Sales of VHS tapes in Australia are nearly doubling year on year as global collectors pay big bucks for rare tapes that would otherwise have been sent to landfill.

Online retailer eBay reported a recent surge in the popularity of retro video cassettes, many of which were old rentals.

“Right now, VHS tapes are up 83% year-over-year, compared to an 11% increase for DVDs and Blu-ray discs,” eBay Australia spokeswoman Sophie Onikul said.

While the films hadn’t been released on video in over 15 years, collectors perhaps driven by nostalgia were bringing the medium back to life – with rare editions like Disney’s Aladdin Black Diamond fetching up to $1,500 on the platform.

Warehouse VHS Graveyard Discovered

A warehouse in suburban Perth had become the graveyard for thousands of VHS tapes discarded after video rental shops closed.

VHS has long been replaced by many formats like DVD, Blu-Ray and now streaming.(ABC News: Gian De Poloni)

But it’s become a treasure trove of potentially valuable titles for collectors around the world.

The tapes are owned by Brent Scotchmer and Jenilee ‘JT’ Thompson, nostalgia enthusiasts who run a small online business from the warehouse where they sort, photograph, index and sell the tapes.

The couple said they have seen unprecedented demand for their VHS collection, with some of their rarest tapes fetching up to $400 online.

A man in a black shirt and a woman in a colorful mickey mouse t-shirt stand among piles of video tapes
Brent Scotchmer and his business partner JT acquired around 25,000 tapes in a private sale via Facebook.(ABC News: Gian De Poloni)

They stumbled upon the tapes at a private video rental sale last year and ended up with around 25,000 titles.

“Not only were there 10 or 15,000 DVDs in the back of this house that they had to get rid of, but there were three bedrooms stacked on the ceiling with video tapes,” Mr Scotchmer said.

Avid collector JT, who regularly attends trades, said she suspected there was money to be made selling the tapes.

“As we were going through this collection, we just saw all these titles that we knew would make money,” she said.

The revival of VHS in the age of streaming

But Mr Scotchmer said he was surprised at the demand for the old tapes.

“It’s new to me that they [VHS tapes] have some value,” Mr. Scotchmer said.

“I just thought, ‘Well, I don’t want these things ending up in the landfill. »

“There’s a small group of people who are just rabid fans and really pay a lot of money to have them in their collections.”

A man wearing a black t-shirt stands in the middle of a pile of colorful video tapes
Brent Scotchmer runs the online business from a vacant part of his warehouse in Maddington.(ABC News: Gian De Poloni)

But in an age where the media is so easily accessible, what is the appeal?

Mr. Scotchmer suggested it was pure nostalgia.

“Some of these movies are available on newer media formats, but people want them on VHS, they want the old box, and they want the original artwork.

“It’s not the same when you’re sitting on your couch scrolling through Netflix for 10 or 15 minutes looking for something to watch.

A video store seen through the window
A typical video rental shop from the ‘golden age’ of VHS – Video Focus in Victoria Park, Perth in 1988.(Provided: State Library of Western Australia)

“It’s not the same as getting out in the car and mom saying, ‘We’re going to have a new version and the kids can have the five weeklies that come with the $12 package.’

“It was the artwork on the cover that really sold you, and it really looked like it was going to be awesome.”

Sort treasure waste

If you thought you could be sitting on gold with that dusty box of VHS tapes in your shed, think again.

Mr Scotchmer said certain attributes distinguished gold from trash.

“We found stuff like Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween movies and some of those things, they have real nostalgia value, especially for people who grew up watching those old horror movies.”

He said there was a lot of material that just wasn’t available on another format.

A stack of video tapes stacked in a warehouse
A delicate balance between nostalgia and limited production sets VHS trash and treasure apart.(ABC News: Gian De Poloni)

“Most people would imagine that whatever was released was released on DVD at some point,” he said.

“But after going through some of this stuff, I think we find that a lot of movies and TV shows have been made, and not everything has been transferred.”

JT said something mass-produced, like Jaws or Home Alone, probably wouldn’t be worth much.

The exterior of an empty video library building
One of Australia’s oldest video stores, Civic Video in Bunbury, sits empty after finally closing in 2019.(ABC Southwest: Jacquie Lynch)

But a rare VHS copy of the cult 1980s horror film Sleepaway Camp that the couple found in their warehouse was recently sold to a collector in the United States for $300.

“There’s potential for thousands and thousands. It really depends on that collector,” JT said.

“Some titles completely surprised us, we just didn’t expect them to buy such high dollars and then ship to Germany, UK.”

Although they may not make a lot of money, the self-help and porn genres have marked a moment in time.

“We found promotional tapes released by Philips on how to trim dad’s beard,” Mr Scotchmer said.

A close up of a video tape by Dr Harry Cooper 'Buying and Caring for Your Kitten'
A videotape signed by Dr Harry Cooper ‘Buying and Caring for your Kitten’.(ABC News: Gian De Poloni)

“Because that was the case if you were going to spend a few hundred dollars on the latest beard trimmer in 1995, people didn’t know how to use it and there was no YouTube back then to research how do these things.

“We found ‘how to wear makeup’, ‘how to take care of your kitten’, all kinds of weird stuff.”

VHS revival or nostalgic novelty?

Despite the renewed interest, Mr Scotchmer said he doubted the videotapes would be back in retail stores anytime soon.

A close up of a black VHS cassette player
VCRs are well and truly a thing of the past, with new media playback technology replacing the old format.(ABC News: Gian De Poloni)

“Vinyl is having a resurgence because they’re developing the players, they’re getting the technology to make the old vinyl sound really, really good with the new technology – but VHS doesn’t really have that.

“A lot of collectors still have a big old CRT TV and they use it to watch VHS because that’s exactly how it was supposed to be watched – it’s new to them.”