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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cosmicbadger's picture
Joined: Jun 13 2007
Ringo's refusal

So was Ringo right to stop signing stuff for the ebay trade?

Joined: Nov 1 2010
Backstage Pass Set

The one truly valuable (monetarily speaking) Grateful Dead collectable that I own is the complete set of backstage passes for the '95 tour including the passes for the leg of the tour that never happened. The picture designs are pretty cool. Apparently the head guy at Marvel was a Dead Head so the set consists of pictures of all of these Marvel Comics characters and in the text boxes and speech bubbles it says the show date and "not good for admission". It was given to me as a gift by my father as a high school graduation present, so I don't know how much he payed for it, but I do know that he got it through an old fashioned auction. I put up a cell-phone pic under my fan photos for any of you who may be curious as to what it looks like (I'm not quite sure how to post it into one of these comment boxes), though being a cell phone pic from my poorly lit apartment it doesn't do justice to the vibrancy of the colors.

After that the next rarest piece of Grateful Dead history I've got is simply owning a copy of the Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions album, which is surprisingly different from Reckoning, though I love both albums dearly and they are both among my top five favorite live Grateful Dead albums.

So, your son goes to UCLA Blair? That's awesome. I'm a current Bruin myself (class of 2012) psychology major and planing to go the PhD route. What year is he and what's his major? Does he have post undergraduate plans or is he taking a page from the Bob Weir playbook and as Weir said in the interview in the Grateful Dead Movie, making a conscious decision not to have a plan?

Dan R.'s picture
Joined: Jun 9 2007
Brent's hammond

I recall some years ago seeing Brent's hammond organ on sale. Can't say I know what it went for.

lamagonzo (not verified)
One Man Gathers...

Kind of a pointless subject. Unless you're buying actual music like the FW69 it's just bragging rights, possibly an investment, unless you can hump it. What can I say? I'm not a nostalgia freak or materialistic hippy.

~What another man spills ~

PS E-Bay wussed out when they stopped selling dried poppy pods.

Joined: Aug 27 2008

I have yet to buy or sell anything on eBay. It's a nice place for a price check.

Joined: Aug 27 2008
Speaking of Grateful Dead CDs on eBay...

Timely subject, Blair.
Not too long after the Europe '72: The Complete Recordings went on presale, I was quite shocked to see that people were selling the purchase codes for ridiculous prices. When things got straightened out, People were selling their pre-purchased box sets for high prices. I think the dust has settled for awhile, but wait until after September 2011.
Also what amazes me is that people are selling the Road Trips (with bonus disc) releases for high prices. The Fillmore West 1969 Complete Recordings also fetch a tidy sum, even higher if the box is still sealed.
And then there are the unofficial bootleg recordings, and that's another story for some one else to comment on.

augustwest's picture
Joined: Jun 4 2007

Geez, all I got is some old tour relics -- some "cosmic charlie campaign" fliers, a couple Reagan-ear "space is for deadhead, not warheads" bumper stickers, and I'm down to single box of old tapes that I will never listen to (don't own a tape deck any more), but whose original artwork accumulated over the years I just can't part with.

Like Blaire's boxes of Golden Road issues, I have a couple boxes of tie-dyed tapestries that I sold on tour for years -- before anybody cared about copyrights to thing like dancing bears and SYF symbols. Ah, the simple days!

Anyway, I made 'em in batches of 200, and have a bunch left over from my last tour. I've never really thought of selling them, in part because it's such a kick when my friends' CHILDREN ask for some! Whoda thunk it! And besides, there is that whole copyright thing.

Anyway, if a few people want a collectible of their own, and are willing to send a SASE, send me a PM and I'll mail out a few tour relics out.

The little picture next to my screen name is bad photo of the article in question -- 2 of which I gave to Bear himself in a parking lot at a show (in Pittsburgh, I believe) after he came over and explained to his date the whole history of the dancing bear thing and its relationship to him. Nice fellow!

'Course, if the Colts guy wants to trade the whole lot for a guitar, he should PM me too!


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