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"it's not the world that's heavy,
it's just the things that you save"

Collecting Pearl Jam

part 4: never thought you'd habit: the posters!

The Pearl Jam poster revolution began in earnest in 1996. This is when PJ started offering individually designed, silk-screened posters at shows. Every show in the (short) 1996 tour had posters, including the European shows. No one really seemed to care about them very much. Much to the consternation of those who backpacked through Europe that tour with poster tubes in hand (but to the delight of the rest of us) all of the posters from the 1996 tour were available through the Ten Club in seemingly unending quantities at the end of that year.

1998, and once again, PJ are making individual silk-screened posters at every show. There seemed to be more awareness of the existence of the posters, and people were running to the merchandise stands as soon as they got to the venues, but still, most posters were available again through the Ten Club at the end of the tour. The true madness only started in 2000. Unfortunately, there were not posters made available at every show (due to issues with printers not delivering in time, from what we were told), and at those shows where there were posters, unscrupulous folk were buying 50+ at a time as soon as the merch stands opened. Ames Bros. later offered signed/numbered editions of all of the posters once the tour ended, and there were sporadic releases of unsigned/unnumbered posters from almost all the shows via the Ten Club.

Now that the dust has cleared, there are still a lot of confused Pearl Jam fans standing around going, "What the fuck is going on? I just wanted the poster from the show I went to. What are all you crazy people going on about? Poster tubes? Why shouldn't I be hanging my posters up with thumbtacks? Why on earth are you people paying $40 for something that hangs on your wall?"

a short history of the rock and roll poster

The concept of the rock and roll poster as an art form began in San Francisco in the late the 60s. Between 1966 and 1971, over 450 posters were printed to advertise rock concerts promoted in San Francisco by Bill Graham and by The Family Dog alone. The posters were not the simple "boxing" style posters (which incorporated simple block lettering with unadorned photographs of the performers, which was what the rock poster had been up until that point), but rather unique and highly experimental indivdual works of art which reflected the sensibilities of the time. The artistic statement made by the poster's artwork was almost more important than the poster's purpose, which was simply to advertise the existence of a rock concert. The posters were used to advertise concerts locally, but were also given out to every patron as they left the theater at the end of the night, a tradition that continues to this day at the Fillmore in San Francisco.

The movement rapidly spread across the country as well as internationally, and there was soon a thriving culture for posters as artwork around the world. However, by the mid 70s, things had died down, and while certain cities still had artists and promoters who supported the concept, poster art was no longer what it was during the heyday of the Fillmores, East and West. However, by this point, rock posters as a serious memorabilia category had been firmly established. The advent of punk and DIY rekindled the art in the direction of the DIY photocopied gig flier, which was revolutionary in its own way. However, fliers were more disposable and while sought after by a smaller group of collectors, were not viewed as seriously as the rock posters of the late 60s.

The 90s experienced a revival in the movement of rock posters as art, with artists such as Seattle's own Art Chantry, Frank Kozik in Texas, Mark Arminski in Detroit, Coop out of California, etc.), and cool local promoters were commissioning original artwork to promote local gigs, no other band had taken the deliberate step of offering an unique poster of this quality at every show. The most you could expect to get is one commercially printed poster and there were hundreds of thousands and they were all the same (if you could get a poster at all, and then it was usually a photo of the band).

[If you're interested in learning more about the history of the rock poster, surf on over to rockpostercollector.com, which has very comprehensive historical articles on this subject I've found. They also have a glossary of poster collecting terminology that you may find useful.]

The point of this history lesson is to give you some perspective on why these Pearl Jam posters some of us go nuts over are such a big deal. These aren't just gig posters, these are individual works of art that are part of a longstanding tradition. PJ commission artists, and patronize local printing facilities, giving them much needed business. Plus, they're just fucking cool.

As with all collecting, however, it's a matter of value to the collector. A pretty standard rule is: If you don't love it, don't buy it. I once bought a poster sight unseen - it was the 12/31/90 poster with PJ, Nirvana and the RHCP. This was a incredibly valuable poster for a lot of reasons. It was a Bill Graham Presents (or BGP) poster; it was a killer lineup and an important gig. I really wanted it for the historical reasons. I paid $250 and it arrived, and was the ugliest thing I had ever seen in my life. I scanned it and put it up for sale at a local poster shop, and I made my money back in two weeks. Friends who collect posters thought I was insane getting rid of it. I hated it, I would never have hung it on my wall, and I refuse to buy something just to have it. Other friends who collect posters would not have cared - they collect from a different mindset than I do. I collect for sentimental reasons, because the poster's cool, and for historic reasons (in that order). If a poster doesn't meet at least two of those criteria I will probably not buy it. I have the 1998 Seattle poster; I hate it; I'll never sell it because it is, well, the 1998 Seattle poster, I was at those shows, and I know that if I don't keep it, in 20 years I'll be kicking myself. So there you go.

