World’s first million dollar concert poster auction is in the books

On day one of a special four-day event featuring exceptionally rare and desirable music memorabilia, Heritage tore through all previous psychedelic poster world records with the sale of a 1968 Jimi Hendrix “Flying Eyeball” concert poster signed by its designer Rick Griffin. The iconic poster, with its trademark winged and bloodshot blue eye blazing through a fiery red background and graded an astonishing 9.8, took in $175,000, which is nearly $40,000 more than any previous psychedelic concert poster has fetched at auction.

The original first-printing poster for The Jimi Hendrix Experience, John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers and Albert King performing at San Francisco’s famed Fillmore Auditorium and Winterland Ballroom on the first four days of February 1968 is also known as BG-105 in the Bill Graham numbered series (and nicknamed the “Flying Eyeball”). This was the very first 9.8-graded copy of this poster to be publicly sold and the highest grade known to exist. The previous record holder in the specific category, also a Heritage lot, was a 9.6-graded Grateful Dead “Skeleton & Roses” poster that sold for $137,500 last year.

For collectors and music fans, it makes perfect sense that this specimen came from the collection of David Swartz, whose name conjures the most discerning and diverse collection of concert posters ever put together. His extraordinary taste built the most enviable cross-section of captured moments in the history of rock, pop, and jazz; it was big news to veteran and new connoisseurs alike that Swartz offered significant posters from his collection in Heritage’s May 11-14 Music Memorabilia & Concert Posters Signature Auction. The Swartz Collection was at the center of the first day of the event.

Another Swartz-owned poster that did exceptionally well on Thursday was the 9.8-graded 1966 poster for the Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol’s the Plastic Inevitable at The Trip in Los Angeles; it brought in $37,5000. The Lichtenstein-inflected imagery advertises a proposed two-week residency that was shut down by the cops after only three nights. Another auction highlight from Swartz: the cardboard window card commemorating the moment President John F. Kennedy was serenaded by Marilyn Monroe at Madison Square Garden (“Happy birthday, Mr. President…”). It’s a very rare poster, with only two known in collectors’ circles and it lists amazing talent on that night’s bill including Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Jack Benny and a host of others. It sold on Thursday for $35,000.

There was a second $175,000 poster lot in this four-day sale, and this one sold on Saturday: a poster advertising the Beatles’ famed 1966 Shea Stadium appearance. The two posters reaching $175,000 in this event – the Beatles and Hendrix – mark the third and fourth highest prices ever achieved for any concert posters. In fact, the two days of the event featuring posters, combined, came to $1,639,458.

Another Saturday sale poster highlight was the $81,250 realized for the Dead’s 1966 “Skeleton & Roses” concert poster, this one graded 9.2 and signed by its creators Stanley Mouse and Alton Kelley. This poster was printed to advertise two nights of Dead shows, on September 16 and 17, 1966 at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco. Another Grateful Dead poster that performed well came from the aforementioned Swartz Collection: This “Can You Pass the Acid Test?” poster was an original 1965 event and concert advertisement for Ken Kesey’s legendary Acid Tests held in the Bay Area featuring the name “The Grateful Dead” on a poster for the very first time (just weeks after the band changed its name from the Warlocks). The fall and winter 1965 Acid Tests kick-started the psychedelic underground music-and-poster movement, bringing about a tectonic shift in American culture.

The four-day event was not only about posters. Rare vinyl was on the table as well and this “Butcher Cover” – aka the original The Beatles Yesterday and Today First State Mono Vinyl LP – sold for $32,500. It’s a true 1966 First State made in the Scranton, PA pressing plant. Famously, Capitol Records got cold feet about this original raw-meat cover. Another Beatles highlight was this 1966 hand-signed US tour program, featuring all of the Fab Fours’ recognizable signatures; it sold for a very strong $22,500.

A particularly entertaining lot which sold for $31,250 was this large Love Gun Naked oil painting – the original Ken Kelly concept art for KISS’ Love Gun album cover. After the success of Kelly’s inimitable KISS Destroyer LP cover, KISS bassist Gene Simmons reached out to the artist to create the cover for the band’s follow-up. While the album’s classic cover is indeed a timeless Kelly work, the painting offered one major difference: The women draped at the feet of the immortal shock rockers are topless. As we used to say: Rock and roll all night and party every day.