In the period between 1965 and 1971 in San Francisco There was an outburst of graphic creativity that is unparalleled in American art. Drawn by a handful of now well-known artists as well as a legion of lesser known ones, this work is known as Psychedelic Rock Concert Poster Art. At the heart of the early part of this era, 1966-1967 , was the print shop known as The Bindweed Press. The Bindweed Press was the DBA of a printer named Frank Westlake. Westlake personally printed several dozen of the best known early San Francisco psychedelic posters including many original printings of the most famous early Family Dog images for concerts at the Avalon Ballroom as well as many posters and handbills for other local San Francisco venues such as Winterland. Among these are the world famous, iconic Skeleton and roses image for the Grateful Dead at the Avalon, Family Dog No.26, Frankenstein, also for the Dead at the Avalon,family Dog No. 22 and the ZigZag man for Big Brother and the Holding Company at the Avalon, Family Dog No. 14. All of these bear the bottom margin notation “The Bindweed Press”
Considering that he thought of these as disposable advertising and the paper stock used was a low-cost vellum, Westlake did a remarkably good job printing these posters. The colours are vibrant, and the minor imperfections were seen as part of the raw energy pulsating through San Francisco in that era. Like most printers Westlake held onto his printing plates after the jobs were completed, and on numerous occasions he reprinted early Family Dog posters at the request of the late Chet Helms who owned the DBA “The Family Dog.” These were often done using the original printing plates.
There isn’t any controversy about any of the above. Posters from the Bindweed Press Unquestionably are original printings, ones printed pre-concert with the intention of distributing at least part of the press run to advertise the event, or authorized reprints, ones printed after the concert under the auspices of the concert promoter to sell in retail outlets.
Which brings us to the confusing case of The San Francisco Poster Co. which falls into the “none of the above” category. Sometime in the late 1960s to early 1970s Frank Westlake closed The Bindweed Press and moved to England. He took with him many of the printing plates for the psychedelic posters he had printed. He decided to make some money by printing these posters and selling them. Westlake removed the Bindweed Press credits and replaced them with “San Francisco Poster Co.” credits. These posters fall into two groups, the ones done for the Family Dog and ones done for other venues.
The exact status of these posters is difficult to pin down. None were authorised by the artists who created them, the promoters who commissioned them or the acts which appeared on them, but unlike pirates or bootlegs they were printed with the original plates so they are not of poor printing quality. Furthermore on the non-Family Dog items he matched the colours rather well so that if one does not mind the ethical issues of buying unauthorized printings, these are a bargain and often collectible in there own right as variants which were printed not long after the events. In at least some cases the images were never copyrighted so it is reasonable to ask if any laws or ethical issues enter into the equation at all.
The Family Dog images constitute an even more complex dilemma. Here in most cases for reasons best known to himself Westlake chose to print the posters in colours drastically different from the originals. To say the least none of the artists of the Family Dog series are any too pleased about this alteration of their work, But they remain interesting, well-printed if bizarrely coloured oddities with a collectibility of their own. further complicating this was a long-running personal dispute between Westlake and Helms. The reason that the Bindweed press stopped printing Family dog posters and handbills is that Helms owed Westlake substantial bills that never were paid. Westlake felt strongly that under these circumstances he had every right to use his personal property (The printing plates in this case remained Westlake’s lawful property.) to recoup his unpaid debt from Helms by printing and selling Helms’ images. Needless to say Helms felt his properly copyrighted material was off-limits for this type of “debt collection”. This matter was never resolved, but collectors continue to add these posters to their collections. So long as the buyer is properly informed about the intricate and controversial history of this material, It has long been accepted to buy and/or sell it. The San Francisco Poster Co. posters being over 40 years old and by virtue of their age and increasing rarity they have attained their own unique cachet.