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  • Writer's pictureJim Rex

Collecting VHS in the Good Old Daze!

Collecting VHS in the Good Old Daze!

Jim Rex

I'm gonna take you back what seems a couple hundred years to the glorious decade that was the '80s. I know, things weren't anymore perfect then than they are now, but they were good times if you were of a certain age, you didn't have to work and pay real bills and you had all the time in the world to watch movies.

I had always collected comic books and then horror comic magazines (like the Warren titles and some Marvel scary funnies) and horror movie magazines. (Again, I started with Warren's Famous Monsters but felt more comfortable once Fangoria came into my life.)

Collecting movies was unheard of. I figured collecting movies was just seeing them a bunch of times at the theater or on late night TV until you could recite all the dialogue. It was collected in your brain.

Home video was around in the form of 8mm silent highlight reels, but I could never convince my parents into investing in that endeavor. At one point my dad said, "Why would I give you money to go to the movies if you could just watch movies at home?" He had a point, but I have no idea what his point was.

Then the Video Cassette Recorder (VCR) was invented and we were off and running! We built collections by recording movies off of TV, Network and Cable. We recorded our favorite shows and put them aside and never found time to watch them until they were off the air years later. Or, we would record every episode religiously and not watch them until we had the whole season recorded.

It was a wonderous time, my friends. I get misty eyed thinking about it. It seemed like everything was new and fresh and I was at an age that I learned it easy enough as each new gadget was invented.

It seemed like it was never going to end.

After a while, video stores started selling off their old stock, tapes that now just collected dust on the bottom shelves. Stores lived on constantly renting out titles and there was no room to waste on videos that did not get checked out. They were first sold as "used," and then rebranded as "previously viewed."

*Full disclosure, I do not own the above photo and I do not know who does. I do not know who this woman is or what video shop it is. I do know that it is one of my favorite images of the old mom 'n pop video stores and it encapsulates the era perfectly. I am including it here in its historical context to illustrate the time, until my bosses make me take it down.

You could buy a discontinued tape from a video shop for ten to twenty bucks and back then, that was a good deal, as most tapes sold new for upward sixty or seventy bucks!

Then the CBS Video Club came along. I don't remember the history, but I'm sure I can look on the internet and get someone's interpretation of it. But it was either a separate club or became Columbia House, I don't remember. Maybe I belonged to both. Maybe my old brain is making some of that up. Point being, you could now buy movies for $4.95 a piece by joining a club and promising to buy 5 more tapes over the course of a couple years for $29.95 a piece.

Colombia House had been around forever. Again, you can look it up and find some interpretation of its history online. It began as an album club, then as each new technology was invented, it offered that new tech in a new club; reel to reel, 8-Track and cassettes. It was a quick and easy way to catch up on all those Best of Abba/ Linda Ronstadt/ Jerry Reed/ Boxcar Willie releases for a cheap price.

Then video came along and Colombia offered VHS and Beta through the mail, it was followed by Laser Discs, 8mm and finally DVD.

After you joined, each month you'd get a flyer of new releases. This was in the early days, remember, so it was everything NEW to the Format. New movies that finished their theatrical runs months (or sometimes years) earlier, and old classics/reliable titles getting their first release on the little black box. If you were a film fan, you could spend hours looking through the catalog and talking yourself out of spending your next eight allowances on one new release.

Where Colombia House really excelled was their releases of old TV shows. They were the first company putting out copies of uncut episodes of Star Trek, The Twilight Zone and I Love Lucy. (And by uncut, I mean not shortened any seconds that stations cut to add on more commercials for local used car salesman and BBQ joints and such.) And the early TV-sets were beautiful. The tape was inside a custom oversized box with a cardboard foldout that gave you all the information about each episode on the tape. You couldn't find better.

It was a grand time. The best was getting that introductory box of tapes. Talk about a mail day! Brand new video cassette tapes, still factory sealed, owned by one person and that person was you, son! Many a day, after waiting weeks for an order to arrive, I would blow off school or my part time job to stay home and watch whatever showed up in the mail box. (On the flipside, if you forgot to mail back the card stating you did not want the featured title of the month or anything else, the cold icy grip of terror would seize your heart when an unknown package of tapes showed up!)

The best was when you got a big old fat envelope in the mail, the kind of junk mail that would make Herschel Gordon Lewis envious, and it would be from Colombia House but it was the giant sheet with the stickers. Man, who doesn't love stickers?! Hundreds of tiny VHS boxes. You went through and pulled loose the titles you wanted, licked the backs and filled out the sheet, then went back and tore some off when you realized you wanted that copy of The Right Stuff way more than you wanted Against All Odds. Or did you? Oh, no! There's Chariots of Fire! (I always appreciated the sticker sign up- as it was interactive and you could lick things. We don't lick anything anymore. No one has to lick streaming.)

It's a part of history that I miss. It was a grand time. If you were there, you know what I'm talking about. If you weren't, you can never understand it.

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