I’ve always had a soft spot for the character. I was a big fan of the daily newspaper strip of the same name. He’s a character with a rich history in Golden Age comics, like The Shadow, and represents a specific time and place before Superhero comics became codified and set in stone as they are today.
In the future, I believe we will see some wild swings in the VHS market. We are currently seeing some strains on production times in regards to grading backlogs, just like the rest of the graded collectibles market. We may see some record-breaking sales, but don’t let that discourage you.
While it may be too late to get sealed VHS for pennies on the dollar, most sealed VHS will be still within your grasp in comparison to the comic, poster, and video game markets. So be patient, do your research and just simply have some fun.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments!
*Any perceived investment advice is that of the blogger and does not represent investment advice on behalf of GoCollect.