On May 31 of this year, someone paid $13,220 for an original MEDA VHS video tape of John Carpenter’s Halloween.
No, that’s not a joke.
Well, it might be a hoax, but more on that later. For now, we have to assume, since the eBay item page is still up, that it really happened.
I think I know the question that’s lingering on your lips: “Why the heck would ANYONE pay $13,000 for a video tape!?”
I know. It seems crazy to me, too. And I collect the silly things.
$13,000 for any video tape is shocking. To my knowledge, in the public market, no video tape has ever sold for more than $1,000. It would not surprise me to hear that the tape had sold for a few hundred dollars, though, which it had legitimately done before on eBay.
Still, why would an inferior presentation of a movie that is readily available on every digital format, in far better picture and sound, sell for even hundreds of dollars? I’m not exactly sure, to be honest, but I can start to understand it when I apply the same logic to my own specialty: rare books.
Why does a first edition of The Great Gatsby in the original dust jacket sell for more than $100,000 when I can just go buy a paperback for $2 at my local used bookstore?
Answer (maybe): The Great Gatsby has a strong argument for status as the Great American Novel. It is very important. Plus, the first printing of the first edition is extraordinarily rare, and even more extraordinarily rare if it has the original first printing dust jacket.
So, from this line of thinking, it’s not ridiculous to me that an original VHS tape of Halloween would sell really well.
First of all, the MEDA release is the very first appearance of Halloween on any home video format. In bookspeak, it’s a first edition. Secondly, it’s REALLY, EXTRAORDINARILY rare. Thirdly, it’s HALLOWEEN!
Though some would argue a few other titles, I think Halloween is the foundational horror movie for the video era. It’s the first modern horror movie, or at least the most successful and far-reaching horror film to have been released since the advent of home video. So, if there is such a thing as collecting early VHS tapes, which there is, it stands to reason that Halloween would be a high point, perhaps THE highpoint, the Great Gatsby of VHS.
But John Carpenter’s immortal slasher masterpiece is not the only rare tape that sells for hundreds on eBay. After a cursory search, and not counting autographed video boxes or group lots, the current eBay searchable archive (which shows the past few months, I believe) shows seventeen single VHS sales results over $200, more than 60 results between $100 and $200, and hundreds of results between $20 and $100.
So, OK, the price point is not exactly rare coins, comics, jewelry, vintage cars, and the like, but to a small base of passionate, perhaps even sometimes psychotically devoted fans, early and rare VHS cinema matters greatly right now (and really always has).
Genre film fans who might want to own a tape like this first issue of Halloween are starting to come into their earning years, when disposable income means more than just the money they drink away or smoke after they’ve borrowed it from their parents. Video kids are starting to make their own money, or at least disposable income of some variety, and those with the collecting gene have turned to many things: comic books, signed movie memorabilia, original comic and illustration art, and also rare video tapes.
Of course, not all collectors play on the same field. Some VHS tapeheads have a lot of money to spend, and they buy what they want, when they want. But, as in any collecting field, there are also those collectors who, shall we say, buy more selectively. To them, spending $82 on a rare VHS copy of the shot-on-video slasher sleazefest, Streets of Death can represent a relatively large percentage of their disposable income, especially to buy something on what is perceived to be a dead format (it’s not, though, otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing this and you wouldn’t be reading it).
So, they (we) must love the movies, right? They (We) must be passionate about the material, or they (we) wouldn’t pay real money for these tapes. So, I think it starts with a passion for the movies. These are not simple commodities. People aren’t in it for the money. The people who buy these tapes WATCH these tapes, and they watch them, trade them, and sell them tirelessly. It’s simply a demand-driven business, and the demand is high.
So, what’s in demand? Find out tomorrow in the second part of this blog post, where we’ll also discuss in more detail the WHY…
By Joe Fay