Even if the last VCR rolls off the production line this month, don’t throw out your VHS tapes just yet – they may be worth far more than you ever imagined, and could make you a tidy sum.
While the last machine is set to be manufactured in China this month, in Australia and elsewhere, the VHS tape, and its attendant packaging, is fast becoming as collectable an item as classic vinyl LPs.
On eBay some titles are being offered for sale for thousands of dollars, and at swap meets around the country hundreds of people turn up to share their love of a medium that was always bigger on convenience than it was on quality.
“People have a drink and swap war stories, and then swap tapes over beers – what could be more VHS than that?,” says Zak Hepburn, manager of the Astor Theatre in St Kilda and an avid collector, with a home library of between 400 and 500 tapes.
Mr Hepburn says the first swap meet he was involved in two years ago drew about 50 people; now, the quarterly gatherings draw up to 200. While he obviously has a professional interest, not all collectors do; one of the biggest collectors he knows drives trucks for a living.
What they all share is a deep nostalgia for the era in which the VHS tape was the gateway to a world of discovery, when a trip to the video store could take you from the hit list of titles you knew you wanted to watch to an undiscovered gem, or a sick slasher film recommended by the video store guy.
Last year, Yale University bought a 2700-title library, from a collector in Ohio. Yale librarian David Gary described the collection as “the kind of material that lets you get at the cultural id of an era”.
Whatever the shortcomings of VHS, it’s hard to imagine anyone saying that in 30 years’ time about an iTunes algorithm.