The 1960s, particularly the second half of the decade, was when the rock poster came into its own as an art form. In San Francisco, especially, those for shows at the Fillmore were collectable, with extra copies produced for sale as art, whilst posters of some of the psychedelic artists, such as Hendrix or Arthur Brown, were widely sold and ended up on many British bedroom walls.
The fashion revolution of the 1960s encompassed design, as young talent turned their skills and imaginations to posters, which became perfectly acceptable as art work and a cheap alternative to mass-produced pictures, offering a sense of both identity and rebellion against the establishment.
Buying and collecting 1960s posters can be very similar to collecting good art prints (but often somewhat cheaper). Where a poster enjoyed several runs, you need to be aware of the differences between them, which can involve paper stock, colour variations, even size. If you plan on plunging seriously into this – and it applies mostly to the San Francisco psychedelic school – it’s worth taking the time to learn about all this.
A collection of posters, such as that owned by Jacaeber Kaster, who had literally hundreds of thousands of them, all from the psychedelic period, is worth far more than its weight in cash. But many 1960s posters can be excellent investments, and often quite affordable for the small collector.
British PostersIt’s no surprise that the most collectable posters in British music relate to the Beatles. At auction virtually every Beatles poster will sell, some for incredibly high figures (one, for a 1964 Christmas show, went for over £7,500, and this for something that was fairly plain). But it’s not just shows – promotional posters for records bring in at least £500.
The Rolling Stones don’t command the same prices, by any means – a poster for a 1964 American TV show they were on only rose as high as £200 at auction. However, a poster for the Altamont concert in 1969 would be extremely valuable. The Who can make good prices – a 1969 poster for a Hollywood show, signed by artist Rick Griffin (one of the most significant of the psychedelic artists), took £1,000 at auction, although it had also been produced for commercial distribution (i.e. for more than just advertising the show).
Some posters that were made for purely commercial purposes (of Hendrix, Brown, etc) have acquired a little value over the years, although this is probably more associated with nostalgia than anything else. Expect to pay up to £40 for one in good condition. A Hendrix concert poster, though, will cost a lot more – in the region of £750-1,000.
American PostersFar more American posters than British have survived, in part because they were more obviously an art form in the California of the late 1960s. A number of artists, including Rick Griffin, Kelley, Stanley Mouse and Bob Masse created a new psychedelic style.
Although created to advertise shows (many of them at the Fillmore West, plus some other San Francisco venues), they rapidly became collectable in themselves, to the extent that many went through several printings and were sold commercially. Simply because of location, bands like the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane are featured on a disproportionate number of posters.
What’s surprising is that many of these beautiful posters are still quite affordable. Even at auction, few bring more than £200, and many go for less. Most of the auctions are conducted by dealers. Some early and rare posters do go for more (one for a Janis Joplin Chicago show rose to £2,500, for instance).
Of course, knowing what you’re buying is important – some unscrupulous people have tried to pass second printings off as more valuable first printings. There are guides available, so study them well before bidding. However, with some knowledge, and even a limited budget, it’s quite possible to amass a good (and colourful!) collection of rock memorabilia that will increase in value.