Frequently I’m asked what makes a factory-sealed VHS tape valuable. The truth is that there are many different variables that can make a sealed tape valuable, but the best starting point is when the tape was produced. I commonly refer to the sweet spot as tapes produced between 1977 and 1987. During this period, the quantities of tapes that were being produced were far fewer than they would be at the end of the 1980s into the 1990s.
When VCRs were initially released in 1977 they came with a hefty price tag of $1,000-$1,400. At face value that doesn’t seem unreasonable, but in today’s dollars that would be in the neighborhood of $4,900-$6,900! And this was at the point that the median US income was only $13,570. So for about a month’s pay, you could bring home a VCR of your very own. Based on these figures, you can begin to understand that a VCR was not attainable for most homes in the early days. And fewer VCRs meant fewer people buying VHS tapes, which meant fewer copies were being produced. If you wanted to own a copy of a film at that time, it meant that you were most likely spending $80-$100 ($397 – $496 in 2023 dollars). If you were plunking down that kind of money, you probably weren’t just putting the movie on your shelf and forgetting about it, you were opening it and enjoying it. The same can be said of the handful of video stores that began to pop up; they were opening those films and renting them to recoup their investment and make a profit.
This is a long way to say that it’s a borderline miracle that an original factory-sealed copy of any movie from this early period of home video still exists, let alone the more popular ones. These things were designed to be opened and consumed, not collected and left unopened on the shelf. This is why I tell people that the earlier the title and the more popular the title, the more it could potentially be worth. There’s a possibility that factory-sealed copies of certain films might not even exist from the earliest days of home video! This makes original releases of films like Halloween, Jaws, Alien, Superman, The Thing, and Star Wars so valuable to collectors. For these VHS tapes, there are only one to five known sealed copies out there currently. Anyone familiar with sealed video games can appreciate what this means when it comes to the potential value in the future.
In 1985 VCR prices began to finally drop and each year saw more and more video stores popping up, so quantities of VHS tapes began to rise to meet that demand. But that doesn’t mean that tapes became less rare or desirable from this time. Anyone who has tried to track down an original factory-sealed copy of The Goonies, Back to the Future, and Gremlins knows how elusive and rare these titles are. Falling prices of VCRs didn’t mean that they were by any means common, though. At the end of 1985, only 28% of households owned a VCR. A couple of years later, this number would balloon to nearly 50% as VHS continued its meteoric rise to rival the toaster as an essential household item. All of this data helps paint a picture of why releases from that first decade of VHS have proven to be so rare and so desired by collectors.