Rewinding Back to the Natural Magic of Handwritten VHS Labels

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Rewinding Back to the Natural Magic of Handwritten VHS Labels

By Josh Schafer


Few forsaken objects hold as much nostalgia power as the VHS tape. More than just the object itself, it’s the experiences involving this so-called obsolete piece of media that power this nearly nuclear level of nostalgia.  It’s evident in mass media, advertising, major merchandising, and even in people’s basements (where numerous nostalgiacs are building basement video stores), that a VHS revival is already here, and it’s only getting more play.


There’s always been the relatively small yet powerfully passionate pledges of long-running underground VHS culture (e.g. online Facebook groups, Instagram feeds aplenty, and dedicated VHS-driven entities such as us) but it’s readily apparent that the love for VHS is solidified and is pressing fast forward on expansion. As of 2021, it’s clear that VHS’ incredible cultural impact and inherently flawed yet retrospectively pleasing aesthetics will forever influence us, even after being taken to the dump by society at large.


 Image courtesy of @gabagool


Even with the abundance of VHS love sprawling from seemingly every direction, there is an often overlooked and ostensibly ordinary aspect to VHS that doesn’t get enough attention, and yet it offers a unique window into the people (i.e. us) that used it. It perhaps provides the most potently personal connection to VHS, and spells out our most cherished memories tied to it.


Handwritten labels.




We explored a smattering of handwritten labels in our book STUCK ON VHS, but that was limited to specimens found in video store settings. There’s another world of handwritten VHS label intrigue, and it came from our own living rooms.



Image courtesy of @thewallofvhs



It could be your Mom’s handwriting on a home movie from your third grade play, or your next-door neighbor’s scrawled rendition of the Robocop logo, taped off of cable for your older brother and traded for a six-pack. The beauty part is, it could be anything.





In ways, these home-dubbed, handwritten tapes have the ability to tell stories. These handwritten interpretations, introductions, and representations of distant, fuzzy, and perpetually warm memories could be the only remaining instance of someone’s handwriting.  They may serve as a rewind-inclined reminder of a person: their interests, tastes, and inclinations. It a small yet sweet way, they are an extension of whoever wrote the label.



 Image courtesy of @new_worldvision_order


It’s certain that handwriting has the power to show people’s personalities. Studies show. Spelling, grammar, neatness, cataloging criteria, style, mixed with what’s recorded on a tape: It all tells a story. Whether it’s that poignant connection to tapes your Grandpa used to record off of TV, or the incredible curiosity of someone’s mind-melting (and mildly inappropriate) taped-from-cable quadruple feature, with titles misspelled to perfection. These are pieces of video ephemera that deserve to be looked at with a more curious eye.


 Image courtesy of @new_worldvision_order


Are we over-romanticizing this? A cynic might smirk and nod. Let’s just say that charm doesn’t appear on every home-recorded VHS label – and there’s something to say for the thrilling game of rewind roulette that is popping in an unmarked videocassette.


 Image courtesy of @thewallofvhs


But let’s also say that there’s beauty and wonder were you look for it. And for so many of these handwritten labels, there’s often a spark of personality, a curious mark, or some sort of hidden story with them. At the very least, it makes you wonder: who’s the person that made this Crocodile Dundee, NOES 3: Dream Warriors and Carrie triple-feature, and can we party with you?



If you have some favorite handwritten labels you’d like to VHShare, post up on social media with the hashtag #handwrittenVHS, and tell us your story! We can’t wait to VHSee ‘em, Tapeheads!  


Groove and Groove and Reach Out and Rewind Someone.

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