The Half-Assed Guide to VHS Print Dates
Updated: Jan 16
Have you ever wondered what the bottom label information on your video cassettes mean? Would you like to know what the imprinting that reads “DLX/137” refers to? Do you want to know what VHS print dates are and how you can find them? Well, too bad, there’s hardly any information on any kind of search engine apart from some YouTube videos—and even then they barely feature any help or have some contradictory information. But now, you’ll be able to get at least some useful information, mainly based upon guessing, and even I’m not entirely sure if my conclusions are 100% correct. So, until such a time more information becomes readily available, discover what print dates are and how to possibly find them on your cassettes (if you have any) in…
I have always been interested in viewing the opening (and sometimes closing) sections of VHS tapes online, even more so after receiving a VHS-to-digital converter for Christmas 2015. If you’ve ever noticed in the descriptions of YouTube videos featuring such content, they usually reference something called a print date, like “Print date: December 16, 1991” or “Print date: Ninth week of 2002.” For the longest time, I’ve had no idea what this meant or how this information was acquired. Not even a basic Google search produced any weblinks to help out. Nor even a Bing search! Or a Yahoo search! Later, I figured out myself that “print date” refers to the date which the specific copy of the tape was made. Now the question was how to find them on tapes.
The only results that proved to be useful were some YouTube videos (many of which are now unavailable there). In them, the uploader would film themselves, using a low-to-poor quality recorder such as a smartphone camera or something, showing the print dates (and often saying them) and flashing either the bottom or top of the tape briefly. Depending on the quality of the video, I hardly made out any information on any side of the cassette. However, with the higher quality videos, I could usually make out where the uploader is getting the date from. Here’s my understanding of how it works:
On some tapes, the print date is located at the bottom on the cassette, with a bunch of other numeric codes and lettering. It is in (at least in the US) the MMDDYY-0000 format, with no slashes and only one dash (barring some exceptions, like my copy of Fantasia, listed below).
According to one YouTube video, the meaning of the numbers next to the date is the time the tape was printed, using the 24-hour system:
However, this video is the only one I found with the information about the time. Meanwhile, another video said that this was another print date:
As seen in this video, only the second tape had the “extra” print date, so I’m not entirely sure. There are also tapes, mainly Disney ones from the early ’90s, that format the print date as MMDDYY-A, with the last part being a letter of the alphabet. Examples from my collection are my copies of Beauty and the Beast (072192-F) and The Lion King (120594-D).
There are also tape codes like these:
As with other searches, I didn’t have any luck finding proper answers and only had to make guesses. The T-57 could refer to the cassette type, like the T-120 cassettes people, including my family and myself, used to record programs on TV. I have no clue about the other numbers, but here’s what I think of the other numbers.
In the example above, “350” could refer to the 350th day of the year (out of the usual 365 or in the case of leap years, 366) of (what I make out to be) 1995 at 3:32 P.M. In this case, the print date could be September 2, 1995 at 3:32 PM.
In some strange cases, the print date information, for whatever reason, is on the bottom of the cassette in black ink, as seen in the photos below (the second one enhanced to the best of my ability to make the markings visible).
Meanwhile, for other kinds of tapes, the print date is a code located at the top of the cassette. It’s not an actual date, but rather a carefully organized code pressed into the case itself and listed as something like this:
I first discovered this specific code on my copy of Thomas and the Magic Railroad (2000), the opening of which I uploaded onto YouTube:
It was a year after uploading when I first got an interest in VHS print dates and I learned how to find them. I couldn’t make Railroad’s print date out at first, so I decided to ask in the comment section. Shortly thereafter, I got a response from YouTuber Devinnytroy explaining what it meant. It read “DLX/037,” meaning it was printed in the 37th week in 2000 (between Monday September 11 and Sunday September 17). So, apparently, print dates of this nature can be deciphered thus: the first number is the last digit of the year it was produced while the last two numbers are the week on which the tape was made.
Further online research, sparse as the results were, led me to this Reddit, which states that DLX is the code for Deluxe Video Services, who most likely produced the cassettes themselves.
I’ve found similar print codes on other tapes, particularly those distributed by Paramount Home Video, including my Nickelodeon tapes, the ones with the famous orange cases as opposed to the standard black ones. They usually read something like, “PAR/898.” Many of my Paramount tapes, including Nick tapes and Charlie Brown specials, featured the letters “PAR.” I guess that this is because Paramount Home Video produced the tapes themselves. At least until around the late ’90s, because some of my Nickelodeon tapes from then had the DLX code instead of PAR, suggesting that they were produced by Deluxe by this point.
Oftentimes, cassettes with these styled print dates would often have two different ones.
The reason for this is completely unknown. My best guess for this happening is that when creating new tapes, the manufacturer, for whatever reason, would probably use old/discarded cassettes with print dates already on them, put the reels into that, then added the newer print date. Perhaps there was a shortage of cassettes and the makers had no other option? But wouldn’t a major producer of video tapes of movies/programs have plenty on stock? This gets stranger and more contradictory the more I think about it.
I’ve found some cassettes with numbers pressed into them. For example, my copy of Magic Railroad also has the number 35 carved into it. And one of my Arthur tapes has the number 12 carved into the cassette. Perhaps that this number refers to the copy number of the tape, like the 35th copy or the 12th copy?
Related to this, I’ve often found some seemingly random numbers on the side of some of my tapes, like the Arthur example featured above, and some Thomas the Tank Engine cassettes. I haven’t been able to find any meaning to these numbers, unfortunately.
In closing, some mysteries are solved but others still remain. Some tapes, again, have numbers carved into the cassettes while others more elaborate codes and numbers. For some answers I found, they produce some more questions. Are the last four digits on some print dates (following the dash) actually the time? If not, what are they? And my biggest question of all: If an internet search of any kind produces hardly any results on how to decipher print dates, how did people originally find the information to do so?
If you have any answers to these enigmas or you wish to correct an error I might have made in this writing, leave it in the comment section below and I’ll add/fix the information accordingly.
10/24/20: Earlier this month, I converted my 2000 tape of Night of the Headless Horseman (1999) from Fox Television Studios, complete with late-'90s plastic/PS2 cutscene CGI human animation and odd shot edits, that my family and I thought was somehow suitable for eight-year-olds at the time.
When looking at the top of the cassette for any print dates, I managed to find two. The second read "DLX/030," meaning it was printed (or more accurately, recycled and recorded onto another tape, especially given the overly lengthy blue screen of death after the movie ends) by Deluxe during the 30th week of 2000 (July 24-30). However, the second showed new information: "RVS/730."
That means the tape was first printed on the 30th week of 1997 (July 21-27), but I had no idea what RVS stood for. In the later weeks, I thought hard about it. If DVS stood for "Deluxe Video Services," then the VS in this new code should mean "Video Services," but what did the R stand for? Initial search engine investigations (read: typing in something to the effect of "RVS print codes") lead to nothing substantial. I then tried typing "r video services" in search engine boxes and I found "Rank Video Services."
Looking back at the earlier Reddit article revealed a claim that Deluxe Video Services used to be part of Rank Video Services/Bell & Howell Video. Online searching, mainly from Wikipedia (not a real fan of using it as a source, but there's no other option as information is scarce as of this update) revealed that the UK-based Rank Organisation had bought Deluxe from 20th Century Fox in 1990, and it was previously known as Rank Film Laboratories, Denham, while gaining US-based Bell & Howell in 1941.