Visiting the VHS Swap Meet

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I want to call these guys hopeless hipsters, but really I get it. I like horror movies too, and VHS really is the best format for a certain type of horror flick. Cheesy low-budget SFX just aren’t made for hi-def.


Oh boy. The gold rush is on!

Since VHS tapes degrade, especially if stored incorrectly, how long can these be expected to last?

At the other end of the spectrum are consumer formats like VHS, which start to degrade within 10-25 years. Most of the video tapes manufactured in the 1970s and 1980s tend to be more durable than the thinner and cheaper tapes that flooded the market in the 1990s and are still sold new today. There are also various grades of VHS tape, from standard consumer, to advanced consumer, to professional and broadcast grades; the particle density and tape perfection being the primary discrimination between the grades.

The older a tape gets, the more likely it will face problems like oxide shedding and tape-eating bacteria. The replay count will also affect the level of degradation.



DVD collecting I can understand. But was there ever really anything good about VHS? VHS always struck me as the 8-track tape of video formats - loved by no one, and abandoned by everyone the instant a better solution came along.

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That must explain the ubiquity of both formats for a couple decades, everyones indifference.


It let you record live broadcasts. Before DVRs, that was all you had. It freed you from being a slave to the broadcast schedule. That was HUGE.


I never had a VHS movie until 2004. I got a DVD player in the fall of 2003, and happy with CDs, DVD seemed a more viable medium, besides it took up less space. But never having paid attention to recorded movies until then, I saw that VHS was on its way out, which meant good prices. So I found a used VCR for $20 at a garage sale, in the box with remote an manual, which meant I could buy those clearance VHS. Even then they were a dollar or two at book sales and garage sales. I was buying some DVDs, but did I want to spend ten or fifteen dollars on some hit film that I just wanted to watch once? Actually, for the price I was getting lots of interesting films, coming back from used book sales with 20 or 30 at a time. And there were good films, I got “2001” on VHS, then shortly after found a good price for it on DVD, I lost little by buying used VHS first. And slowly more classics appeared, there were already used DVDs but the common movies.

Then DVDs got cheap on the used market, two or even one dollar, so less reason to buy VHS unless something I really wanted. I kind of stopped about three years ago, more than one with a problem at one library sale. I have bought a few since, but I’ve also found them cheap on DVD before I watched the VHS version. So finding “Private Benjamin” and the “Snows of Kilimanjaro” on VHS was great, but within a year I had both on DVD. I’ve replaced a good number of VHS films on DVD, buying used, but there are some that I’ve yet to find used on DVD but are worth moving to DVD, used if I find them, new when I get around to it.

I thought of getting a blu-ray player, useful to have as those got cheaper, might as well buy Blu-ray if the price is about the same as DVD. But I found a Blu-ray player on the sidewalk about five years ago, cleaning the lens got it going fine on blu-ray. And even Blu-ray show up at book and garage sales, or bargain bins at the drugstore, no real premium price, and ironically sometimes including a DVD copy.

I have no nostalgia for VHS, it wasn’t a part of growing up, except I remember the first time someone I knew got one in 1980. And I don’t buy horror films. VHS was just a cheap way of seeing films, now made obsolete by used DVDs being as cheap.

And as I spent more time with DVD, maybe especially after the switch to DTV, I had less tolerance for grainy VHS, though I admit some if that graininess ks likely because they were well watched before I bought them.

The good thing is that in recent years the used CD field has changed. Gone are the times when the used CDs were last month’s big seller, and generic music. I find things I want, helped by a desire to find music I heard on the radio in the seventies but never bought. So I got a “Heart” collection in June, a stand in in for their first album, and only a dollar. Yes, I have it on record, but it’s too much trouble, and I have no nostalgia for records either. In April I read something about Buffy St Marie and thought about getting the record out, etc, or buying on CD and whamo, at a use book sale was the collection I had on CD, plus a second volume. I even found “Go To Heaven” on CD a few years back, the one Grateful Dead studio album I never bought.

So there’s some good news even if most of the CD/DVD stores are gone.


Yes, the cheapness of VHS. Around Denver, used VHS tapes are pretty uniformly 49 cents, so the only real cost is whether you want to commit the time to watch it. I’ve got some pretty obscure stuff on VHS, that I doubt if anyone ever bothered to re-master onto DVD.

I bought one of those ‘Go Video’ combination DVD/VHS players in 2004, or so. I figured it would last about a year. It’s still going!

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I was introduced to a lot of good, cheesy, low-budget horror on VHS when we were living in Iowa City and had a sort of arty, kitschy kind of rental place nearby in the '90s.

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