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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gratefaldean's picture
Joined: Jun 22 2007
Moms are like that sometimes

My mother didn't throw my things out, but she did store all of my 45s in some ungodly hot place -- all warped. ALL of my Beatles 45s trashed! I'd definitely like to get that stuff back.

I decided about 6 years ago at the tender age of 50 to start "collecting" rock posters, but never wanted to start parting with a major amount of cash to buy "vintage" stuff. Although I'd love to have the old ones, what I'm looking for are mementos of shows that I'm currently seeing, so my Dead memorabilia is mostly (not exclusively) limited to Ratdog, P+F, The Dead, Furthur, and so on...the "new" stuff.

I know that the collector mentality is sinking in though, as I'm usually holding out for numbered and signed, show- or tour-specific, autographed if possible, items. I frame them and add my show ticket in the margin, maybe a miniature setlist to complete the package. My wife has become very impressed with the number of things that I've managed to cram onto the wallspace of my listening room -- impressed to the point of complimenting me on how good a job I've done, much to my surprise as she was a mite skeptical about the whole idea in the beginning.

No desire to sell ANY of this stuff, I just like the way they all look. Maybe my heirs will get to cash in...but I don't think so. Will a Phil Lesh autographed 60th birthday show poster fetch huge sums in 30 yrs? Who knows, but not while I'm still breathing, I assure you.

Joined: Nov 14 2007
Preserve you stuff...Where will you get more?

I browse through Ebay from time to time to see what things show up. But I am poor and cannot afford most of it, ok - just about any of it. I, like a previous blogger, tend to lean toward the music, and love to look at the old items, but could not see giving 3-4-5-6 digits on them. I have been building a giant collection for years, and some items may be worth something. But when it comes to selling them... when it's gone, it's gone.

My sons, now wear my old shirts. They love to look thru the old gatefold LP's, ticket stubs, posters, handbills and so on. I still have my Dupree's, Golden Road and Relix mags, and pull them out from time to time. I still have and preserve my cassettes (but I have since gone digital). That was and is still a big part of my life. I will have that stuff when I am very old. Some would say I'm a nerd, I say I am lucky enough to have found something I am passionate about (many go their entire lives and do not find it).....

When it comes to getting rid of you prized possessions......I sold a Leslie-122 several years ago for $1200. I had to pay rent. It was nice that week. But, I had regret almost immediately. If that guy in Charlotte is out there who bought it. I hope you have taken good care of it. Do not give up your collections, unless you really have to... or unless you have a warehouse full of Garcia and Hendrix signatures.


Joined: Jun 6 2007
"my mom had thrown them all out"

That's harsh, man...

unkle sam's picture
Joined: Oct 3 2008
to ebay or not to

ebay can be a way to get some good dead stuff, but let the buyer beware, I for one wouldn't bid on anything that the seller said was "Jerry's personal" or Bobby's or any of them, that would be just too dificult to document. I have had to resort to ebay to part with some of my personal collection of dead items, but mostly I have only sold bootleg CD's, most were KTS import CD's, which were complete shows soundboard recordings. Hated to do it, but the economy in 09>10 sucked for me and it had to be done. Back in the day (70's and 80's) I collected everything dead I could get my hands on, and in those days it was a lot, at shows they always gave away patches or stickers or cards or flyers or something dead related, I remember in 89 built to last was about to be released (halloween) and as we walked into the Miami arena they were giving out these playing cards with that wild dead pumpkin on one side and the other said on Halloween the dead will rise again, advertising the release of that highly anticipated lp. There will always be things I will never part with, signed Ken Kesey posters, signed Mickey and Jerry books, but the one thing I will never part with is my signed litho of "Blue Iceberg" by Jerry, painted in 86 it is my prized possession. Have seen a copy up on ebay once for 5,000$, but that ain't enough. Too bad I didn't take all those comics (Marvel,DC plus all underground comics by crumb, etc..) with me when I went to boot camp, came home and my mom had thrown them all out....along with all my collections from the 60's, she hated that "hippy sh%$". If she only had known what those little paper books were going to be worth.

