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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deadmike's picture
Offline
Joined: Jun 13 2007
Sorry ...

My English grammer isn't that good all of the times ... I should learn to preview my writing before posting it ... but I guess I can make myself understood, anyway ...

Micke Östlund,
Växjö, Sweden

------------------------------
My record collection:
jazzmicke

deadmike's picture
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Joined: Jun 13 2007
Now let's see ...

My most valuable Grateful Dead "items" is actually not in physical form but in my mind. It's me at the Stockholm press conference on October 12, 1990.

I've got a short little chat with Vince, handshakes with Bob, Phil, Mickey and Jerry (some of my Swedish Deadhead friends asked the day after, at the show, if I had washed my hands since the day before - anyway they all felt good about shaking the hand that had shook Jerry's hand ... *s*). I got a very personal autograph from Jerry and one of those 1990 tour posters on cardboard from a slightly uncomfortable Dennis McNally.

When it comes to physical items, there is of course almoste every issue of Golden Road from 1984 to about Spring 1990. I will now try to get hold on the one I missing ...

I consider my collection of Relix magazines to be part of my valuable items, from the oldest (Vol.5, No 2 - Spring 1978?) to the newest (Febr/March 2009) even though I missing a whole lot of issues before 1987 and stopped buying them on a regular basis around 2000/2001.

One of the coolest magazines I have is a issue of a Danish one named MM (nr. 2 may 1972) which is actually a jazz magazine but in that issue they focused on the visits to Copenhagen during the '72 tour. My copy is in mint condition and I can actually get another one exactly like the one I have!!

You see, I was employed in the mid 1990's by the local jazz club and my had to begun by cleaning out all of their closets with all kinds of memorbilia, collected between 1972 and 1994. Stashed with lots and lots of magazines I found these TWO copies of the actual Danish magazine. It's in black & white and have Bob Weir on the front cover with his funny mask. The backside has Donna, a lightning bolt in the head of the Steal Your face logo and multiple pictures of the Jerry's left hand playing his guitar. Page four and five has an interview with and a photo of Jerry. Page six have concert pics of Jerry, Donna, Phil, Bob and Pigpen. It's an all black & white magazine and also features a couple of pages on Captain Beefheart.

I think the other copy is still in the vaults and almost as good condition as mine. Since I nowadays is the sound engineer at the club concerts and am on the board of the club (I also book some of the concerts), I think I can obtain the other issue. I do not wish to sell it but rather trade it or give it away for free but then only to the Dead archives, if they are interested.

Among my other Dead related items are Number Two of a comic magazine called Sunshine Roses, released sometimes inte the mid 1980's. Otherwise, apart from books and such, I don't have that much related to the Dead. I haven't bought that much bootlegs because of not capitalizing on the band. I used to send them pirate copies of their records when I found them here and there. I guess a lot of us did ...

Of the other things I obtained for myself when cleaning out the jazz club is a framed photo of Charles Mingus. Unfortunately it's been exposed to the sun and therefore isn't in the perfect condition it once was. It's taken at a concert in Sweden in 1975.

Micke Östlund,
Växjö, Sweden

------------------------------
My record collection:
jazzmicke

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Joined: Jun 6 2007
I'll mention it ...

... to TPTB... Thanks, Michael...

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Joined: Apr 21 2011
wrong posting under "Loving Furthur"

Hi Blair - The text for "Breakout" appears under "Loving Furthur" as well. Could you fix that, please?
Thanks

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Joined: Aug 18 2007
ebay

While I do purchase some used vinyl on ebay, my Grateful Dead collection was almost entirely purchased in small independent record stores. The last Dead item I purchased online was from Amazon's Marketplace and was a used copy of The official Book of Dead Heads. My coolest dead related album is my original cassette copy of Workingman's Dead which I purchased back in my teenage years. I also have near mint original pressings of many of the Dead's album's including a amazing sounding original pressing of Live Dead complete with the insert. I like ebay but I prefer to purchase what I need from the Dead store at the time of release.

Captain Stormfield's picture
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Joined: Nov 4 2007
eBay

I just took a spin through the eBay Grateful Dead CD section, and man, TONS of stuff for sale. It was interesting to see so many out-of-print Dick's Picks and Pure Jerry CDs going for big bucks. No idea if the sellers actually get such huge prices for them. I guess they must sometimes. But those things periodically come back into production, so my advice to anyone thinking of spending big bucks on them is to wait. Your patience might be rewarded.

zxtttxz's picture
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Joined: May 1 2009
coolest dead-related item I own

The coolest dead-related item I own is a poster advertising the 17 October 1990 show at the Grugahalle in Essen, Germany. It's a big poster - about 32"x45". It's framed now. What's cool about it? It was my first GD show...so I'm glad to have it. I was walking up to the show with my friend and saw the posters laid out on the sidewalk...the guy had a stack of them. I gave him my 20DM...right about then the poster police showed up and told him he couldn't be selling those posters (it was all in German but I got the general idea.) So the guy had to pack up and leave...it seems they let him keep the posters. He was packing up and I said, "Hey I already paid you!" So he gave me the poster. I took it back to the car before going into the show.

I took Blair up on that Golden Road offer almost two years ago. It wasn't actually an offer...I just e-mailed and asked for back issues and Blair was kind enough to pack them up and ship them to me...almost every back issue except for a couple I already had.Thanks Blair!

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Joined: Jun 6 2007
Jerry's Comics

Alice, Jerry's daughter Annabelle inherited his comic collection, which I'd say means it's in good hands!

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Joined: Sep 11 2007
danc

I will always cherise the memory of one large (and prominent on tour) guy Mike hawking "Grateful Dead toilet paper, a nickel a sheet" at the top of his lungs during a '79 tour. He was quite disgusted at a few twists in the scene, including merchandising by one and all. Mike had early, personal experience with Jerry's junkie ways, and he was insisting for awhile that the scene was headed downhill. He hated the shorter, predictable sets. And Mike would not like seeing Dicks Picks 34 from Rochester going for $125 on Ebay.

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Joined: Sep 4 2007
Jerry's Comic Books

I've heard that after Jerry's passing, he left behind a comic book collection made of of ECs, the old horror comics of the 1950's.Anybody know what has become of them?

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