If you’re looking for a nostalgic hobby that won’t cost a fortune, VHS tapes are very underrated. Although not as cheap as they once were, VHS tapes haven’t exploded in value the way other 1980s technologies have. Are VHS tapes worth collecting? I think they have a lot of potential.
VHS tapes have not increased in value to the extent that video games and computers from the same era have. The days of buying the titles you remember as a kid for pocket change may be past us, but you can still buy the majority of the movies you remember for a few dollars.
The nostalgia of VHS
For a generation of people, a trip to the local video store was a weekend ritual. Even before Blockbuster was a national chain, independent video stores peppered strip malls across the country, even in small towns. We’d scour the shelves of tapes looking for something we hadn’t seen before, or an old favorite. You paid a couple of dollars and brought the tape back in a day or two or five. The length of time varied. It was the closest thing we had to Netflix in the 80s or 90s.
VHS started to give way to DVD in the late 90s. DVDs had much better picture quality and you didn’t have to rewind them. DVD overtook VHS around 2002, and VHS faded away as a format quickly. The last major studio release on VHS was A History Of Violence, released March 14, 2006.
For many people, reliving those memories makes VHS tapes worth collecting. They may focus on trying to obtain copies of the movies they frequently rented in the 80s.
Are VHS tapes valuable?
For years, the majority of VHS tapes weren’t valuable. Common titles, which were the ones you were most likely to recognize, sold for a few pennies online plus shipping. If you picked up a copy of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off on VHS at a garage sale for 50 cents, that was about what it was worth.
Star Wars tapes
You would think Star Wars tapes would be valuable, because they’re earlier copies of the movies than what’s available on DVD, and we all watched them until the tapes wore out. Certain editions can be valuable, but if you want the original Star Wars trilogy on VHS, you can probably afford it.
Disney titles can tricky because Disney would pull titles from the market after a while to try to increase demand for them. There are rumors of Disney editions known as the Black Diamond editions selling for hundreds or thousands of dollars, but looking at sold listings, most of those high-dollar auctions only had one bid, which puts them into the same questionable territory as Alex Madrid and Jose Uribe baseball cards. Some Disney titles are uncommon enough to sell for two figures, but many of them sell for under $10.
Movies in the horror genre tended to hold their value. A variety of factors probably play into this, including nostalgia, but many of these titles were never released on other formats. The value tends to be in the more obscure titles, rather than big-ticket series like Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street. The popular Netflix series Stranger Things is largely a tribute to the 80s horror genre.
I can remember a time when most VHS tapes were worthless. They’re getting more expensive now, but we’re still talking dollars in most cases. Not tens of dollars and certainly not hundreds of dollars, unless you have something really special.
That stinks! Will VHS tapes ever be valuable?
VHS tapes will always be like anything else. Not all vinyl records are valuable either. Titles that did poorly when they were new and that no one has nostalgia for today will never be worth all that much.
But I remember when I was in college, I met a few people who were collecting old video games because they were cheap. They had hundreds of cartridges in their collections, and they paid 50 cents for most of them. Video games have increased in value dramatically in the last 20-25 years. GenXers who can’t afford to collect video games, or who get bored with collecting video games, could turn to VHS as a more affordable alternative. If that happens, it will drive the price up eventually.
You should collect for enjoyment more than for potential future value, but the low price can make VHS tapes worth collecting. If you lose money on the hobby, you won’t lose a lot.
Didn’t VHS tapes used to be expensive in the 80s?
VHS tapes tended to cost a lot in the 80s. Even blank tapes cost $10-$15 at mid-decade. Some tapes, like 30-minute tapes geared for children, were relatively inexpensive at less than $20. But tapes of popular movies were very expensive, at $50 or more. The main reason for this was because rental stores would buy them and rent them out, and if a store was renting a movie out every couple of days, it would make hundreds of dollars per year off the tape, so they were willing to pay $50-$80 to get the title.
The problem with this was that at those kinds of prices, people would copy movies if they wanted to watch them over and over. Once you could get a bare-bones VCR for $150, that VCR paid for itself with the third or fourth movie you copied. Prices came down once studios realized people would buy movies at a low enough price.
Still, even before adjusting for inflation, the majority of VHS tapes are worth less than they cost when they were new.
Where to find VHS tapes
You can find VHS tapes almost anywhere other secondhand cast-offs hang out. They aren’t as common at garage sales anymore but if you don’t see any tapes, you can always ask. Most people will tell you they got rid of their tapes years ago. But some may tell you they didn’t know anyone would be interested in them and may have a box of them in their basement.
You can find tapes at flea markets, thrift stores, rummage sales, and antique malls. They aren’t antiques, but the antique malls near me allow them. Prices and selection will vary. Book sales put on by libraries and charities in the spring can also be a source of VHS tapes. Sometimes old video store stock turns up in those sales, which can yield some collectible material.
Another good source is estate sales. At estate sales, everything in the house is for sale, so if there’s a box of VHS tapes in the basement, they’re for sale. Some people preferred VHS over newer formats because they found tapes more familiar, so you can still find extensive collections of VHS tapes in estates. Whether it will be the kind of material you like is another question. But if you’re browsing for sales, look at the pictures in the basement. Sometimes the tapes are on a shelf like books and you’ll be able to get an idea what titles are there. Or they may be in a box or plastic storage container. Some sellers don’t bother to post a picture of the tapes, but if you see a console TV with a VCR on top of it in the basement, there are probably going to be some tapes for sale too.
Collecting home-recorded VHS tapes
Some hobbyists are more interested in home-recorded tapes than in pre-recorded tapes. These tapes are unpredictable in what they’ll yield. They may contain copied movies. They may contain old recorded television. Some contain old home movies. Each tape probably is one of a kind, and won’t cost much since most people assume no one wants a home recorded tape.
I feel a little weird about watching someone else’s home movies, as it seems like an invasion of privacy. But old recorded TV can be interesting. Those old commercials often are better than the programs themselves, especially if you find commercials for long-shuttered businesses. Many of the old commercials you find on Youtube came from old VHS tapes someone found.
Home-recorded VHS tapes probably never will have a ton of value, but for many people, the serendipity alone makes this type of VHS tape worth collecting.