Vintage Music Posters
RARITY OF POP-MUSIC EPHEMERA PUSHING POPULARITY TO NEW HEIGHTS
Over the past two decades, Andrew Hawley has seen a boom in the vintage music poster market.
As with most collectibles, the driving force is rarity.
“Much of this stuff is as rare or rarer than the best movie posters,” says Hawley, one of the nation’s top vintage music poster collectors. “It’s almost so scarce that when people go to look up a lot of this stuff, there are no references or examples of an item because it’s never been seen or sold before.”
That scarcity is driving demand, says Giles Moon, music memorabilia consignment director at Heritage Auctions. “The vintage music poster market is the fastest emerging and most exciting area of the music and entertainment memorabilia market right now,” Moon says. “These posters were produced in small numbers and often displayed outdoors, so few have survived. In some cases, there are only one or two known copies. It’s therefore no surprise that the market for these musical artifacts is so competitive.”
Hawley, who founded San Francisco-based Vintage Rock Posters in 1995, is now auctioning a selection of vintage posters from his personal collection. We talked to Hawley about his collection and items in the upcoming auction.
When did you start collecting?
I started collecting baseball cards and football cards at a young age just like so many other kids my age. In 1979, I actually started collecting bootleg records for my favorite rock band, the Doors. [That] morphed into Doors concert posters. … It wasn’t until 1986, when I was 21, that I bought my first concert poster, the 1968 California Folk-Rock Festival poster, featuring bands such as the Doors and the Animals. I only bought it because the Doors were on there. It wasn’t a super-rare poster and cost about $50. Now it’s worth around $500. Shortly after that, I purchased a grouping of about six or seven rare Doors concert posters from a collector, and from then on, I was hooked!
How did this grow into a serious hobby for you?
From 1992 to 1995, I worked in a gallery called Psychedelic Solution in New York, owned by another enthusiastic collector, Jacaeber Kastor. He was the leading collector of Fillmore and Avalon posters and Jimi Hendrix concert memorabilia, so it seemed, and was, a great place to work. … It was at this point that I decided to put all my efforts in obtaining the rarest and most sought-after Doors concert posters. I was placing ads all over the country in local newspapers hoping to extract those everyday “Joes” who had these things buried in their attics.
How many posters do you typically have in your collection at one time?
Right now, I have about 50 posters in my personal collection. Nowadays, I just keep the pieces that really inspire me. It may be the band on the poster or just the artwork itself. Some of the posters represent significant events and seminal shows. There are some really cool posters out there and the great thing is everyone has different tastes so not everyone is collecting the same thing.
Who are the bands in your collection?
My collection ranges from Little Richard to the Beatles to Buddy Holly. I even have a 1939 Cab Calloway on the wall simply because I love the simple graphics. They really capture the time period.
Let’s talk about some of your important posters. Tell us the story behind your 1964 Rolling Stones poster from a show in Dayton, Ohio. How did you find that?
I got the Stones poster from another collector who had gotten it from someone who attended the show. This was the Stones’ second U.S. tour and less than 1,000 people attended the show. The arena held 6,000 people! Hard to imagine a band that has spanned over six decades not being able to draw over 1,000 spectators. It’s amazing that someone even bothered to save the darn poster.
What about your Beach Boys poster? It’s actually dated the day President Kennedy was assassinated?
The Beach Boys poster came from the estate of the late [Beach Boys co-founder] Dennis Wilson. The show actually still happened despite Kennedy’s assassination on the same day. Anyone who is old enough remembers where they were and what they were doing on Nov. 22, 1963. Fred Vail was the promoter of that concert and I actually had the chance to meet him. The concert took place in a very small Northern California town and, as far as I know, it remains the only known example.
Is see you have a poster with Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Gene Vincent?
The Gene Vincent poster is from 1958 and any concert posters on him from the states are incredibly scarce and the fact that, in my personal opinion, this is the best-looking one makes it extra special. I love the Day-Glo colors and the layout of the song titles surrounding his head. Just such a classic image.
Your Buddy Holly multi-act poster is remarkable, and graphically pretty cool. When was this show?
The Buddy Holly poster is from 1957 and was from the “Biggest Show of Stars” tour. There are quite a few rock ’n’ roll Hall of Famers on that poster. Can you imagine seeing Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Frankie Lymon and Buddy Holly all in the same night? That’s crazy. Many folks consider this to be the greatest rock line up of all time. It’s pretty cool and so graphically pleasing.
What changes have you seen in the vintage concert poster market?
The vintage concert poster market is definitely growing at a rapid pace. These posters have what I call an incredible “likability” aspect to them and oftentimes folks don’t know how appealing they are until they see some in person. The scarcity factor with this stuff is unreal and as a collecting buddy of mine likes to put it, “They are saved by a mistake and found by a mistake.” Which is to say that they were meant to be hung up and used for a specific moment in time and then discarded. Folks are just now discovering how incredible these posters are, but because they are so scarce it requires a lot of patience and persistence to put together a nice collection or to find a specific piece. But trust me, it’s worth the wait and time!
This story appears in the Fall 2018 edition of The Intelligent Collector magazine. Click here to subscribe to the print edition.