If these posters could talk: The colorful history of the 'Velvet Underground' poster collection

Collectors of vintage rock concert posters may see visions of the freewheeling 1960s San Francisco scene, complete with long-haired, beaded and barefoot hippies, and a faint whiff of patchouli fill the air.
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It’s a question most collectors of vintage items often ponder while looking at their newly acquired items — “What was going on when this was new?”

For collectors of vintage rock concert posters, visions of the freewheeling 1960s San Francisco scene, complete with long-haired, beaded and barefoot hippies, and a faint whiff of patchouli fill the air. In the case of the extraordinary cache of posters found in an old California clothing store, that image is only a small part of the story.

It began in San Francisco, 1965, when Sandy Tucker opened a small boutique above his father’s jazz club. The Tiffany Jazz Club was a regular hangout for Lenny Bruce, Redd Foxx and Richard Pryor, and performers included the legendary likes of Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, Chet Baker, Stan Getz and Buddy Rich. The club was on the ground floor of a three-story building. The top floor had the Tuckers’ living quarters, while the second floor space housed Sandy’s shop, which he named the Velvet Underground.

“It was because of the velvet clothes I had specially designed to sell in the shop,” Sandy says today, “not because of the band, which I had not heard of at the time.”

Early customers included The Charlatans, the Bay Area band often mentioned as originators of the hippie “look” due to their habit of wearing period clothing, their tastes reflected in the eclectic ware offered in the store. In addition to the groovy threads, the Velvet Underground was a typical “head shop,” selling incense, rolling papers and the like to the hip kids who packed the area. A mere mile and a half away stood the mighty Fillmore Auditorium, and the entire strip between the two locations was filled with similar shops — a sort of hippie supermarket, if you will.

The shop turned into not only a great place to buy clothes (frequented by such famous customers as David Crosby, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin), but one heck of a place to hang out. The store was often open until three in the morning, making the after-hours vibe at the Velvet Underground the place to be after a gig.

“Jerry Garcia was a great friend who was here all the time,” says Sandy. “And Jim Morrison — what a beautiful human being! Whenever The Doors were in town, Jim would come and hang out.”

So did lots of others, like Brian Jones and Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones, and members of The Jefferson Airplane, The Lovin’ Spoonful, and The Grateful Dead. Sandy tells us that many of his famous customers would wind up in the third-floor “penthouse” for late-night parties and jam sessions. We would love to tell you some of the wild stories about these informal gatherings, but some details are better left unsaid!

A common sight at Velvet Underground were concert promoters Bill Graham of the Fillmore and Winterland locations, and Chet Helms, who ran the Family Dog shows at the nearby Avalon Ballroom. Both would compete for window space for the posters advertising upcoming concerts, and soon the posters began to fill the walls of the front of the store.

In time, Sandy amassed an impressive collection of not only posters, but handbills and postcards, as well. Most of the posters were up on the walls, providing a colorful backdrop to the goings-on inside the shop. One can picture Janis or Jimi standing beside images of themselves tacked up on the wall! Now those very same posters are being offered at auction by Heritage.