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Grateful Dead Family Jubilee Auction Filled With Artifacts For Deadheads

By Casey Moffitt in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 18, 2015 3:00PM

Die-hard Deadheads might just flip their wigs when they take a gander at some of the offerings of an upcoming auction being held in the Chicago area next month.

Donely Auction Services of Union, Illinois has been designated as the home of the Grateful Dead Family Jubilee Auction, featuring one of the largest collections of privately-held, Dead-related memorabilia. All of it will be going up for auction April 11 and 12.

Dennis McNally, who served as the Dead's publicist and historian for 20 years, spoke to Chicagoist last week and said that most of the items are from the band's 710 house/office on 5th and Lincoln in San Rafael, California, which closed in 2000. "When the office shut down, there was all this stuff left over, and the band said, 'Please, take it and save us from having to throw it all out,'" McNally said. "So a lot of this stuff is coming from former employees of the office who collected it."

Some of that "stuff" includes pretty cool artifacts like a chair owned by Jerry Garcia and featured in a Rolling Stone article. There are posters—some autographed—from shows long ago. There's Garcia's old Colt .25 pistol and some art utensils used by Rick Griffin and even legal documents.

McNally said some of the items in the auction are specifically significant to him, personally, like the kitchen table from the old office. "I spent a lot of time sitting at that kitchen table," he said. "That table was a big part of my life for 20 years."

Another item that intrigues McNally is Garcia's hand-written lyrics to "He's Gone." "A song is an amazing thing, really," he said. "You can hear a song a million times, but we don't really witness the creation of a song." "To see the original lyrics written out, with edits and scratched out words and Jerry's doodling in the margins, it's a way to see that creative process which is impressive to me." "It's just pencil to paper," McNally continued. "It's so human and normal and not what you'd expect."

The collection also features some original paintings by Griffin and Stanley Mouse. One of the original Griffin paintings was used to make posters for the Grateful Dead's 1990 European tour, and it happens to be one of just two Grateful Dead posters hanging in McNally's home. "That was my tour, you know, as a publicist," McNally explained. "It was the first time the Dead had toured Europe in nine years, so there was a lot of publicity behind it." "Plus I just love the poster," he said. "With the dinosaur and the bikers in the background and the tiger—it's hysterical. I'm still mad at (Griffin) for not wearing a helmet when he rode his motorcycle. It's how he died, you know."

There are plenty of items with lesser value, as well, like official Grateful Dead office stationary, unused tickets to employee-only shows and events, posters and handbills. "That's what great about this auction, it'a not all super, super valuable," McNally said. "There's stuff for average fans who don't have hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend. There's a lot that's a little less rare and more accessible so anyone can have a little piece of history."

McNally said the consigners contributing to the auction have spent years putting the collection together and the fact that it precedes the final Dead shows at Soldier Field this summer is coincidental. However, this years marks the 50th anniversary of the band's founding, which certainly had something to do with the timing of the auction according to McNally.

Only a handful of invited guests will be allowed to attend the auction in person, but anyone is welcome to make bids online or by telephone. Donley Auction Services will be using PROXIBID for the online service, information about how to register can be found on the PROXIBID web site, and Donely Auction Services has put together a tutorial video about how to use the system. Registration for the auction has begun and bids are being taken for items now.