Grateful Dead

Blair's Golden Road Blog - Hellooooo, eBay!

By Blair Jackson

A while back, someone sent me a story from Forbes magazine, in which the billionaire owner of the Indianapolis Colts, James Irsay, was crowing about having spent $970,000 back in 2001 to buy Garcia’s “Tiger” guitar at an auction by the instrument’s original luthier, Doug Irwin: “It was a 15-rounder [at auction],” Irsay told the mag, “but I made the determination that I’d rather have Tiger than all the other Jerry stuff in the world...When I got it, it was like he’d literally [just] put it down at Soldier Field [in Chicago, site of the final Dead show in 1995]. I mean there were pot crumblings in [the guitar’s “stash box”]. The strap is sweat-strewn. ...Jerry was, wow, man, what can you say about him? What a guitarist, man, and what a character.”

OK, that’s the absolute upper end of Grateful Dead/Garcia memorabilia (so far). The guy has very deep pockets: Irsay also paid $600,000 for one of George Harrison’s main guitars, and a whopping $2.4 million for the original typed version of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. “I think it’s hard to overpay,” the same Forbes article quoted him as saying, “because they’re priceless.” We’re still talking about many millions of dollars less than just about any Monet or Picasso painting would go for, and who’s to say that Tiger or On the Road aren’t as culturally significant, or as “beautiful” in their own way, as an important art work? But that’s rarified air none of us will ever breathe.

A few notches down from that were the quite substantial holdings of Ram Rod (Lawrence Shurtliff), the much-loved Grateful Dead road crew chief who passed away in 2006, and whose motley collection of Deadrabilia was sold through a Bonhams & Butterfields auction in San Francisco in 2007. Quite a few impressive pieces brought high prices—including $300,000 for one of Jerry’s Travis Bean guitars from the mid-’70s, $102,000 for one of Garcia’s later custom Alvarez-Yairi acoustics, and $87,000 for three original paintings by Bob Thomas, including the back cover panel of Live Dead and an alternate version of the front cover painting.

This tie-dyed speaker
box went for $5,700 at
the Ram Rod auction in 2007.

OK, those were all very cool. But I saw the auction items laid out at B&B a couple of weeks before the event, and a lot of them were in shockingly poor shape—yet still garnered big bucks from eager buyers. Like, $15,600 for a worn Haliburton case “used by Ram Rod to transport important items for the Grateful Dead while on tour, 1970s-1990.” Surely the only reason this fetched such a good price is the buyer believed that this was actually a “stash case” that traveled with the band. No one pays that price for a briefcase that just carries papers. The rose-embroidered and rhinestone-studded guitar strap designed to match Garcia’s magnificent Nudie suit (designed by the famous SoCal C&W suit designer “Nudie” Cohn; Garcia wore it a couple of times onstage in 1973) went for $20,400, despite missing several rhinestones. (Alas, Phil’s entire Nudie suit, which was originally to be part of the Ram Rod auction, was withdrawn at the last minute, over questions regarding its true ownership.) There were all sorts decrepit and empty speaker boxes from the Wall of Sound ($3,600 for one), pieces of nonfunctioning audio equipment, random photographs in not-very-good condition (most of which landed bids in the $600-$900 range), and a bunch of other stuff (including Ram Rod’s own guitars, banjo and mandolin). Ram Rod’s heirs walked away with an impressive $1.1 million.

And for the rest of us, there’s eBay. God, there’s a lot of Grateful Dead stuff up on eBay at all times, and the quality varies tremendously, as you might imagine. Look under “Grateful Dead shirts” and you’ll find around 50 “pages” of 50+ shirts each, ranging from cool custom ones sold by individuals to obviously factory-made, mass-produced shirts being sold by big companies. Under “Grateful Dead CDs” there are hundreds more items, including some I’d never seen before: $35 will buy you a “limited edition” 2-CD set of Jerry Garcia music “housed in silver paper slipcases with Jerry Garcia's artwork on them (both the sleeves and CDs) and including the complete track listing and information as follows (sweet selections to be sure).” This one intrigued me because disc one of the set is a collection of tunes I put together for the limited box edition of the book Jerry Garcia: The Collected Artwork, and I was not aware that “rogue” copies of the music were being peddled elsewhere. Hmmm. Strange. Thanks for the compliment about the “sweet selections,” though.

