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Need a miracle? This Grateful Dead auction offers ultra-rare artifacts, merch and drug ephemera

A painting of a skull with a red rose, feather and a bone running through it
A piece of art from Sotheby’s auction of Grateful Dead gear and ephemera.
(Sotheby’s)

For Deadheads with access to money, today’s morning dew could taste particularly sweet.

On Thursday, the Grateful Dead and members of its inner circle will begin auctioning off, through Sotheby’s, an astounding array of musical instruments, gear, clothing and memorabilia from across the band’s storied career.

Called “From the Vault: Property From the Grateful Dead and Friends,” the 228 lots offer more than enough temptation for any self-respecting Deadhead to rationalize dipping into investment funds — or maxing out the credit card.

Per the Sotheby’s catalog, the weeklong auction, which ends Oct. 14, features items from the collections of Grateful Dead Productions and some of its closest affiliates, and includes “stage equipment from all eras of Dead tours including surviving components from the legendary Wall of Sound, and items from crew members ‘Big’ Steve Parish, Laurence ‘Ram Rod’ Shurtliff, and t-shirts from the band’s longest serving sound engineer Dan Healy.”

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It also features wild artifacts from the early days of the San Francisco psychedelic scene, including legendary LSD guru and Dead sound guy Stanley “Bear” Owsley’s chemistry kit, some Merry Pranksters coveralls, original Dead T-shirts, concert posters and backstage passes — and an army of guitars from Jerry Garcia’s and Bob Weir’s arsenals.

Below, some of the coolest memorabilia from the auction. For those looking for musical instruments, the latter half of the auction listing is dense with guitars and various stringed instruments, keyboards, amplifiers and speaker cabinets.

“The Jesus Music” documentary traces the roots of contemporary Christian music to Costa Mesa’s Calvary Chapel, now a megachurch, then a haven for hippies.

Stanley “Bear” Owsley’s “alchemist’s tools”

Four glass vials
Stanley “Bear” Owsley’s “alchemist’s tools.”
(Sotheby’s)

Few are more influential to the spread of LSD across the West Coast than the amateur San Francisco chemist and crucial Dead sound engineer Owsley. As Dennis McNally wrote in his Dead book, “A Long Strange Trip,” “Without him, there simply wouldn’t have been enough acid for the psychedelic scene of the Bay Area in the sixties to have ignited.”

Estimate: $10,000-$15,000

Nitrous oxide inhaler for getting super high

Army surplus aspirator repurposed for inahling nitrous oxide
An Army surplus aspirator, repurposed by the Grateful Dead.
(Sotheby’s)

Parish, from the catalog: “Bought by us on the crew while buying Army surplus racks for the Wall of Sound. Used for nitrous oxide — one of our fun party favorites. We used it for recreation at all private parties and at many shows, as seen in ‘The Grateful Dead Movie.’ This oxygen mask was a convenient way to solve the problem of a direct delivery system, providing a reliable connection to pass around a hose attached to the nitrous tank. Provided an easy way for the band and crew to have a quick hit at the show.”

Estimate: $3,000-$4,000

Jerry Garcia’s skull-embroidered Nudie pants

Skull-embroidered custom pants.
Custom nudie pants.
(Sotheby’s)

Handcrafted by famed North Hollywood tailor Nudie Cohn, these custom-designed pants would look good on you.

Estimate: not listed

The McIntosh power amp that made Jerry “sound huge”

A red shipping case and an amplifier on top of it.
Jerry Garcia’s McIntosh 2300 Power Amp with the original road case.
(Sotheby’s)

During concerts, Garcia amplified his guitar through Fender Twins, but to further broaden the tone, he and Dead sound engineer Healy then channeled the signal through a McIntosh power amp. Though used for Dead concerts, these amps are often used to power vintage audiophile home systems.

Notes Parish, when McIntosh introduced its 2300 model, "[the Dead] bought 70 of them, and put them throughout the system, but this is the one that Jerry liked the best and he played through it for years.”

Estimate: $5,000-$7,000

Grateful Dead T-shirt from 1967

A yellow t-shirt.
An official Dead t-shirt from 1967.
(Sotheby’s)

Although many Dead T-shirts are estimated to fetch less than $1,000, this one has specific significance, notes the Sotheby’s catalog: “Designed by the Hells Angel, Merry Prankster, and graphic artist Allan ‘Gut’ Terk, a key figure in California counterculture in the 1960’s. Friends with Ken Kesey, he was the painter of the Pranksters’ ‘Further’ bus in 1964 and designed the Acid Test Graduation posters. By 1967, through his work for the Dead, he was acclaimed in the Bay Area music scene for his t-shirt and poster art.”

Estimate: $6,000-$8,000.

Laurence “Ram Rod” Shurtliff’s Merry Pranksters jumpsuit

A jumpsuit with squiggly drawings on it
“Ram Rod”'s Merry Pranksters jumpsuit.
(Sotheby’s)

If these coveralls could talk ... Shurtliff was part of Ken Kesey’s traveling band of acid-heads the Merry Pranksters. “Ram Rod” entered the Dead’s touring orbit through Kesey, says drummer Mickey Hart in the catalog notes: “I remember when he first showed up at 710 Ashbury. He pulled up on a Harley. He was wearing a chain with a lock around his waist. He said: ‘Name’s Ram Rod. Kesey sent me. I hear you need a good man.’”

Estimate: $20,000-$30,000.

Jerry Garcia briefcase, filled with doodles, lyrics and notes

Jerry Garcia memorabilia from Sotheby's auction.
Jerry Garcia memorabilia from Sotheby’s auction.
(Sotheby’s)

Described as “Garcia’s personal briefcase, with handwritten lyrics, drawings, letters, and ephemera, ca. 1977-1979,” the assorted paperwork offers a look at the musician’s daily life on the road. For example, this letter from Garcia’s daughter: “I AM NOT GOING TO SCHOOL. | I HAVE GOT 3 TETH [sic] GONE. | THE TOOTH FAIRY GAVE ME A JOINT. | LOVE ANNABELLE”

Estimate: $30,000-$50,000.


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