beadfarmer's picture
Joined: Mar 10 2008
Grateful Dead concert paper

I grew up collecting San Francisco concert posters and flyers and Grateful Dead pieces in particular. It also spawned my career as an artist. The posters have kept me going when ends don't always meet as they are usually easy to sell. The past 30 years or so have been up and down financially, so selling posters have always supplemented my income. Some cool GD pieces that I've had to let go? A Hawaiian oXo poster, a flyer for the Peace Rock show at Harmon Gym (May of '66) and probably the best piece was a poster for a 1967 show at Seattle's Eagles Auditorium that the original 5 members had signed.
However, in the early 90's I was commissioned to illustrate a couple of GD magazine covers (one of which was what tuned out to be Blair's final issue of the Golden Road). Over a decade later, GD commissioned a poster design from me which led to the cover design and illustrations for the Road Trips series along with other covers.
I've kept a few treasures - a poster from my 1st show 1/20/68 (Eureka) and an original FD26 poster (Mouse & Kelley's skeleton & Roses).

Joined: Jun 6 2007
Golden Road...

I have some but not all issues available ($8 for regular issues, $12 for the two annuals), so email me with your needs:

Interesting story earlier about the harmonica. Never knew Jerry even owned one. I guess with Pig around, that area was covered for a few years... Then Matthew Kelly kept showin' up for a while... Not sure Jerry had the wind-power to blow harmonica in his later years... Thanks for the blow-by-blow on the auction!

DocLnghair's picture
Joined: Jun 8 2007
Your own work

Hi Blair,
The topic got me curious so I took a look. A few copies of your own Golden Road magazine are available at around $15 a pop. I'll never sell my collection of what I and many others consider one of the finest (and most fun) bodies of work about the GD ever done. I am missing an issue or two and I'd love to complete my collection . Would you consider making any extra copies you have around available?

Joined: Apr 21 2011
James Irsay Blog

Hi Blair,

I found this blog very interesting for personal reasons. I was at that auction in 2001 where Tiger and Wolf were auctioned. The auction was held at studio 54 in NY. It was an amazing night. James tells it correctly. We were seated a few seats from the guy that was doing the bidding for James. He was on the phone (with James i guess) the whole time getting instructions on his next bid. I never knew from that night who the guy was bidding for and who ended up with the guitars until the SI story on James about a year ago where he was standing in from of one of the guitars in his office.
Anyway, I was lucky enough to win the auction on Jerry's Harmonica that night. I had not bid on it until the auctioneer was going to sell it for less that $4,000 and I thought that this is the only other musical instrument auctioned off that night and it wouldn't be fair to let it go so inexpensively.
After I won the bid, I proceeded to get smashed on Jamessons while my 2 friends participated in the remainder of the auction. Yep, they had to help me back to the parking garage after the auction was over only to find out that the garage closed at 11 and it was almost 1:30. The car was impounded until 6AM when the garage reopened. We found a hotel around Time Square and negotiated a discount rate since we were only going to be in the room for 4 hours.

Anyway, I still have the harmonica. While Jerry never played it on stage, the affidavit says he played it allot during his vacation time in Hawaii. My documents also show that Jerry wanted to play Visions of Johanna on it during a show.

I would really like to get with Phil and Bob to have a Rex Foundation benefit and Maybe Dylan would stop by just to play "Visions of Johanna" on it in memory.

Looking to find the right people that can get Jerry's DNA out of this instrument as I have never played it.

Joined: Jun 5 2007
GD Family Album

Over the years I camped out at shows and hotels to get not just the band, but Dead "family" members to sign the coffee table-sized book "The GD Family Album." Donna Jean, Dawg, Branford Marsalis, Bob Hunter, Mouse have all signed, as well as guys like Pete Townshend, Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts, Bill Walton. Kesey even wrote across a whole page his own "Truckin" lyrics a couple months after Jerry's death! Only regrets were that I skipped getting Brent in '90 for a family thing and Bobby Zimmerman politely declined my request. Ebay? It would have to pay the whole college tuition, not just a portion of it. And, I got to talk art with Jerry when he signed the book as well as my Bear's Choice album! Money spent buying the book: $40. Time spent collecting the autographs: hours and hours. Value of my conversation with Jerry on July 9, 1995: Priceless!

Joined: Jun 6 2007

Yeah, my son is also in the class of 2012 at UCLA. He's a history major, getting good grades, but seems more interested in pursuing his musical whims, which range from fairly conventional folkish tunes to strange electronic things influenced by Animal Collective and his new favorite, Flying Lotus. I had hoped he was going to see the GD movie last night (he likes 'em) but I don't think he made it. What a good time that was!


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