Formed in 1965 in San Francisco, the Grateful Dead attracted a large concert following until the untimely death in 1995 of lead guitarist and singer Jerry Garcia. In its wake, the band left behind scores of albums, most of them live recordings from the Dick’s Picks and Road Trips series, as well as a monumental amount of collectible memorabilia.
Vintage Grateful Dead posters, handbills, postcards, and ticket stubs from the 1960s are particularly in demand. The rarest of these are the flyers and handbills advertising the fabled Acid Tests organized by author Ken Kesey and held between 1965 and 1967 at various venues from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The Grateful Dead was the house band for these seminal events.
By 1966, the Grateful Dead was a fixture in San Francisco’s Avalon Ballroom and Fillmore Auditorium, both of which produced posters and postcards to advertise their shows. That year, Alton Kelley and Stanley Mouse created one of the most famous Grateful Dead Avalon posters, known among collectors as FD026. Based on an illustration the artists found in a 19th-century copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, the poster became known as Skull & Roses, thanks to the prominence of a rose-covered skeleton in its center. A version of this poster would go on to become an album cover for the band in 1971 and remains one of its most enduring and collectible images.
Over at the Fillmore, artist Wes Wilson was creating posters that helped define the psychedelic lettering style of the day. In 1966, several of his posters for Grateful Dead concerts featured photographs by Herb Greene. One of the best of these, BG032, had a portrait of a leather-jacketed, Cheshire-cat-grinning Jerry Garcia staring straight into the camera. Another, BG023, paired a group photo of the band with one of the Jefferson Airplane, which at the time got top billing.
Fillmore promoter Bill Graham hired an artist named James H. Gardner to create a new version of this poster for a summer-of-1967 show of the Airplane and the Dead (they were billed on the poster as representatives of the "the San Francisco scene") in Toronto. Known as BG074, the poster used the same Herb Greene photo of the Grateful Dead below a new one of the Jefferson Airplane, and was organized almost exactly like Wilson’s original. But due to the remote location and low print run, it is today one of the most collectible Grateful Dead posters from the late 1960s.
Other San Francisco artists to create Grateful Dead posters include Rick Griffin, whose January 1969 poster for a series of shows at the Avalon (ABR690124) was repurposed that summer for the band’s third album, Aoxomoxoa.
Which brings us to vinyl. When the Grateful Dead recorded their first few albums, the process in the studio was, by most accounts, a good deal less than perfect. Thus, in the early 1970s, Anthem of the Sun and Aoxomoxoa, the band’s second and third albums, were remixed to improve their sound quality. This pleased the band but annoyed some of its fans, who preferred the original muddy mixes, which are now quite collectible...
Deadheads also cherish ticket stubs from the 1960s and beyond. Those for shows at the Fillmore and Avalon were usually mini, two-color versions of the poster, so some collectors strive to collect a concert’s poster, postcard, and tickets to create complete sets.
Ticketron issued one of the band’s most famous tickets for a show on October 20, 1974. Prior to this concert, the Dead had announced its intention to take a hiatus. No one really knew if this was just a break or a break-up, so the ticket for that show was printed with the words “THE LAST ONE” in big, blocky letters on its front. And for some reason, the band’s name was misspelled—Greateful instead of Grateful.
Of course, the Grateful Dead did not break up. In fact, during the 1980s and early 1990s, they were routinely one of the highest-grossing touring bands on the planet. Stage passes from these decades, particularly uncut sheets of unused passes like the "Truck Puzzle" (12/3/92-12/17/92) by Tony Reonegro are highly collectible. After the death of Garcia, the band created a line of collectibles for kids in the form of stuffed bean-bag bears, similar to Beanie Babies but with Grateful Dead themes.
In recent years, the band has released limited-edition soundboard recordings of entire runs at the Fillmore West (four nights in a row from 1969) and Winterland (three nights in a row from 1973). These sets routinely turn up for resale on eBay.
Even more successful are the recent auctions at Bonham’s of items that had been collected by former Grateful Dead road managers and band associates. In these tony, auctioneer surroundings—a far cry from the band’s communal, 1960s digs in Haight-Ashbury—everything from gold records to tie-dyed speaker covers to Harley Davidson motorcycles have been auctioned off, sometimes for breathtaking prices.
Among the most prized items at these affairs (besides the original album art and the handmade guitars, which have brought tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars) have been the beat-up equipment and attaché cases. Despite their road-weary condition, or perhaps because of it, these modest cases have fetched upwards of $15,000 each.
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Recent News: Grateful Dead Memorabilia
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Former Grateful Dead Manager to Release Memoirjambands.com, July 29th
Former Grateful Dead manager Richard Loren will release his memoir, High Notes: A Rock Memoir: Working with Rock Legends Jefferson Airplane Through The Doors to the Grateful Dead, in November. The book, which features a forward by David Grisman, ...Read more
Stormy Mondays | Grateful Dead 1974 Retrospective Part 5JamBase, July 28th
Welcome to Part Five of the Stormy Mondays' Grateful Dead in 1974 retrospective (Part One, Part Two, Part Three and Part Four) , in which we'll focus on the songs. 1974 is justly known for the wild improv and the long, jammed segue-fests in the second...Read more
On Second Thought: Grateful Dead – Dave's Picks, Volume 1 (2012)Something Else! Reviews, July 26th
And so a series of live archival Grateful Dead concert releases begins under the moniker of Dave's Picks. Named after David Lemieux, the keeper of the Grateful Dead's musical vault, this collection is the follow up to the popular and original 36-volume...Read more
Grateful Dead Dave's Picks Volume 11 | Wichita 1972JamBase, July 22nd
The Grateful Dead have announced the 11th installment of the Dave's Picks series of live archival releases, which features the band's lone performance in Wichita from November 17, 1972. Not only does Dave's Picks Volume 11 contain the Dead's entire ...Read more
Keeper of Grateful Dead imagesSanta Rosa Press Democrat, July 21st
Nearly 50 years ago, when Rosie McGee told people, “I'm with the band,” she was telling the truth. From 1964 to 1974, McGee, now 68 and living in Cotati, traveled with the Grateful Dead. “I was the girl who danced onstage right behind Jerry Garcia...Read more
Lyricist Robert Hunter On Finding Words for the Grateful DeadWall Street Journal (blog), July 18th
Robert Hunter was a non-performing member of the Grateful Dead, a master lyricist who wrote the words to virtually every Jerry Garcia song. Their collaboration produced “Uncle John's Band,” ”China Cat Sunflower,” “Friend of the Devil,” “Casey Jones...Read more
Watch Grateful Dead Groove on 'Playing in the Band' for Upcoming MovieRollingStone.com, July 16th
The Grateful Dead will march back into theaters across the country on Thursday, July 17th when their annual "Grateful Dead Meet-Up at the Movies" series returns with a special screening of a never-before-seen 1972 performance for Beat Club, Germany's ...Read more
Hear the Grateful Dead's 'Estimated Prophet' With Branford MarsalisRollingStone.com, July 10th
In March 1990, the Grateful Dead teamed up with jazz saxophonist Branford Marsalis for a concert at Long Island's Nassau Coliseum, where they jammed together for most of the set. One standout from that set is the group's funky, 14-minute take on...Read more