From time to time some obviously fake Dead merchandise goes up on eBay—usually reproductions of old posters for events that never had posters (and which occasionally have blatant historical inaccuracies on them—a 1966 photo on a 1965 poster, etc.)—and “autographed” photos and posters of dubious origin and questionable veracity. These usually get sniffed out by Dead Heads pretty quickly, and the sellers often get their feet held to the fire long enough that they eventually withdraw the item. But no doubt many bogus items have been sold to unsuspecting Heads this way—just as the sports and movie memorabilia markets have been plagued by counterfeits and forgeries forever.

Attaché case:
A mere $15,600!

I often wish that I had a collector’s mentality. For instance, when I was living overseas in Rome, Italy, in the mid-’60s, why didn’t I save the literally hundreds of Marvel and DC comics I carefully shipped over from the U.S. during my summer visits—all those now-valuable X-Men and Spider-Man comics? Through the years, I lost the few cool sports autographs I’d gotten—Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax signed a menu for me at Toots Shor’s restaurant in NYC in about 1962; boxing legend Jack Dempsey talked me up and signed an autograph as he sat getting his shoes shined in the men’s room downstairs at his old Times Square joint in the early ’60s. My thousands of baseball cards bought between 1957 and ’65? Fuggedaboutit! Later on, I almost never held on to the free swag that record companies used to send out with promo copies of albums I got as a rock critic. I once figured out I could have an entire promo wardrobe (including enormous underpants promoting an album by Gentle Giant!). Wish I’d kept the 45s from my youth I used to lug around from move to move, but eventually either lost or tossed.

And it hasn’t been any better with Grateful Dead stuff. Even though I interviewed every member of the band multiple times from the early ’80s on, I never asked for an autograph (I thought it would look tacky and possibly harm my “professional” relationship with the guys, or some such nonsense). When I’ve occasionally gotten multiple copies of GD-related CDs I’ve worked on, I’ve given them to friends or the folks I’ve interviewed for liner notes. Some posters I had were damaged when the roof of my garage blew off in a storm a few years back. Hey, someone on eBay is trying to get $19.95 for Issue Six of The Golden Road. Why, I believe I have a few hundred of those babies sitting around here in boxes! Jeez, by now I could’ve paid for some of my son’s college tuition if I’d been smarter about getting and hoarding and selling stuff. But it just ain’t in me.

I have to admit, the one large signed Garcia litho I own — still in mint condition and safely encased in cardboard in a closet because, frankly, I never liked it enough to actually put it up in my house — keeps calling out to me in the raspy voice of late-period Jerry: “Sell me, man!” Thanks, Jer. I need the encouragement! Today I saw that someone is asking for $4,200 for the same litho on eBay. That’s nearly a quarter’s tuition at UCLA. Hellooo, eBay!

Ever bought or sold Dead memorabilia online? What’s the coolest Dead-related item you own? Anything you wouldn’t part with, even if the price were right?


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A Lost Kid Named Frank's picture
Joined: Jan 25 2011
I Want to Be A Camper

I had a pristine copy of "I Want to Be A Camper", the 16mm film which includes Jerry's earliest "paid soundtrack work" (not sure if there are many earlier recordings, period).

Sold it on eBay, made a few hundred bucks .... The soundtrack was not very interesting (just some folky guitar playing, with absolutely no psychedelic edge detectable) and the film itself is boring beyond belief.

It's not clear to me why more of Jerry's early solo work (this included) hasn't been reissued.

You can read more about it here:

Jerry Garcia’s earliest paid soundtrack work can be heard on this one-of-a-kind 16mm film entitled “I Want To Be A Camper”, produced to fulfill a Stanford University student’s Master of Arts in Communication degree requirement. Upon completing the filming at a summer camp for diabetic children in King’s Canyon National Park, a friend of the filmmaker suggested Garcia for the job of augmenting the film with suitable acoustic guitar instrumental music – - a job for which he was paid $50. The filmmaker relates: “I doubt if we had to do any re-takes, as I remember him getting the feeling I wanted very easily. I also remember being impressed with how much hair he had!”

Joined: Aug 18 2007

$24.99 for the mono pressing was the price set by Rhino. The Ebay price will climb higher. When you consider the cost of paying the mastering and having the vinyl pressed in Germany I think it is on average with the price of high quality analog pressings. I just wish it was including in the recent vinyl box set, but then the Grateful Dead and Rhino need to make all the money they can off us vinyl lovers. I will say your last book the GD gear was worth every penny.

