The New York Times' April 13 story about Heritage Auctions
opened with a photo of the 1982 Rocky VHS that sold two months earlier for five figures. The videocassette was also mentioned in the headline: "Yes, People Will Pay $27,500 for an Old Rocky' Tape. Here's Why." In the end, that answer was a simple one provided by Jay Carlson, Heritage's VHS and video tapes consignment director, who, upon discovering a still-sealed copy of Ghostbusters decades after its release, told his wife he was about to begin collecting video tapes ... again. "I was taking a piece of my childhood back," Carlson, a former video-store clerk turned collector, told The Times' David Streitfeld. "These tapes are historical artifacts that have this ability to sweep you back in time to a place that all at once feels miles away and yet somehow like home. I used to think it was just me, but I talk to more and more people getting into this because of that pull."
That pull is why the value of sealed and slabbed videotapes has soared in recent years. And it's the reason Heritage's VHS auctions sell out, from the highest-priced grails (a Superman: The Movie Beta, a drawer-box Star Wars) to that mint-condition copy of the surreal 1986 Rambo cartoon series. Because, in the end, that small box containing that immaculately preserved big-screen memory is still less expensive than a time machine or opening a Blockbuster outpost.
This summer, Heritage offers another opportunity for movie lovers, treasure-hunters, adventure-seekers and childhood chasers to (virtually) browse the aisles alongside old friends with unimpeachable tastes virtually.
The June 29 VHS and Home Entertainment Signature ® Auction brims with classic films in their rarest iterations, among them the only known factory-sealed copy of Blade Runner's first home video release. It's also the first VHS tape graded by Certified Guaranty Company, the third-party grading service long known and respected for certifying comic books, trading cards, video games and concert posters.
Over decades, director Ridley Scott's science-fiction classic starring Harrison Ford as the weary cop assigned to eliminate four escaped Replicants returned to Earth would see at least two dozen more VHS, DVD and Blu-ray releases, many advertised as The Director's Cut, The Final Cut or some other alternate or anniversary edition. But this copy from Embassy Home Entertainment in 1983, just a year after the film's theatrical release ranks among the VHS-collecting community's holiest grails. There's a Rocky here, too, but not just another copy of the same tape that sold in February. Indeed, this is the earliest-known factory-sealed copy of the 1982 drawer-box release, meaning it predates the $27,500 copy Heritage sold earlier this year. The champ is joined by a Rocky II that's similarly the earliest-known factory-sealed copy of its 1982 drawer-box release.
"What's even more amazing," Carlson says, "is that this Rocky and Rocky II come from a consignor who found them at a Goodwill outlet for 49 cents each."
As ever, this is an auction stacked with myriad firsts and earliests and bests, among them:
An elusive, scarce first-release copy of First Blood in the Thorn EMI Video clamshell case, graded IGS Box 9 Mint and Seal 9.5 Gem. Everything about this copy is historic, down to its marked-down sticker (from $79.95 to $9.95!) from Audio/Video Plus, the now-shuttered Houston retailer considered among the earliest home-video rental and retail pioneers.
A first-release Back to the Future from 1986 graded VGA 85, which makes this nicer even than Tom Wilson's copy that sold for $75,000 last summer. One of only three known copies of the original Friday the 13th Betamax gatefold release from 1981.
The original Canadian Betamax release of Jaws bearing the MCA "Rainbow" logo on its cover. Not only is this the first copy Heritage has ever offered, but there's only one known factory-sealed American VHS copy of this film. "This Beta with that iconic logo is the next best thing," Carlson says, "and, I believe, the first to come to market."
An extraordinarily scarce copy of 1983's first release The Wizard of Oz contained in the book box, so named because it looks like a novel when placed on a shelf. Here, too, are early drawer-box copies of four James Bond films: The Man with the Golden Gun, Moonraker, On Her Majesty's Secret Service and You Only Live Twice.
The details are what collectors covet, of course those boxed editions, those drawers, the seals and watermarks. But history collides with happy memory in these auctions, perhaps like few others at Heritage. Look no further than the 1980 copy of Airplane! offered here: It's significant, yes, in that this is the earliest-known VHS copy to come to market and is housed in a Paramount gatefold with its intact watermarks. But look at the price: $29.95 or about $110 in 2023 dollars! And it bears that long-forgotten seal of quality assurance: "Recorded on Scotch Videotape."
And this highly graded Chinatown from 1979 is more than just the earliest known VHS version of Roman Polanski's modern noir to come to market. It's a beautiful showcase for artist Jim Pearsall's poster and a reminder that once upon a time in Hollywood, long movies had to be spread over two videotapes. And why collect just one when you can get the pair?