Second of all, you are buying a piece of unique artwork. Once again, these are not mass printed commercially, these are silkscreened posters. Silkscreening is incredibly labor intensive and a much higher quality than commercial offset printing. The posters are individually designed and there is a limited quantity. In fact, $10 or $12 for these posters is unbelievably cheap - the real cost is probably closer to $20 or $30. The band obviously do it because they want to create something very special - they're certainly not doing it to make money.

PJ are continuing a rich history of rock and roll art with these posters. The tradition of creating individual posters for a concert that the patrons could buy started in the late 60's with Bill Graham and the Fillmore West. To this day, anyone who goes to a concert at the Fillmore in San Francisco gets a poster to take home at the end of the night (with a few exceptions). Some of the original Fillmore posters sell for as much as $10,000 today. Consider that one of the 1996 Pearl Jam posters (Amsterdam) is already valued at $600!

Record Company promo posters

This is really kind of a sidebar because most people think show posters when they think of Pearl Jam and posters, but there is a market for people who collect sony promo posters. Obviously these are less rare because they are commercially produced, but they aren't sold to the public, thus making them rare. Record stores generally throw this stuff away when they're done; try developing a polite relationship with the people at your favorite record shop and ask nicely if there's any way to get the posters when they're done with them. Some of them give them away, some stores have a policy of throwing them away so they don't have to deal with people asking for them; and one really nice store would give them to people who made a donation to a local charity. In any case, if you don't ask, you definitely won't get.

These posters go for a lot of money when the record first comes out, and then six months or a year later, they're going on eBay for $5. Patience pays off here. They are not incredibly rare or valuable no matter what anyone tells you, no matter where they are printed (Europe or elsewhere). Album "flats" (square pieces of cardboard with the album artwork on it) are being sold for outrageous prices, too. Those cannot be worth more than $5 and should, honestly, be free, if you go into a record store and ask for them.

The poster that's most valuable in this area is usually the original Ten promo poster. However, there are counterfeit reprints of this going around, so if there is no record company credit line on the poster, assume it's the forgery. There were some nice live shots from Vitalogy that also got used for Yield promotion; these go anywhere from $25-35. Some of the No Code posters are starting to be rarer and a bit more collectible, too. It's a question of age and scarcity as well as demand.

handbills

When most bands first start out, they have to play locally, build a name for themselves, and promote their gigs. The most common way of doing this is through your standard photocopied handbill, usually black on colored paper, which is then distributed throughout a city, hung on kiosks, bulletin boards and telephone poles, etc. Seattle's music scene especially was (and is, despite the poster ban) at the forefront of using handbills to promote live gigs.

However, since PJ didn't play that many shows without being a signed band, there are not that many handbills out there, and the ones that exist are not that exciting from a design perspective. From a historical perspective, they're interesting, but they're just not that attractive - not when you compare them to what, say, Soundgarden was doing, or other local bands. While they aren't strictly Pearl Jam (and we're only making an exception here because it relates - we're not going to start covering memorabilia for all the pre-Pearl Jam bands) there *are* handbills for Mother Love Bone, Green River and even Shadow that are more attractive from a visual design perspective, as well as hysterically funny (nice hair, guys!), and of course their historical importance is incontrovertible. Handbills are also more rare because while there were a lot of them, not many originals survived. The 5h Memorabilia section does have a pretty extensive collection of handbills if you're interested in this.

In terms of rarity and price, $5-20 depending on the condition and whether or not you're getting an original or a copy. If you're buying a copy, then do not pay more than $5. It's not worth it. If you're getting an original, then that's worth considerably more depending on the age and historical importance. An original Mother Love Bone handbill went for $500 several years ago. These are also hard to collect if you are not local to the area, because (understandably) the people who have them picked them up back in the day. Be very careful of copies and fakes here.

CARE AND FEEDING OF YOUR POSTERS

[Disclaimer: if you know what you're doing, then this isn't directed at you. We are trying to educate people who have a few posters in their collection and who may not be aware of these issues, and to try to create awareness, not to write the definitive handbook on how to care for posters.]

For the love of all that is good and holy, please do not do any of the following to your beautiful lovely unique PJ show posters:

Now, I know what you're saying: "I'll never sell this poster, so what difference does it make?" Once again, we're talking about time and perspective. No matter how careful you are, thumbtacks will damage your poster with repeated hangings over time. I speak from experience. Even if you get rid of your collection in 10 years and give it to someone else, you will want to take care of them. Some people think that laminating posters is a great idea (or permanently heat mounting them onto a board) for the same reasons. You will completely destroy the value of the poster if you do this. Finally, folding posters - this should be obvious - storing flat is the best but is not practical for most people. Invest in some sturdy heavy-duty poster tubes and don't keep more than two in each tube if you can. (While this isn't the greatest long-term solution, it's better than nothing.)

