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Classic Posters – Meet the Poster Experts

Classic Posters – Meet the Poster Experts

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Published by Michael Erlewine
These are articles on concert-music posters and poster collecting from the site ClassicPosters.com founded by award-winning archivist of popular culture Michael Erlewine who founded All-Music Guide, All-Movie Guide, Astrologyland.com and many other popular Internet sites. All articles copyright and written or produced by Michael Erlewine. Do visit ClassicPosters.com in its current incarnation.
These are articles on concert-music posters and poster collecting from the site ClassicPosters.com founded by award-winning archivist of popular culture Michael Erlewine who founded All-Music Guide, All-Movie Guide, Astrologyland.com and many other popular Internet sites. All articles copyright and written or produced by Michael Erlewine. Do visit ClassicPosters.com in its current incarnation.

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Published by: Michael Erlewine on Jan 08, 2011
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05/12/2014

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Classic Posters
 –
Meet the Poster Experts
 
Classic Posters
 –
Meet the PosterExperts
by Michael ErlewineEvery field has its experts, those whocare enough to document and study thedetails, the fine points, and posters is noexception. These are the folks who learnall the details, and to which we turnwhenever we have questions. Here is abrief overview of the experts I am awareof.In the beginning there were just theposters and a lot of them got pulleddown and put up on the wall. A lot ofthem just got tossed out. Of the manypeople I have interviewed, not one reallyknew these posters were going to beworth what they are today. For many,they were just 'really nice' and you justpulled them down, took them home, andstashed them away.Among the artists themselves, none ofthem became what we would call anarchivist and expert for the whole genre,with the exception of Randy Tuten. Notonly was he one the finest artists backthen (and still is now!), but all seem toagree that he alone among the artistshad the most incredible collection andactually was into the fine points of theirseeming endless variations andeditions. He has to be the first seriouscollector, at least among those actuallycreating this genre.Among the experts that I have beenable to discover, the next earliestcollector/expert seems to be Eric King,who reports encountering some of theFamily Dog posters, quite early in thatseries, along Telegraph Avenue inBerkeley. This was early in 1966. King,who had some training in archiving,readily admits he had no idea at thetime that these posters would becomeas valuable as they are today. He justliked them and picked them up, hereand there, and began to attend some ofthe dances. It was the art that interestedhim in the flyers and posters.It was not until the fall of 1966 that EricKing began to seriously collect thenumbers in the various sets that he wasmissing. He stored them in flats, byvenue, and began to compare noteswith other collectors. According to King,he made no written notes, kept norecords, and was able to keep thisknowledge in his memory.At some point, he met Greg Davidson,who was buying and selling theseposters at the Marin Flea Market.Davidson like, King before him, also wasdrawn to the posters by the art. At somepoint in the 1970s, King and Davidsongot together and compared notes. Itmust have been quite a series ofmeetings. Here are two of a very fewexperts in the world, sitting down andgoing through the various series, posterby poster, and comparing notes on thevariations, relative rarity, and so forth.When they finished, it was Eric Kingwho went on to actually write thismaterial down for the very first time anddistribute it.King was not the only person who hadthis kind of knowledge, but he was thefirst to care enough about it to publish it,so that all could better understand thisemerging field. And he did this at theencouragement of the artiststhemselves, whom he had beeninterviewing and had come to know.Around this time, the sale of the postershad reached a point where pirates andunauthorized reprints had begun toappear. Unless there was some guidethat clearly stated which were the
 
Classic Posters
 –
Meet the Poster Experts
 
originals and which the reprints, thenow-emerging market could quicklybecome stained and confused. King wastold by the artists themselves that heowed it to them, the artists, to write hisknowledge down and make it available.And he did this.It took six months and he published hisfirst guide in 1977, a slim 100-pageedition (today it is more like 500 pages).King readily admits that first volume wasvery rough and incomplete in manyways, but it was eagerly received by theposter community nevertheless.On a parallel course was Berkeleycollector Dennis King, who also canremember posters from the 1966 periodof time. By the early 1970s, he too wasbuying and selling posters. In 1976,King found a little nook of a place alongTelegraph Avenue, that he used as ashop. He was soon selling flyers andposters, along with baseball cards andwhat not. Soon graduating to a largerstore, the D.K. Gallery is still open forbusiness in Berkeley.So we have a couple of 'Kings" here,both who lived (and still operate) inBerkeley, and who are two of our mostexpert poster people. Dennis King is co-authoring the "The Art of Modern Rock"with author Paul Grushkin, which shouldbe out very soon.Jacaeber Kastor was raised in Berkeleyand Eric King and Kastor remembermeeting each other, when Kastor was just a school kid, running around with acigar box full of handbills. It was Kingwho helped Kastor, years later,replenish his collections, when ratsgnawed through a bunch of it. Kastorbegan buying collections in the mid-1980s, feeling these valuable posterswere undervalued. In 1986, he openedthe Psychedelic Solution Gallery, whichwas to become the largest poster galleryon the East Coast. Over the years,Kastor has developed pretty much of anencyclopedic knowledge of the entirefield, and according to Eric King, Kastorknows more about the whole genre ofconcert-music posters than anyone hehas met, including himself. That is quitea compliment coming from King.From another whole direction came PhilCushway, not Bay-Area bred, but fromthe Midwest, Ann Arbor in particular.Cushway too had fallen in love withposter art and, fearing that he hadalready entirely missed the boat (that itwas too late), set about to create acompany that not only collected postersbut also published them. This was in thelate 1980s and the company wasArtRock, which has become the largestconcert-music poster business in theworld, at least until very recently. We willget to that later.Phil Cushway systematically set aboutto purchase these now-somewhat-rareposters, wherever he could. He soonfound himself moving to San Francisco,where he bought out legendary posterdealer Ben Friedman (who had in turnbought huge quantities of the FamilyDog from Chet Helms and the BillGraham Presents series from BillGraham), and many other largestashed. Cushway also went to theartists themselves, in many casesbuying all they would sell. And to top itall off, he began to publish his ownposter series, using the best artistsavailable and helping to launch anumber of careers, like those of MarkArminski and Frank Kozik. I have beentold that Cushway had over a millionposters at the height of his collectingperiod. But there is more.

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