Have you seen the new craze hitting the collectors’ market? People are making a fortune selling their valuable VHS tapes by getting them graded.
A few weeks ago, a first print and graded version of The Terminator (1985) sold for a whopping $32,500 (£24,500). A dreamlike number for a common VHS and, it’s not the first time a graded tape has reportedly sold for thousands of pounds. Last year, a version of Super Mario Bros graded by Investment Grading Service (IGS) sold for over ten grand on eBay.
Yet, the prospect of making thousands by grading the VHS tapes I have hiding in my attic sounded too good to be true. Were my dusty VHS tapes worth the money advertised in these auctions? Indeed, there was something going amiss in this media frenzy.
So, I began digging, and what I found will make you think twice about quitting your job to sell your VHS collection.
What are “graded” VHS tapes?
The purpose of grading is to determine a VHS tapes market value by assessing its condition between 1 and 10. Currently, companies only grade factory sealed tapes and, once valued, the video is put in a closed plastic case to showcase its beautiful condition to the world.
Investment Grading Service (IGS), a company based in California, began the trend. The company uses a (very dodgy looking) website for clients to pay an excessive $95 (£72) to have their tapes graded and valued.
However, many tape collectors have raised eyebrows at this business. Originally, people would collect valuable VHS tapes that were hard to watch because they were never re-released on DVD or streamed online. A hobby that favoured rare B-Class horror movies over blockbusters like The Terminator.
Then there’s the question of whether collecting sealed VHS tapes are worth any value besides their aesthetic quality.
One of the biggest disadvantages of owning a VHS is the item’s physical deterioration over time. Many video owners now convert their VHS to digital to avoid further loss of footage. Unfortunately, videotapes are renowned for degrading, warping and growing mould over time. You can even erase the footage from an unopened VHS with a strong enough magnet.
So it does not matter how pristine the case is; your VHS tape could be worthless if the footage is unplayable.
So, should I use IGS to grade my videotapes?
Okay, let’s say you own a perfect, unopened first print of The Terminator that you would like to sell. Is it worth sending into IGS to have the tape graded?
Well, first of all, I suggest you research where you’re sending your tape and whether it is worth the money/risk. IGS is a two-year-old company bringing a new collectable item onto the market. A warning for many investors not to invest in VHS tapes (for the time being) because the secondary market has not established the item’s value yet.
To help explain what I mean, let’s use The Terminator VHS tape as an example: at the moment, this tape is perceived to be rare because it is a first edition, mint graded tape. However, Thorn Emi released millions of copies of The Terminator on VHS, and we currently have no way of knowing how many factory-sealed videos remain.
For all we know, the market could be (and most likely is) highly saturated with The Terminator, meaning this highly auctioned edition is not rare and is rather a worthless collectable.
But the tape sold for thousands?
Supposedly, The Terminator sold for the same price as buying a brand new car. A dreamlike number, to be honest.
But, an auction closing does not provide proof of purchase, and only one person bid for the tape.
Let me say that again: one person took a look at The Terminator on VHS and decided it was worth 3000 times more than the asking price of any other edition selling online. Someone bought the tape without even the prompt of competition and in a market where the pricing of home movies is completely arbitrary!
I looked on eBay; if you really liked the tape, you can buy the same first edition for £20 - the only difference is that the plastic casing is dirty.
So, The Terminator selling at that price seems unlikely, right?
I thought so too. Hence, I decided to do some further research into auctions of other high-selling graded tapes. I scoured the internet for proof of purchase or an article of these lucky collectors bagging a blockbuster videotape for thousands of pounds.
I found nothing* — just screenshots of “sold” pages on eBay.
*Although it should be said that even though the evidence has not been presented online, the transaction could have still happened.
Don’t trust the internet.
This scepticism leads me to my last point – don’t trust the internet.
There is such a thing as penetrating the market with new collectable items (just look at the success of videogame collecting). Then, there is completely manipulating the market: creating fake accounts, fake auctions, and fake bids to make it look like items are selling for thousands when they sold for nothing a week ago.
Within a matter of time, clickbait articles are coaxing readers to think they can sell their tape collection for a fortune as well. Suddenly, a volatile market is created out of nowhere, and everyone starts auctioning their graded Disney collection at a higher price than they are worth.
But, you have to ask yourself who is buying these videos?