There’s a new record for the most expensive band t-shirt.
Back in 2011, we broke the news that a vintage Led Zeppelin t-shirt that sold for $10k on eBay. It took ten years but the record sale for a band tee has not only been broken but smashed, by two Grateful Dead tees.
Listed among Sotheby’s “From the Vault: Property from the Grateful Dead and Friends” auction set with the title “Grateful Dead | Designed by Allan ‘Gut’ Terkas,” the tee is described as “One of the earliest official Grateful Dead shirts,” and “An official t-shirt from 1967, around the time of the Dead’s earliest major performances.”
The auction listing describes the t-shirt thusly:
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.
The provenance of this t-shirt is particularly unique given it comes from the collection of Dan Healy, an audio engineer who often worked with The Dead.
And the shirt looks to be in excellent condition, complete with a crispy 1960s Russell Southern Co. tag.
After thoroughly reviewing the details in the auction there’s no question of its authenticity, and of the era it purports to be from.
It appears to be the holy grail of Dead tees, although the description falls short of definitively stating it’s the band’s first t-shirt.
“It was the first t-shirt that the Dead released,” Bo Bushnell told Defunkd after registering the winning bid. Bushnell operates Outlaw Archive which showcases his personal collection of 1960s motorcycle club artifacts. He recently shared a video of this very shirt being described by Gut Terk:
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“We just did this to keep the memory of #GutTerk alive and to keep his history together under one roof,” Bushnell stated in another Instagram post.
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It ended up fetching a whopping $17,640, coming close to doubling the previous record. Bushnell actually ended up forking over a total of $19,315.80 to Sotheby’s when taxes and the buyer’s premium were factored in.
But there was another contender in the running and this tee was from a decade later, dated 1977. The front features the legendary Dead lightning skull design, known by fans as the “steal your face” logo or sometimes just “stealy.” The rear of the shirt read “Spring ’77 tour Cornell U.” This relic now holds the record as the second most expensive rock t-shirt coming in at $15,120, and technically, it’s the most expensive ringer t-shirt in existence. It too comes from the collection of Dan Healy and represents what is said to be the “Holy Grail of the Dead’s performances.”
“The Cornell concert is widely considered to be the pinnacle of Grateful Dead live shows. Obviously, it’s amazing that an event shirt even exists, and to see it go for more than $15k is just mind-blowing,” said Max Bittle, a vintage t-shirt expert who collects rock t-shirts and jersey’s from the 1960s and 70s. “When the auction went live I thought it might fetch $2-4k, so to do as well as it did is just simply amazing.”
“These are incredible results and to my knowledge are the highest selling vintage rock t-shirts to date,” Mr. Bittle said. “Today was a monumental day for our hobby. Shirts from the mid to late 60s are less common than posters in a lot of cases. To see them fetch high prices like this really validates them as top-notch rock memorabilia.”
Another notable sale from Sotheby’s the lot was a Fillmore West Pigpen stage-worn jersey that fetched over $20k. Fillmore West was a venue, so technically it’s not a band tee, and arguably not even a t-shirt, although it was worn by a band member, so there’s a huge grey area here. Nevertheless, it’s another unbelievable price.