contributed by Preston Burt
I?ve got some bad news for you. Despite what you read on Facebook, your Disney videocassette tapes are not worth thousands of dollars. No, not even the ?Rare,? ?Black Diamond? version your parents still have stashed in a closet. Heck, with Urban Outfitters now selling a random 5-pack of tapes for $40, there must be gold in them thar hills, right? It?s true that there are rare VHS tapes that are worth some significant coin in the collector market, but honey, your The Little Mermaid clamshell ain?t one of ?em.
I thought about writing this article a while ago, but after sitting on the idea for a few weeks, I foolishly thought that the spate of misinformation had subsided. However, after my own local and well-respected Atlanta news station published this article I was forced into action. No longer was this some clickbait post aimed at rubes in Podunk, USA. No, this fake news was aimed at my friends and family who were already sharing the lies and dreaming of riches. The time has finally come where I am called upon to put my knowledge of useless ephemera and odd collecting habits to use. Humanity needs me.
To give credit where credit is due, there are some truths embedded in the articles you see aimed at making you think the tapes of your childhood will make you a monocle-wearing VHS baron, but let?s take a look at them and break it all down.
Disney VHS Tapes are being listed on eBay for thousands of dollars.
This is true. There are listings for several Disney videos on eBay. And yes, they are listed for thousands of dollars. But that?s where it stops. They?re only listed for sale at that price. Nobody is actually buying those tapes for the cost of a used 2011 Toyota Camry. I can dig out some bellybutton lint and put it on eBay for $20,000, but that doesn?t mean it?s actually worth that amount. Listing price isn?t the same as selling price. To its credit, the most recent article I found does mention that fact, but the author has to know that the attention-grabbing headline minimizes this very important detail that most social media scrollers will never bother to digest.
You know how convenience stores and bars have ?beer lights? or lighted signs to advertise Coors or Bud? Video stores had lighted signs advertising Disney?s line of ?The Classics.? Here?s one from my personal collection.
Disney has a ?Black Diamond? label.
This is also true. Many of the most popular Walt Disney titles were published or rereleased under a line of tapes that featured a black diamond logo on the spine with the words ?The Classics? emblazoned on top. Unlike the famously valuable upside-down biplane stamp or the F*** Face Billy Ripkin baseball card, these were not mistakenly printed. No, these popular titles were released purposefully. How many? I don?t know. Tens of thousands? Hundreds of thousands? Millions? It?s safe to say? a lot. In fact, I would venture a bet that if you or your family had more than two Disney VHS tapes during the ?90s, at least one of them was of the (insert ominous music) ?Black Diamond? variety.
OK, so if there?s an element of truth to this, then how did it all get started?
Well, there was actually a point in time when certain Disney videos were worth a respectable amount of money. It may be hard to believe, but there was a time period before on-demand streaming allowed you to watch what you want, when you want, and some entertainment properties were hard to come by. In the new millennium, when DVDs were still relatively new to many families, there were many titles that existed only on VHS. Disney actually had a slew of movies and cartoons that a generation of children grew up on that were no longer available (or what we former video store employees called OOP, or out of print).
Sure, some of the classics like Dumbo or Pinocchio had recently been ported over to a new VHS production in the late ?90s, or some, like the previously mentioned The Little Mermaid had actually made the jump to DVD. However, if you wanted to watch Condorman, The Black Hole, or Darby O?Gill and the Little People, you were limited to the first-run VHS clamshells Disney released way back in the early ?80s during the first home video boom.
By that post-millennium DVD era, video stores had mostly gotten rid of those titles, so the only way to ease these nostalgic urges was to hit the collector market. (In 2001, I personally sold a used, original VHS copy of The Gnome Mobile on eBay for close to $300. Not anywhere near the alleged $10,000 these ?Black Diamond? VHS tapes are supposedly commanding, but nothing to sneeze at either.)
These titles would have been long out of print and worth hundreds of dollars in the collector market in the early 2000s, but they weren?t the ?Black Diamond? variety.
Once those lesser-known titles finally made it to DVD, the price of those clunky VHS versions completely bottomed out. Unfortunately, some of that perceived value of VHS tapes gripped a large portion of the population and never let go. People believed they were sitting on a gold mine. The collector community still exists for those hard-to-find movies that still only exist in videocassette form (Remember Rad, anyone?). As those collectors searched listings for a diamond in the rough (no pun intended), they would repeatedly see people who were selling their totally common copies of The Lion King for waaaay too much money. Those frustrated collectors with useless listings clogging up their searches reacted the only way they could: with humor and a little bit of trolling.
It?s unclear when, but in an attempt to poke fun at these ludicrous values placed on copies of 101 Dalmatians and The Rescuers Down Under, collectors started posting fake eBay listings for these supposedly ?rare? VHS movies for hundreds and even thousands of dollars. They even added to the mystique of these ?priceless wonders? (of which millions of Americans owned at least 3 each) by designating them with the exclusive sounding ?Black Diamond? moniker. However, instead of recognizing a joke, ordinary people saw these listings and thought that they too should get in on the action. Though the jokesters are probably long gone, we are now in a continuous cycle of people trying to sell their dollar-bin movies for exorbitant prices, while ?journalists? pick up the story of ordinary people potentially sitting on a VHS goldmine. And that?s it.
Walt Disney knows the appeal and nostalgia of their clamshell VHS tapes. A few years ago, they even sent promotional copies of the new Pete?s Dragon remake to press in VHS-style clamshells that contained digital codes. Here, the original release is on the left with the new promo on the right.
For what it?s worth, I still collect VHS tapes. There are still plenty of movies (especially really quirky ones) that were only ever released on the now-dead format. With most VHS tapes available in thrift store bins for a dollar or less, it is a hobby that provides a great ?thrill of the hunt? vibe while being an affordable access to entry. Unfortunately, if you?re looking to get rich, VHS tapes aren?t your answer. If you grew up watching any of those ?Black Diamond? Disney movies, the value isn?t in the tape itself but rather the (hopefully) fond memories you have watching them.
Those? Yep. They?re priceless.