creative commons licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Ludovico Sinz [Cane Rosso (busy!)]

The genre geek that I am, I used to frequent Star Trek and Comic Con conventions in the early 1990s. I love the fandom that exists in cosplay or the stockpiling of toys/action cards – but by far my favorite fans were the ones that would amass collections of VHS tapes of TV shows that you otherwise could not find anywhere else. These ‘collectors’ would lovingly tape every episode of TV shows that were only on broadcast TV and could not be found in any video store. They would expertly cut out all the commercials using DIY tape-to-tape setups which allow you to enjoy each episode uninterrupted.

A good example was the Japanese anime import G-Force, broadcast in the USA as Battle of the Planets during the late 70s and early 80s. I loved that show and made sure to watch every episode every Saturday morning. And that was the event, you couldn’t see it again! But one day why meeting a few nice klingons and ferengi, I found a tape collector that had all 85 episodes of G-Force on seven SLP recorded VHS tapes. At six hours a tape, that’s 42 hours of G-Force for the low, low price of $20. SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!

These collections have become obsolete in today’s internet where I can easily find every episode of the original G-Force on one person’s Youtube channel. Or you can actually buy an authorized distributed version on DVD of either the USA release or the Japanese. So what became of all that VHS? Dumped onto the trash heap of obsolete technologies?

Some of these collectors I believe have actually found gold in the commercials that existed between every episode segment. And they have turned Youtube channels into absolutely incredible archives of the history of mass advertising. Brendan’s Commercials has literally hundreds of spots from the 80s and the 90s – vitamin enriched white bread,  jokes about communist Russia while selling beer, or how about a professional athlete telling you not to do drugs.

These collections made public become archives of sorts that often are much bigger and discoverable than academic archives such as Duke University’s 240 spot collection. The quality of the meta-data that exists with the spots in a Youtube channel can’t compare, but the quality and quantity artifacts themselves and the commitment to preserve and present them is praiseworthy. There are dozens of amateur archivists out there amassing collections and categorizing them and presenting them online.

I have a habit of tagging archives I find and stories about archives in my Diigo social bookmark account. It’s a combination of respected archives, sometimes being made public for the first time, and many of the these described public collectors. Favorites include Christine’s Flickr archive of fashion photography dating back to the 1900s. She creates albums by decades, designers, photographers, models, and more. It’s extraordinary. Also there’s Wishbook, who has lovingly scanned catalogs from large retailers like Sears and Montgomery Ward from years dating back to the 1950s. It’s amazing to see how products for the masses were presented in a condensed format to be consumed quickly and result in actual purchases. It’s truly a pre-cursor to the Amazon of today. And finally there’s the sub-reddit dedicated to surfacing many of these gems, Obscure Media. If you’d like to find a random and interesting piece of media from our culture, start there.