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    Grateful Dead 1966 "Skeleton & Roses" Concert Poster FD-26 Graded 9.6 and Signed by Stanley Mouse. A summer 1966 first printing of the famous Grateful Dead "Skeleton & Roses" FD-26 Family Dog San Francisco concert poster featuring the best of both worlds: a CGC grading of Near Mint Plus 9.6 and signed by legendary poster artist Stanley Mouse.

    Poster collectors almost always have to settle for one or the other: a top-level mint grading in the 9's, or a specimen that's been signed by one of San Francisco's famous "big five" psychedelic poster artists of the 1960's. So to get one of these first-printing masterpieces signed by Mouse and graded in the 9's is a marvelous coup. It's even in the rarified air above nine-and-a-half... beautiful Near Mint+ condition. Just a stunning piece.

    First the basics: this poster was printed to advertise two nights of concerts on Friday and Saturday night, Sept. 16 and 17, 1966 at the legendary Avalon Ballroom at Sutter and Van Ness streets in the city by the bay. Oxford Circle was the opening act. "Mouse Studios 66" is credited as the artist (both Mouse and Alton Kelley), and "The Bindweed Press, San Francisco" is the printer. Tickets were sold in the city itself, including the Psychedelic Shop in Haight-Ashbury and Discount Records in North Beach, plus hip locations in Sausalito, Berkeley and Menlo Park.

    How seminal was this time in the band's history? Well, just two weeks later their first Warner Bros. recording contract was drawn up. And three weeks after these shows, LSD would become illegal in California... but at this moment, you couldn't be busted for it. Imagine the freedom!

    For poster collectors, rock-music fans, pop culture historians, art lovers and just the curious with a good sense of taste, this poster checks every box. The Grateful Dead. San Francisco. The mid-60's. Unforgettable artwork. Legendary graphic artists. Charisma. Colors. Rarity. In Near Mint+ 9.6 condition grading. What more could one possibly ask for?

    This artistic stroke of genius marked the very first appearance of the skeleton & roses iconography in Grateful Dead lore, a legendary motif which still shines brightly 55 years later. Just a month earlier, their Avalon appearance was advertised on a Family Dog poster by depicting... a stoned Frankenstein. Huh?

    Second printings and reproductions of FD-26 abound, but this is the only printing of this poster done in the summer of 1966 for the sole purpose of exciting patrons enough to buy tickets and attend one of the two nights. It's almost a surreal thought to us now, but that's the whole reason this thing exists... it was strictly an advertising piece. Any subsequent print run was done for the purpose of making money off the beautiful artwork. But this specimen was printed solely to herd as many people as possible into Chet Helms' second-story Avalon Ballroom. This was a year before the summer of love in San Francisco, when things were still pretty innocent.

    This poster's popularity and value is soaring like a piece of fine European art. It's well-known by now that in November 2019, Heritage broke the world record for any psychedelic concert poster ever sold at auction by landing $118,750 for this poster in graded 9.8 condition. (Unsigned, we might add.) Last summer we sold Family Dog co-owner Bob Cohen's standard Very Good condition specimen for $38,750. Very Good, un-CGC-graded and unsigned! This masterpiece has truly turned into the psychedelic concert poster of the decade, that everyone wants and are collectively going to the wall for.

    So the lucky winning bidder will have trophy for their walls that might likely be handed down in their family for generations to come, as the best piece of 20th-century psychedelic art that was ever created, in wonderful, certified condition and containing the signature of the poster's lead designer, Stanley Mouse of Mouse Studios.

    Oh, and the Dead's music being played that weekend was pretty good, too.

    Poster measures 14 1/8" x 19 7/8" and is graded Near Mint+ 9.6 by CGC (Certified Guaranty Company). COA from Heritage Auctions.

    Literature: See Grushkin, Paul, The Art of Rock: Posters from Presley to Punk, Abbeville Press, New York, 1987, p.97 (illus.).

    More Information: The story behind Mouse & Kelley's creation is well-known in the psych poster world. But to the uninitiated, Stanley & Alton would often search the shelves of the San Francisco Public Library to get images & ideas they could then build their posters around, with seemingly nothing off-limits. Earlier that summer, they had famously appropriated the image from Zig-Zag wrapping papers to create a popular Family Dog concert poster for Big Brother & the Holding Company and their new lead singer Janis Joplin. What could they come up with next?

    They struck gold by discovering a small black & white drawing by British book illustrator E.J. Sullivan. His book The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, first published in 1913, contained several images of skeletons. This particular one, of a skeleton picking roses and assembling a wreath of the flowers as well as wearing one on his head, really jumped off the page at them. How could it not? What a perfect image for a band called the Grateful Dead!

    Their sublime psychedelic lettering and gorgeous red & blue coloring sealed the deal, creating a four-color masterpiece that looks better with each passing decade. (The other two colors being black, used for the Grateful Dead's name, and white, used for the skeleton, Family Dog logo and "Avalon.")

    Also for the uninitiated, "FD-26" means that it was the 26th poster in the series of San Francisco concerts hosted by Family Dog concert promoter Chet Helms, which began in February 1966. The poster is also known alternatively as "skeleton & roses" and "skull & roses"; the terms are interchangeable. And the condition will never deteriorate one iota as long as it remains in the classy plastic protective holder placed there by CGC when it was certified and graded. Added note: yes, this remarkable FD-26 specimen has the telltale "band-aid" dark blue rectangle to the left of the skeleton's crown, as only first printings do.

    So why aren't there more first printings of this poster around? The main reason is that print runs were still relatively low in the summer of 1966, with the whole process having just been birthed a few months earlier. The first Family Dog and Bill Graham posters had appeared only in February, so there was no momentum yet behind saving & collecting these things. They were still being created purely as marketing tools to fill the ballrooms, so surely the promoters felt... "don't print any more than you needed."

    Another factor is that people weren't quite habitually saving these things yet in any organized fashion. But in the case of this poster, it was so popular that people all over the Bay Area would proudly tack them up on their walls, exposing them to daylight, pinholes and all measure of wear & tear. In fact, sometimes hippies would move from pad to pad, taking this eye candy along with them each time. So most of the first printings found of this poster are in used - even if lovingly - condition. To find one graded 9.6 like this is a true rare feat. Certainly nobody could anticipate that these would be held up as museum pieces half a century later.

    And finally, collectors today who have an "FD-26 first" simply hang onto them. Sell something else, trade away another favorite, even tap the savings account... just don't get rid of this beauty.


    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    May, 2021
    1st-2nd Saturday-Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 47
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 5,634

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