THE ICONIC 1960S KEEPSAKES, FEATURING THE GRATEFUL DEAD, JANIS JOPLIN AND MORE, WERE STORED IN A FARMHOUSE ATTIC FOR SIX DECADES
By Robert Wilonsky
To collectors of vintage rock posters, KC Murphy’s assemblage available in April at Heritage Auctions features only the very best of the very best – 40 extraordinarily valuable, vaunted and crisp keepsakes from the Bindweed Press, near-mint memories pulled from a family friend’s famed printing presses when Murphy was just a little girl living in Sonoma County. Her historic collection contains the totemic, valuable vestiges of a bygone Bay Area once ruled by the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane and their psychedelic brethren.
Her artworks available in the April 16 Music Memorabilia Signature® Auction advertise the 1967 Human Be-in at the Polo Grounds, the famed Family Dog shows at the legendary Avalon Ballroom, Joplin and her band playing Hells Angels dances and Pink Floyd’s 1968 show at Sacramento’s Sound Factory, to name but a few. Ride the 13th Floor Elevators with Roky Erickson; get strictly personal with Captain Beefheart; trip to Mendocino with the Sir Douglas Quintet.
These posters were so beloved by San Franciscans in the 1960s that they were often folded up, taken home and tacked all over walls; no one thought of them as valuable collectors’ items back then, merely as mementos from favorite shows by beloved bands. That’s why the few remaining mint-condition Bindweed posters have become so treasured and sought-after in recent years, chief among them one of the most coveted and cherished concert posters of all time, which is being offered in this event in near-mint condition: the Dead’s so-called Skeleton & Roses poster made for a Family Dog show at the Avalon in the summer of 1966.
Twice before, Heritage has reached six figures for the Skeleton & Roses graded in the high 9s. In fact, one still holds the record for a psychedelic concert poster: $118,750, set in November 2019.
Says Heritage Auctions’ Director of Concert Posters Pete Howard, “Naturally, the big question now is: Will Murphy’s 9.6-graded Dead poster set yet another new world record due to its amazing provenance and pedigree?”
To Murphy, of course, these posters are far more than keepsakes from far-flung, far-out yesterdays. Rather, they serve as warm reminders of childhood visits during the late 1960s to Frank Westlake’s famed printing press at 141 Noe St., where her stepfather was self-printing a book he had written. During those regular sojourns into the city, Murphy and her siblings played hide-and-seek behind presses and colored on the backs of freshly minted posters for concerts not yet legendary.
Only later, when she was well into her teens, did Murphy discover the kids weren’t the only ones collecting posters from Bindweed: Her mom and stepdad, too, brought “Frank’s posters” home after each field trip, carefully and quietly stashing each one in a steamer trunk in their farmhouse attic. No one ever pulled out the posters or looked at them or talked about them or thought about them.
“They just sat up there,” Murphy says now, “while a bustling family life went on” in the house below.
Years later, Murphy went to work in the music industry – first at Capitol Records, where she worked on album releases by the likes of Paul McCartney, Poison, Queen, Heart and Tina Turner; then in artist management, working alongside Great White, Berlin and Appetite for Destruction-era Guns N’ Roses; then with David Crosby producing benefit concerts. She collected her own concert posters – from the 1980s, which will also head to auction in coming months – and her thoughts returned to her mother’s stash in the attic.
“Mom knew I had a keen interest in preserving the posters, and eventually I persuaded her to allow me to carefully move them from the attic trunk into acid-free archival storage,” Murphy says. “They were properly protected now. But still, they just sat in that big box.”
And they did until she recently handed them over to Pete Howard, who was awed by these holy grails of psychedelic rock and the San Francisco sound.
“To be able to offer so many key concert posters in such immaculate condition, taken directly from the printing press 55 years ago, is just unprecedented,” Howard says.
Howard was so impressed with Murphy’s collection – more than 100 from the 1960s, all told, which Heritage will continue to offer over the next few months – he sent them to Certified Guaranty Company to have them graded.
“And without surprise, most of the Bindweed Press collection is dressed to the nines: 9.6, 9.2, 9.8, 9.4 and so forth,” he says. Howard notes that her assemblage was so significant it received its own pedigree from CGC: The KC Murphy Bindweed Press Collection, which appears on each piece.
None of this made parting with the posters any easier for Murphy. As she says:
“They are very tied up in the sentimental memories of a little girl in the wilds of Sonoma County, 1960s San Francisco, recollections of Frank Westlake, the Bindweed print shop and, of course, my mother, who passed away five years ago.”
Murphy once dreamed of framing each poster for her mother, or displaying them in her tiny Malibu rental during her management days. But ultimately, she had only two framed and hung, among them one of the posters signed by the legendary artist Stanley Mouse.
“As I send these out into the world for others to cherish and enjoy, it is my sincere hope that they find owners who truly appreciate the artistry and cultural significance of these mementos from an astounding era in American music and history,” Murphy says. “Their beauty awes me every time I gaze upon them, and I came to know each piece so intimately. I have a high appreciation for art, and am fairly obsessed with music, so all that combined with my family legacy really complicated the decision to let them go. I hope these posters find homes and owners as crazy about them as I am.”
ROBERT WILONSKY is a staff writer at Intelligent Collector.