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    Grateful Dead 1965 Can You Pass the Acid Test? Rare Poster CGC-Graded 9.4 (AOR 2.4). A spectacular and rare a psychedelic concert poster as you'll ever find, this highly coveted Can You Pass the Acid Test? unused advertising poster from the fall of 1965 is the highest-graded specimen to surface to date, with a gorgeous mint CGC rating of 9.4.

    This was the very first printed poster advertising "The Grateful Dead," just weeks after they changed their name from the Warlocks. But that's only part of the story. The fall and winter 1965 Acid Tests in the San Francisco Bay Area helped to kick-start the whole psychedelic underground music-and-poster movement, bringing about a tectonic shift in pop culture. They were led by Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, featuring cutting-edge hipsters like Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady and Carolyn "Mountain Girl" Garcia. The famous book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test documented the whole scene in terrific, fun detail.

    This mind-blowing poster - more so than any other psychedelic poster of the era - fairly screamed fun, crazy, edgy, LSD-fueled hipster-ness not for the feint of heart. LSD was still legal at this point, and would sweep the Bay Area underground scene largely at the hands of one Owsley Stanley. (It would be made illegal in October 1966.

    This is an amazingly busy poster, with cool sayings, slogans, information and of course artwork in any area you choose to examine. For the longest time the design was credited to Norman Hartweg; the thinking then shifted to perhaps a collaborative effort by many Pranksters; and now it's been concluded that cartoonist and Merry Prankster Paul Foster was the sole artist.

    This was actually a "tour blank" advertising poster, because a small blank box was fashioned down in the lower right corner, in which a town and venue could be filled in. They even spell it out for you: "Here's Where It's At," right above the box. Now, usually with tour blanks a date would need to be filled in too, right? But not in the Pranksters' world. They wanted people to read the poster and figure it out, not just gloss it over. In fact, notice the very first thing the poster says in the extreme upper left corner: "Read every word of this." OK, sure!

    Then down in the artwork not far above the blank box, it says with convoluted lettering, "This Saturday Night." So this poster could never be used for more than six days. With that wording, it could be functionally used only from a Sunday morning up through the following late Saturday afternoon. And on the very few examples where this poster has been found with the venue box filled in, none of them give the date, only the location, so everybody played along. The poster seems to say with a wink: It's this upcoming Saturday night, what part don't you get?

    Filled-in examples of this poster in private collections include December 11 in Muir Beach (the poster's debut), December 18 (the Big Beat club in Palo Alto, the Dead's hometown) and January 8 (1966) at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco. Now that must've been a crazy shindig; author Tom Wolfe reported that a couple thousand scenesters and crazies showed up. (This was just before Bill Graham took over the joint.)

    The Art of Rock book gives the handbill version of this poster a full page. To further illustrate how the Pranksters wanted to keep their Acid Tests small, clubby and exclusive, the venue box on that example (for December 11) simply says, "Muir Beach - Find It, Fool!" Not exactly enterprising capitalists, those Pranksters.

    Paul Foster's artwork is an insane collage of esoteric, clever and funny words and images, much of it nonsense. But one clear instruction they do offer is how to take this square paper poster and make it a tall, thin telephone-pole poster. Notice the flag at the bottom center: "This grand thing can be made very long & thin by cutting up the middle & pasting line A, below, to line B, above. Or it can be left as it is." Your finished result would be a vertical poster about 44 inches tall, quite an eye-catcher, and only about 8 ½" wide. Maybe we'll auction one of those someday, but collectors who have them aren't budging.

    The key, primary phrase winding throughout the poster is this: On the left side, which would be the top half of the assembled poster, you have, "Can you pass the Acid Test? The happeners are likely to include..." And on the right side, which would be the bottom half: "...The Fugs, Allen Ginsberg, The Merry Pranksters, Neal Cassady, The Grateful Dead, Roy's Audio Optics, Movies. This Saturday night. Bring your own comfort. Here's where it's at," and then the blank box.

    Where it's at for assorted and sundry poster and pop-culture collectors is having one of these prized posters in your collection. These special posters rarely hit the market, and this is indeed the very first Acid Test poster that Heritage Auctions has ever been able to offer. Recently, a rare 9.2-graded specimen sold for $25,000 on the open market, and this is two notches better. So now the question is, Can you pass the acid test and win this gem for your collection?

    Poster measures 17" x 22" and is in mint, CGC-graded 9.4 condition. COA from Heritage Auctions.

    Pete Howard, Consignment Director
    Heritage Auctions, Entertainment & Music

    More Information: Literature: See Grushkin, Paul, The Art of Rock - Posters from Presley to Punk, Abbeville Press, New York, 1987, p.91 (illus.).

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    April, 2020
    4th-5th Saturday-Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 24
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 8,201

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