HOW THREE ‘ROCKY’ VIDEOTAPES BECAME THE CENTERPIECES OF HERITAGE’S FEBRUARY 17 VHS EVENT
By Robert Wilonsky
The man eventually known as “Bubba” Kroeger was born on Christmas Day 1982 in Indianapolis. Shortly after the blessed event, Bubba’s father, James, bought a small gift for his newborn son: Life magazine’s annual “The Year in Pictures” issue so his boy could one day see all the events that had transpired during the year of his birth. If nothing else, James says now, “I thought it would be a nice memento.” It turned out to be the snowball that became an avalanche.
In the days following his son’s birth, James asked friends to name a common thing in 1982 that “would seem archaic or unique in the year 2022.” He intended to assemble a time capsule Bubba could open 40 years later.
Into a large steamer trunk, James piled everything he could think of: copies of newspapers, magazines, catalogs, almanacs, road maps, a program for the Kentucky Derby. James, who worked for IBM, included a brochure for its new 3084 Processor Complex, “its most powerful computer,” alongside videotapes of the Super Bowl, news broadcasts and the top 10 TV shows of 1982. He threw in everything and anything he could think of – from a paycheck stub to a Rubik’s Cube, E.T. toys (and a shooting script!) and a Darth Vader action figure to a pair of Jordache jeans (“because designer jeans were quite the thing in 1982”), complete sets of Topps cards to a letter written by an IBM colleague about life in 1982.
Feb. 17, 2023
He included, too, a VHS copy of the year’s third-highest-grossing film: Rocky III, which James loved because “it was typical Americana, the success story of the underdog.” He thought Bubba might want to see the first two Rocky films, too, so he bought those on VHS from an appliance store with a small home-video section. He recalls paying $60 for each of the three Rocky movies, which he left sealed in the steamer trunk in anticipation of Bubba’s 40th birthday.
Then, just last year, James saw a television news piece about how collectors were turning their attention, and wallets, to sealed VHS tapes fueled by rarity and nostalgia. He went to the steamer trunk, collected Sly Stallone’s taped trilogy and called Heritage Auctions’ VHS and Home Entertainment Consignment Director Jay Carlson.
“I told James those are currently the only known factory-sealed copies of the first Rocky releases out there,” Carlson says.
These tapes stashed away decades ago in that extraordinary time capsule were something those of us in the longtime collecting community had been chasing.”
–Jay Carlson, VHS and Home Entertainment Consignment Director, Heritage Auctions
All three are the original drawer-box copies, which makes them “true holy grails of VHS releases,” Carlson says of the Rockys that each came back from VGA graded 85 Near Mint+. Carlson told James those long-ago $60 purchases were now quite valuable, possibly worth upwards of $25,000. Each.
James was – pardon – knocked out by the news and decided to send Carlson his copies of Rocky, Rocky II and Rocky III, which now serve as the centerpieces of Heritage’s February 17 VHS and Home Entertainment Signature® Auction. They will have plenty of company: The event features numerous coveted, one-of-a-kind, highly graded rarities – some 240 objets d’art once meant to be unwrapped, popped in the VCR and watched until the tape wore out.
“I was thrilled to get that call from James, to find out these Rockys were out there – something I might have considered unfathomable before he reached out,” Carlson says. “These tapes stashed away decades ago in that extraordinary time capsule were something those of us in the longtime collecting community had been chasing. And to have them just show up one day was extraordinary.
“But that’s one of the great pleasures – and thrills – that comes with this new category. What had once been set aside and maybe even forgotten about has become valuable to the collector for whom these VHS tapes have become artifacts, pieces of history with those covers that transport us to that first time we could own a movie and watch it as much as we wanted. Most of the VHS tapes here are from that moment – before Blockbuster, before tapes were mass-manufactured, before they were discarded and disposable. Everyone remembers and loves these things, and it has been a real thrill to see people rediscover that all over again when they hold a sealed, slabbed memory.”
No home-video auction would be complete without the most sought-after totems of the so-called VHS Generation: Star Wars, the title long chased after by collecting neophytes and cagey veterans. And here are two such desired pieces:
One of only four known sealed copies of the 1983 Star Wars drawer-box release, graded 85+ NM+, and a shrink-wrapped VGA 85 NM+ Star Wars Trilogy three-pack released in 1988 by CBS Fox. The latter is among the rarest releases: the theatrical versions of Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi bound only by a cardboard sleeve. Nathan Butler, host of the YouTube series From the Star Wars Home Video Library, once called this three-pack “something so hard to find I never thought I could add it to my collection.” The trilogy in this auction is one of fewer than 10 known sealed collections.
Browsing this auction is even more fun than faded memories of strolling through the video store on a Friday night in 1983.
Here’s a stunning 1986 VHS copy of The Goonies bearing the coveted white wraparound Warner Home Video watermarks and graded an all-around 9.5 GEM by IGS. And a rare original Canadian VHS release of Raiders of the Lost Ark graded VGA 85 NM+. And the only known Beta copy of Superman: The Movie’s first release with an overall grade of 80 NM by VGA. And the first releases of The Terminator and The Karate Kid, two different Pepsi promo-only copies of Top Gun, a two-tape Beta copy of The Godfather from 1979 and one of the few known sealed 1980 book-box copies of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
On every shelf, around every corner, is an attraction – most decades old, some relatively recent. Here, for instance, from 2016 – an entire decade after the last VHS release hit stores – is a VHS Deadpool signed by Ryan Reynolds. There were but 100 of these ever made, and all were given out at the San Diego Comic-Con to lucky recipients who also bought Deadpool on Blu-ray.
All those and more than 200 more tapes will join James Kroeger’s Rockys in the ring next month. Incidentally, Bubba Kroeger doesn’t know anything about those tapes – or that his dad has decided to put them into this auction. But it’s doubtful he will mind when he finds out.
“It will be a nice surprise for my son,” James says. “I don’t want to count any chickens before they hatch. But any profit from this just adds a little juice to my grandchildren’s college fund. And that will feel good.”
ROBERT WILONSKY is a staff writer at Intelligent Collector.