If you decide to get your posters framed, do NOT let them permanently mount your poster to the backing. Some poster shops will recognize that it is a lithograph and know how to take care of it, but if you're outside of a major city they may not. You will need to be the smart person here and tell them to frame the poster but not mount it permanently. They make clear stick-on corners that can be used for this purpose, but if they don't know how to do this, we suggest you take the posters somewhere else.

Another way to store your posters so you can still enjoy them is to invest in a large-size acid-free portfolio. If you're an art student you know what we're talking about - this is a large book with pages that are protected by a clear plastic. You can put the posters in them and flip through them to view. They are stored flat, which is another great thing. These portfolios are, however, pricey - but still cheaper than framing. (A good source for these is Bags Unlimited, or you could also try any art supply store in your town that caters to art students.)

Finally, what we like to do is get our posters mounted with the clear corners mentioned above on a foam-core backing (that's slightly larger than the poster, to protect the edges - yu want a 1-1 inch border on all four sides) and then have the whole thing shrinkwrapped. We're lucky in that there's a rock poster store in Seattle who does this for about $5 a poster, but there are other commercial framing stores that do this as well - it doesn't hurt to ask. Even if they don't usually offer it, they may do it if you ask. This is referred to as "museum mounting" by some stores. It's much cheaper than framing, it still allows you to hang your posters and enjoy them; they are completely protected from dust, dirt and humidity (I even have one hanging in the bathroom!), and again, you can stack them under your bed if you run out of wallspace - they're protected and they're stored flat. You can also buy inexpensive frames at hardware stores, and if you're handy (or know someone who is), you can do-it-yourself with two sheets of plexiglass.

Excessive? Maybe. Again, this is your call. I now fervently wish I had taken better care of the posters I bought when I was in high school and college. I had the best collection of the coolest Who posters that are pretty much beat to shit now, because I didn't know any better then. A $5 investment in a poster tube back then would have made a huge difference now. Try to think of it this way: You are collecting for the rest of your life as a fan. No, you're not a "bad" or "unworthy" fan if you want to buy your one poster per tour and hang it up with thumbtacks - it's your money, it's your purchase. Do what you want. We're just putting out another perspective that you are free to continue ignoring.

Things to beware of: the "replica" posters being sold on ebay, showing fictional dates with Metallica, Phish and Soundgarden. They're not real posters and the dates and lineups are totally fictitious. That PJ/SG poster drove us nuts in the early days, to the point where someone who's mother worked at the venue listed on the poster went back into the venue's records to confirm that there was no show that day, much less a show by PJ and Soundgarden.

People write a lot and say "I found this poster I think is super-rare." The first rule in collecting, again, is: don't buy it if you don't love it, and if you don't know what you're doing (i.e., you have to write to ask us if it's rare and if you should buy it), then you probably shouldn't be laying out any major sums of money (more than $10) on a poster. The fact that you can't find a picture of a poster on the net doesn't mean it's rare; in fact, it probably means the exact opposite: it's so common that no one would waste server space on it. (Here's a hint: ANYTHING with the stickman on it isn't rare.)

If you're going to collect posters, like anything else, you have to educate yourself. You have to study the market, learn, talk to other collectors. Surfing eBay and believing what the sellers there are saying is not educating yourself. If you are seriously interested in learning more about collecting posters on a long-term basis, there are two vital, active communities of Pearl Jam poster collectors you should check out:

Again, these folks are serious and make us look like rank amateurs. This is not the place to go talk about whether or not the Ed/Jeff poster of the lean is rare. These are people who are dedicated to watching the market, tracking the truly rare items, and identifying the reliable sources and fair prices.


our top ten favorite pj posters:

  1. The BGP poster from the 6/24/95 show: my first serious poster investment. I love the poster and it was my first real show.
  2. The Unicorn poster. Purchase #2. I just love the art and the combination of the two bands is something I wish I'd been able to see.
  3. The 1996 Rome poster [which I'd link to if we had it here. Which I didn't realize until now. We'll work on it.] It mixed intelligent PJ themes -- the No Code polaroids with the Unicorn artwork.
  4. Portugal 96 - just liked the colors.
  5. Washington DC 96: this poster got pulled at the shows, and what we'd heard is that the band didn't like the art - they thought it was disrespectful. But the Ten Club sold them later. It's a great poster because it's nice and narrow and fits anywhere.
  6. BGP poster from the Rolling Stones shows. The scan we have doesn't do this beautiful poster justice. I chased this thing for four years until I found one. These shows were huge to me and therefore the poster is extra meaningful.
  7. Maui 98. The art so perfectly captured the feeling of these wonderful shows.
  8. San Diego 98: endless summer.
  9. Philly 98: I didn't get to go, this lineup was probably my favorite all tour, and another small size that makes putting just one more up on your walls that much easier.
  10. Finally, the triptych/trilogy of SoCal, Fresno/San Berdoo and Shoreline. Probably the best poster artwork PJ have ever issued.

Next: Part 5: Promotional items
[we promise it won't take so long for the next part. really]
back to part 1

Copyright © 2004 Five Horizons