(NEXSTAR) – Like other pop-culture memorabilia from the ‘80s and ‘90s, video cassette tapes are having a bit of a moment — and some of those tapes could potentially be worth big bucks to collectors.
“There is some new Gen X and millennial interest in re-visiting the technology and media of their youth,” Megan Mahn Miller, an appraiser of entertainment memorabilia based in Minneapolis, told Nexstar. “You can see the same thing happening with old video games and Pokémon cards.”
But unlike Nintendo games or trading cards, VHS tapes have yet to prove themselves as big earners on the auction block.
“This is a brand-new hobby,” said Joe Maddalena, the executive vice president of Texas-based Heritage Auctions. “[VHS sales] are doing well, but there’s a lot of unpacking to do on scarcity and rarity.”
Still, Maddalena said he sees “all the ingredients” for VHS to become the next big collecting craze. He’ll find out for sure in June, when Heritage Auctions holds its first-ever VHS-only auction featuring more than 300 titles.
“This auction could do well, or it could do great,” Maddalena told Nexstar. “We don’t know.”
Heritage Auctions first took notice of aftermarket VHS sales a few years ago, when “a lot” of video-game collectors had also started to collect VHS tapes too, according to Maddalena. And while there haven’t been many — if any — VHS-only auctions, he told Nexstar he’s optimistic after learning of some recent private sales.
“This auction should do $500,000 to a million, total,” he predicted. “If it goes outside of a million, it’s a huge success.”
Many of the titles on Heritage’s upcoming auction reflect another “ingredient” that Maddalena and his expert appraisers are looking for: For the most part, they’re all movies that elicit strong emotional responses with folks who grew up in the ’80s.
“’Blade Runner,’ ‘The Goonies,’ the ‘Back to the Future’ franchise, the ‘Indiana Jones’ franchise, ‘Star Wars’ … You’re talking about iconic, iconic films,” Maddalena explained. “And then the horror movies — ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ — those are most popular.”
Of course, each item on the auction block is also factory sealed in original packaging, and each has been authenticated and graded on its condition by a verified grading service. Buyers are mostly interested in first-editions, too — which were usually printed in smaller quantities, and often bought up by video stores during the early years of the rental market.
“Those first-run tapes were limited, and people [who bought personal copies] usually opened those,” said Maddalena. “More prints came along after, when the studios saw the market for it.”
Less-perfect VHS specimens may not be totally worthless, though. It’s possible that more obscure titles may also become collectible depending on continued demand for VHS.
“If it’s some terrible B-movie that never made it beyond the VHS medium and to DVD … or if there is a misprint or something off about a cover — think ‘The Little Mermaid’ from Disney — and the cover was pulled off the shelf and replaced, that could be of interest to a buyer,” said Mahn Miller.
Maddalena also suggested that there may be a future market for second-edition printings of popular, nostalgia-invoking titles, but only if the current demand for VHS really takes off.
“We’re just not at that stage of the hobby yet,” Maddalena says. “You really need the auction market to come along … to find out where it’s at.”
In the meantime, sellers can try their luck at online auction sites like eBay, where plenty of users are already attempting to make a quick buck off their old VHS tapes. Just don’t go in with huge expectations.
“It all depends on what ‘valuable’ means to you,” said Mahn Miller. “If you can sell an item that you have had since the 1980s for $5, maybe that is valuable to you.”