Skip to main content
Go to accessibility notice



    Grateful Dead 1966 "Skeleton & Roses" Concert Poster FD-26 Graded 9.2 and Double-Signed. 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 9.2 and signed by both of the poster artists who created it, Stanley Mouse and Alton Kelley.

    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 Mouse and Kelley, two of San Francisco's famous "big five" psychedelic poster artists of the 1960's. Since Mr. Kelley passed away a dozen years ago, there actually aren't that many FD-26's in any condition that were signed by him. So to get one of these first-printing masterpieces signed by both Mouse and Kelley and graded in the 9's is a mind-boggling, marvelous coup. We've never seen another one out there like this.

    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 (Mouse and 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.

    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, with both of their DNA right there on the poster. Charisma. Colors. Rarity. In a 9.2 condition grading. What more could one possibly ask for?

    As is typical with any grading in the 9's, we had to look hard to spot reasons why this poster isn't perfect. It certainly has no pin holes or any noticeable damage like that. The best we could find were a couple of super-mild light creases in the white margins.

    Second printings and reproductions 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 last November, 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.) And last auction, in August, we sold the aforementioned Mr. Cohen's standard Very Good condition specimen for $38,750. Very Good, 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 autographs of the two fellows who created it, like few other specimens of this have.

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

    Poster measures 14 1/8" x 19 7/8" and is graded 9.2 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 Stanley Mouse & Alton Kelley's artwork is well-known in the psych poster world. But to the uninitiated, Mouse & Kelley 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." We have this word from Family Dog co-owner Bob Cohen, whose collection we've been selling this year as well. (This is not his poster.)

    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 in the 9's 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.

    Condition details: You have to look hard to detect any flaws, but we found a tiny indent in the left white margin about 40% of the way down, close to the edge, and a super-light, tiny surface crease in the white margin to the right of the upper part of the "D" in "Dead," but it keeps disappearing every time we tilt the poster a different way. Also a tiny, barely visible set of indents to the paper, on the margin, under "Records" and "Menlo." There is also a very light pencil line in the white margin to the right of "Circle" (the opening band). Otherwise in gorgeous condition with zero tack or staple holes, tape residue, fading, toning, folding, tiny tears – none of that stuff. Verso has a couple of the tiniest dirt marks. A sublime 9.2 gem.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    November, 2020
    14th Saturday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 27
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 5,504

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
    25% on the first $300,000 (minimum $49), plus 20% of any amount between $300,000 and $3,000,000, plus 12.5% of any amount over $3,000,000 per lot.

    Sold on Nov 14, 2020 for: Sign-in or Join (free & quick)
    Track Item

    Heritage membership

    Join Now - It's Free

    1. Past Auction Values (prices, photos, full descriptions, etc.)
    2. Bid online
    3. Free Collector newsletter
    4. Want List with instant e-mail notifications
    5. Reduced auction commissions when you resell your
    Consign now
    • Cash Advances
    • More Bidders
    • Trusted Experts
    • Over 200,000 Satisfied Consignors Since 1976
    Consign to the 2022 April 3 Guitars and Musical Instruments Signature® Auction .

    Learn about consigning with us

    It was a great day! Thank you for the great work! I appreciate your help and attention on the sale.
    Richard L.,
    Island Park, NY
    View More Testimonials receives more traffic than any other auction house website. (Source:

    Video tutorial

    Getting the most out of search