These days, video barely exists as a physical medium for most Americans. It streams in ultra high-quality through the air, like magic. For decades, though, video came encased in plastic rectangles called VHS tapes, which were played on one of the first classic consumer gadgets: the VCR.
The format was one with surprising longevity, but after nearly 40 years, Ars Technica reports that the last remaining VCR/VHS factory will close up shop. It’s sad, because for those of us who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s, the VHS format was a gateway to a lifelong love of film, and just looking at many of the format’s packaging designs at the Tumblr Vault of VHS –uncovered recently by Coudal Partners–are enough to immediately evoke powerful feelings of nostalgia.
Like most forms of nostalgia, a retrospective fondness of VHS has nothing to do with actual quality. Unlike vinyl, there’s no argument to be made for the VHS format somehow having better quality or warmer sound than digital formats like Blu-Ray, or even HD streaming. Quality-wise, VHS was inferior to Betamax, the video cassette format that it beat as a standard. But the reason VHS beat Betamax is the same reason so many people have such fond memories of the format today: the tape format made it possible to record more than two hours of video, as long as you didn’t mind sacrificing quality. Combine that with the piracy-friendly nature of VHS, which made copying a tape a snap, and it turned out that most VCR owners had an entertainment center stuffed with nine-hour tapes, filled with blurry, bootlegged Full House episodes and former Blockbuster rentals.
Not so surprisingly, then, a lot of the tape designs on Vault of VHSbroadcast their tape’s ability to record 6, 8, 9, even 12 hours of video, all at the highest quality. And it’s amazing how many of these I remember from my own youth. When my parents bought our first VCR for Christmas in 1985, my Dad copied both Gremlins and Critters as a Christmas creature double feature for me on this Maxell GX-Silver tape. I wore out this Scotch 3M tape over the period of a couple of years, endlessly rewatching the original 1933 King Kong which I had taped off PBS. This is the tape I usedto record my 4th grade amateur masterpiece, The Parrot Who Ate Petersberg, starring my family’s red-lored Amazon parrot, Chris, rampaging through a to-scale Lego city on our dining room table. And when I hit puberty, I may very well have had my sexual awakening after a friend slipped me a bootleg Skinemax flick on this Fuji Pro120.
True, there are few–if any–practical reasons to mourn the death of VHS, but I’d bet I’m not the only one out there who would be surprised by the deep well of memories that are sparked by looking over these designs. Short of cassette mixtapes, is there any other retro format as irrationally loved?