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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giantnerd's picture
Joined: Jun 24 2007
eBay Madness

My favorite eBay finds include a 1990 UCLA JGB poster that's just a big photo of Jerry. Got it for cheap. Also nice are old Guitar Player magazines with Garcia interviews where he goes in depth to the music and his practice regimen, like getting licks from reading Django Reinhardt solos. Buyer beware, though!!! Lots of fake posters and backstage passes.

Joined: Aug 18 2007

That store in Madison you mentioned, is this Madison WI you are talking about, if it is, what is the name of the store? I've never heard of a record store which doesn't put price stickers on their merchandise, very strange. The trick with ebay for me is to stick with trusted sellers that I've done past business with. The internet is the wild West and people need to be careful our they can get burned by dishonest sellers.

simonrob's picture
Joined: Jun 7 2007
More potential eBay fodder on its way!

For those who love (or hate) the current trend of limited editions, Audio Fidelity will be releasing "Blues for Allah" and "Shakedown Street" as numbered limited edition 180g vinyl albums sometime soon. These will be closely followed by "Go to Heaven", "Dead set" and "History of the Grateful Dead Volume 1 - Bear's Choice". If you want 'em, get 'em before they sell out and subsequently appear on eBay at the sort of prices we have come to know and hate.
For my part, I have never purchased anything on eBay but I do check prices there once in a while - so that I can feel good about the rarities that I have, knowing that they are worth a small fortune, at least in the world of eBay dreamers. It is irrational really, as I have no intention of ever selling such things. My rule of thumb is "Buy it if you want the music" rather than trying to inflate my ego and increase the size of my virtual wallet. That said, it always makes sense to buy the potentially most valuable version available.

mp51's picture
Joined: Sep 19 2007

i'm kind of like photomatt, i like using ebay as a giant used record store, but sadly a lot gets over priced. there is one used record store in madison that doesn't price vinyl anymore, you take the record to the desk, the guys do some voodoo on their computer, and then they tell you $40 bucks or something insane like that. needless to say, me and many people i know have quit going to them. i did buy a "compliments of" garcia on ebay. i kept hearing why it was so titled, but never actually saw a copy till i saw one on ebay. i got it, very cool. i also have an anthem white cover issue. that's pretty cool too. neither seem to ever be too much on ebay, but at the same time rarely listed. i saw a nice copy of diga on rounder today, just a few bucks too! i think i have it so i passed, let the next guy get it! i did get the 1st album mono during record store days, but haven't given it a listen yet. oh, and speaking of ebay and the dead movie we all just saw, years ago at a used record store, as he was closing, i bought the black and white movie poster, with bill graham's quote i give it 3 1/2 guitars. it took me a while to ever see it on ebay, and when i finally did, it was actually worth something! one day i'll get it framed...

Joined: Aug 18 2007

The only thing I have is an used ticket that was for The Garden, Sept. 95 show.

Joined: Aug 18 2007

The only thing I have is an used, still in perfect condition, ticket from the show that never happened at The Boston Garden in Sept. of 95.

Joined: Feb 1 2011
Gave them away

In August 1968, the night after a Hendrix show, my friend and I left a Greenwich Village bar at 2:00 am and walked through the village and came upon some guys with a truck cleaning out the best poster store in the village - The Infinite Poster. I asked them if I could get a few posters and they said sure. I got like 800 posters, ripping all the Fillmore posters right off the walls. Somehow I got a package or 100 posters for the first NYC Dead shows at Cafe Au Go Go in 1967, wrapped in brown paper. I got these home to Rochester and slowly gave them to my friends over the years. In 2005 I found that they were worth like $800-1000 apiece, but I only had 4 left. So I finally sold 2 and have 2 left in mint condition which I will keep for my kids. I sent one to The Art of Rock author and there's a good picture in the book. I sure wish I had kept a bunch more. And I have all the Golden Roads and issues 10-120 of original Rolling Stone mags and will keep for the memories. And I thank you Blair for the Garcia biography and I enjoyed all the stuff that was edited out too, from your website.

Joined: Nov 12 2007
Some other cool items I own.......

Fillmore East program September 1970 w/ ticket stub for 9/18
Fillmore East program April 1971
Fillmore West poster August 1970
Winterland program October 1970
Winterland New Years 1970/71 poster
Watkins Glen Summer Jam ticket
Plenty of Woodstock memorabilia such as tickets, program, poster.

Bob Weir Wetlands poster February 1999... the night when he jammed with Hanson

Joined: Nov 12 2007
Autographed poster from Spartan Stadium 4/22/79

A few years ago I acquired an original poster of the GD show from Spartan Stadium, San Jose April 22, 1979. This show was the debut of Brent Mydland. I did not get it from Ebay, however,
I got it from the artist Randy Tuten. Tuten's original signature is on it.

A few years later, when Bob Weir and Phil Lesh made an appearance in New York City to promote the recent "Rocking The Cradle" CD set, I had them sign the poster. Now it is framed and hanging on my wall.

deadmike's picture
Joined: Jun 13 2007
About the description above ...

... of the Danish magazine ...

" ... a lightning bolt in the head of the Steal Your face logo and ..."

I meant a spinning crystal ball (I think it's called?) ...

Just realised I made a wrong description. The lightning bolt is of couse the most common in the head of the Steal Your Face logo ... ^_ ^

And no, I have never purchased or sold anything through eBay or any other similar site, not any music related stuff anyway.

Micke Östlund,
Växjö, Sweden

My record collection:


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