The auction world provides a unique opportunity to see just what people value these days, and exactly how much they value it—and some new categories of collectibles entering the auction fray have exploded from seemingly nowhere, like a sudden demand for VHS tapes seen by Heritage Auctions in Dallas, Texas.
Heritage previously only peddled in coins, comics, movie posters, and sports paraphernalia, but the company has vastly expanded their offerings in recent years to reflect a new world of buyers that sees a far wider range of items as valuable. The company made $1.4 billion in revenue last year off its 1.6 million bidders, per the New York Times, and VHS tapes have been a surprisingly competitive part of their offerings. The company hosted its first auction dedicated only to VHS tapes in June 2022, hosted by tape enthusiast Jay Carlson, and it brought in over half a million dollars. In February, a set of factory-sealed Rocky tapes—Rocky I, Rocky II, and Rocky III, purchased for $60 each back in 1982—sold at auction for $53,750. Carlson estimates that a sealed first-release Raiders of the Lost Ark tape will hammer down for around $20,000 when it goes up for auction later this year.
“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,” Carlson told the Times of what he believes is behind the newfound demand for these tapes. “I used to think it was just me, but I talk to more and more people getting into this because of that pull.”
As Heritage sees big wins from capitalizing on nostalgia among its bidders, it’s gotten more inventive than ever about what might be considered valuable: It is now auctioning off Vegas casino chips, for example, with some Heritage staffers noting that undiscovered items with genuine historical value have largely run dry in today’s world, and that they’ve started to actively hunt for items that have emotional value as well as those with ties to famous people or events. The company struck gold a few years back by auctioning off Super Mario Bros. game cartridges after an original Super Mario game copy sold on eBay in 2017 for $30,000. Four years later, Heritage sold a sealed “Super Mario 64” cartridge for $1.56 million, breaking the record for the most ever spent on a single video game at auction.
Heritage is making a strategy of seeing what other knickknacks might be considered high-value collectibles in today’s world, and the addition of VHS tapes to their offerings seems to be another undiscovered gold mine. Auctions are still the best-known way to get your hands on a piece of history, and that isn’t changing: but, given time’s relentless march, it’s wise to reconsider year after year what might be considered history today.