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Grateful to the Dead: The Value of Real Community in Memorabilia

Grateful to the Dead: The Value of Real Community in Memorabilia
July 28, 2023
Dylan Dittrich

Photo: Headcount Org

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"I don’t care if people are not Deadheads; that’s their choice. I've made my choice. I made it 49 years ago. And I'm proud and I'm loyal and I am grateful for that choice. And every time I go to the Grateful Dead shows, every time I'm just engulfed in this entire world, it makes me more proud; it stimulates greater levels of loyalty and makes me more appreciative."

That's what basketball (and all-around) legend Bill Walton had to say about the Grateful Dead; a cursory internet search will bring you numerous gems on his devotion to the band. While Walton may be one of the most famous Deadheads, he's certainly one mere speck in a sea of them, with so many just as devoted and loyal as he is.

The band was formed in 1965. In the decades since, the band - and its follow-on efforts from remaining members - became one of the highest-grossing American touring acts in history. There are countless stories just like Walton's of those that made a choice decades ago, honored it since, and only grew in pride and loyalty.

The point is: as far as communities go, Deadheads are second to very few in both passion and tenure.

So imagine what might happen if that community was mobilized to pursue Dead memorabilia?

As it turns out, Dead & Co is quite the charitable group, and throughout its final tour, it's been conducting auctions of memorabilia to benefit various causes dear to their hearts. Among the beneficiaries are HeadCount, a non-profit focusing on voter rights, and Reverb, which operates at the intersection of music and environmentalism, focusing on reducing the footprint of concerts and tours among other efforts.

In total, the "Final Tour" raised over $2 million dollars from the memorabilia auctions. Among the sales:

  • $275,000 for the official tour guitar
  • $238,000 for the guitar commemorating the final shows in San Francisco
  • Over $150,000 for unique pieces of Mickey Hart's fine art

These sales were conducted in person at the shows via pen and paper! You might suggest that the sales figures are inflated by the charitable benefit and the tax deductibility that comes with it, but are you sure the Deadheads are particularly concerned with those benefits when they're bidding mid-concert?!

If you were wondering, the most expensive Dead memorabilia ever sold was Jerry Garcia's Wolf Guitar, which sold at auction for $1.9 million in June 2017 to the CEO of HubSpot. That sale was also charitably inclined, with the Deadhead who previously bought it in 2002 (for just under $1 million) dedicating the proceeds to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Wolf was Garcia's weapon of choice for two decades, beginning at a 1973 performance in NYC for the Hell's Angels.

Anyways, the results from the Final Tour demonstrate the incredible power of a real, loyal community. We hear so many flimsy nods to "community" in other collectible categories where there really is none. What came of those NFT project "communities" when the market went south? NFTs might be an easy target, but they're not the lone culprit.

Community isn't the kind of thing that can be manufactured or fabricated overnight, nor does a community exist solely because people are spending money on the same things. Community is instead cultivated with care over a long period of time, and it's based on a pure underlying interest. It doesn't have to be the decades of the Dead's case, but it's very rarely an immediate phenomenon.Buyers of memorabilia beware: absent a true community that's been engaged for many years, the risk to value is almost always higher than it would be with that community in place.

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