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The eBay Market

You should be aware that there is a market for original home movies on the popular auction site, eBay.

CHM strongly advocates for the conservation of original home movies within the home, expressed most simply in the mantra Keep your Originals! But you should be aware that films often sell for surprisingly high prices at auction, if only to anticipate the possibility that an unscrupulous transfer service might offer to “dispose of” your old movies now that they’ve provided you a “new” and “better” DVD, or simply neglect to return your originals unless you ask for them — only to put them up for sale unbeknownst to you.

However, your films are your property, and if you should wish to sell them you will find a fairly alert contingent of stock footage merchants, local historians, and collectors ready to bid on your  films.  Some buyers bid most eagerly on “mystery lots” of film, for which only minimal information is offered, typically buying larger quantities of unknown footage for lower prices that may yield unanticipated treasures, while others prefer to bid top dollar only if they can seen images from the films that prove their image quality and content value.

What subjects are of most value?  It can be very difficult to predict.  Collectors focus on a whole range of idiosyncratic interests — railroad enthusiasts go after your trains, while Disneyland aficionados bid up 50’s Kodachrome of the Mouse.  Historians hope to piece together the various Worlds Fairs from every conceivable angle, while pop culture fans just love to find any footage with glorious 50’s signage in the background.  Local history buffs may bid on absolutely anything that happens to fall within their country lines.  If a film falls within the purview of any two determined bidders, a single reel might go for $250 — while if it had been listed a week later when one of the bidders happened to be on holiday it might have fetched only $25.

While cultural historians often find the sale of primary source artifacts like home movies on a site like eBay distasteful, awareness that films have cash value at auction has undoubtedly kept thousands of films out of dumpsters and landfills as scavengers perceive their value and a ready market for selling them.  Also, while it sometimes seems tragic when an eBay seller splits up a single collection into multiple lots, breaking up a coherent whole of historical significance into fragments never to be reunited, other, less tightly-related film collections perhaps benefit posterity by being routed to several individuals and organizations most intently interested in particular subject matter of the separate reels.  If your hope is to pass along your films to posterity as a coherent whole, you should find an archive to donate to, since even if you sell it as a whole on ebay, the wining bidder may simply break up the collection for re-sale if there is a profit to be made at it.

And remember — originals are unique and irreplaceable.  DVD’s and hard drives are no more permanent than VHS tapes.