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Collector's Spotlight: Don't forget the Motor City

Take a special look at 1960s posters, handbills and postcards from Detroit, plus learn more about the incredible Russ Gibb postcards from the Grande Ballroom shows from Heritage Auction Galleries experts David Tosh and Garry Shrum.

Why are so many people getting into those old “psychedelic” rock concert posters of the 1960s? Is it just the “old hippies,” looking to relive their now mostly forgotten pasts (they say if you lived through the ’60s and remember everything, you must have been at the wrong place!), or is it a new generation discovering the incredible artistic freedom expressed in these often wild ‘n’ wooly designs?

Could be it’s a combination of the two. Rock music from that time has never really gone away, thanks to classic-rock radio stations and constant CD reissues of classic albums from the period. The use of older songs in television ads really creates an impact as well — look how Nick Drake’s nearly forgotten career got a big boost when Volkswagen picked the song “Pink Moon” for use in an ad campaign.

It really seems to us that many poster collectors weren’t even born when these original concerts were going on, and that’s the real beauty of this growing hobby — the influx of new collectors who are at once captivated by the incredible designs and history, but who are also savvy about investing. Make no mistake about it — these posters are turning out to be great investments.

The mid-1960s rock concert posters were a product of a very unique time. Until then, most posters all had a generic look, with a predictable formula — large, easy-to-read type, with photos of the performers, sometimes with a bit of color thrown in the background (the “Boxing” style poster, found tacked to lightposts and walls all over town). By 1966, the rule book was tossed out the window in favor of “cool” designs, often with nearly unreadable type — the feeling at the time was, “If you couldn’t read the poster’s headline, you weren’t cool enough to attend the shows.” These far-out designs are what attract collectors today.

While the beautiful and intricate poster art from San Francisco’s Family Dog and Fillmore concerts, featuring the work of Rick Griffin, Victor Moscoso, Wes Wilson, Alton Kelley, Stanley Mouse and many others, has been long appreciated, the scene going on at the same time in Detroit has had much less exposure.

Russ Gibb was the Motor City’s answer to Chet Helm (of Family Dog) and Bill Graham (of Fillmore and Winterland concert fame). While Gibb produced his shows in a number of venues, his best know events

occurred at the Grande Ballroom.

Gibb’s top artist for producing poster images was Gary Grimshaw, who, like Griffin and Moscoso, also dabbled in the world of Underground Comix. The resulting designs were radical, colorful, drug-influenced swirls of trippy lettering combined with the use of “found” images culled from old magazines and vintage photographs.

Everything old was new again, and the kids loved it. However, unlike the much-celebrated work coming from the West Coast, Detroit’s posters didn’t seem to travel as far and weren’t seen by as many people. For one thing, young people sure weren’t flocking to Detriot, especially after the disastrous protests staged at the Democratic Conventions in the summer of 1968. Detroit was known for a hard edge to its music, and groups like the MC5 ruled the roost of young area bands. In their politically charged wake came the Psychedelic