Joined: Jun 13 2007
Dead items

A few years ago I was the buyer for one of the largest specialty food stores in the country. One of my suppliers, a co-packer in CA mentioned to me about a line of sauces that Bobby was going to produce. I asked her who was handling all the logistics and it turned out to be a good friend in Napa. I got in touch with him and had a look at the bottles and labels long before they hit the market. When the sauces were finally introduced at the NASFT Fancy Food Show in NY I was finally able to taste the sauces. They were great. They were also having a an order at the show and put your name in the hat to win an autographed acoustic guitar. I asked my friend how much I had to order to win. He said 50 cases. I said no problem. Needless to say I have a Bob Weir autographed guitar. During the time the sauces were available, we gave away autographed bottles, tickets and after show passes to RatDog shows and even an etched, handpainted bottle. I was also able to go to 3 private Weir Sauce parties in SF for about 100 or so. The first two, Bob and Rob Wasserman played for about an hour and the 3rd, Bob and Mark Karan played for a little over an hour...very to stand about 5 feet from them.

Joined: Jun 6 2007
I'm sorry...

...but $24 for a mono vinyl pressing is ridiculous IMO...

Joined: Aug 18 2007

The new mono pressing of the first album is worth every penny. Phil's bass sounds so great in this mix. Yes the stereo mix is very good, but new mono pressing is really special.

Joined: Jan 6 2009
used vinyl in Madison

The used vinyl store that MP51 was referring to is Strictly Discs on Monroe St. in Madison. (It's 3 blocks down the street from the UW Fieldhouse where I first saw the Dead in March of '71) The new vinyl on the first floor is all pre-marked but the thousands of used records in the basement are sold at 'today's market rate'. The selection is the best that I've seen in many years but they try to get what they can for what they sell. Last week I bought a perfect copy of Commander Cody's third album for 5 bucks and a beat but playable copy of Sandy Denny's second album for two dollars. On Record Store Day they had a few copies of the Rhino mono reissue of the Dead's first album available for $24.00. I passed. I have an early pressing in stereo that's good enough for me.

Joined: Jun 4 2007
American Beauty

I've bought a number of GD items on eBay, but the coolest is an original "banned" American Beauty promo poster. What a great image.

I also have a Europe '72 promo poster which looks a lot like the lithograph just listed here.

Years ago someone listed a limited edition, museum-quality, framed Anthem Of The Sun poster for an ungodly amount of money (like $3000) but man was it beautiful. I've never seen it before or since.

greybeard's picture
Joined: Apr 11 2009
wouldn't part with

a couple of things: one is a little polaroid of Jerry in his art 'room' at home using an airbrush on one of his paintings, likely one of the wetlands series. And second is that great screen print signed by him, called 'mandolin player', David Grisman I believe it is. Couldn't part with those two, I don't think.

marye's picture
Joined: May 26 2007
one thing I'm periodically tempted to rehome

especially now that Jim's dead and wouldn't be offended, is a print Jim Marshall gave me, the sort of distorted Jerry brandy snifter one. Let's just say it's not my favorite Jerry image and not what I'd like to look at on my wall. Over the years when Jim was doing magazine covers for the magazine I was editing, he would occasionally say hey Mare! here! and hand me a print and sign it. Wotta guy! So while these aren't of the quality you'd buy from his site, they ain't junk either. Now would I ever part with my print of the band with the hat photo? No. But I really don't like the snifter photo, and somebody else might, and at some point cash might be nice. But for the moment it sits in my closet as it has all these years, and probably will go right on doing so.

skwimite's picture
Joined: Feb 17 2008
auction cont'd

#44 Original Art "Skull and Roses" 1971 This is the one! Kelly/Mouse. Sold for $1,700 according to my list. I assume this was for the album art and not the original FD poster. Either way, out of reach.
Addressing the original questions, I've never bought or sold collectibles online, but used to hit the flea markets alot.
Coolest Dead-related item is probably my T.C. autographed copy of Live/Dead. Met him while working at the Oakland post office and he consented to sign my old album and a new one I had for a gift. Cool.
I'd never part with the needlepoint replica of the Steel Your Face album cover my mom made for me many years ago. It decorates my "Dead Wall" now and forever.


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