On April 12, 1963, Bob Dylan walked out onto the stage at The Town Hall in NYC. He would play the first major show of his career on that stage, setting into motion a career and discography that would become legendary. Only 50 posters advertising the event were created. But get this – there is one poster from that night that is not only preserved but also holds 2 signatures and 3 doodles by Bob Dylan himself. And it’s coming to auction at Heritage!
Item description courtesy of Heritage Auctions;
“An absolute drop-dead collectible for the ages, this is a candidate for “Best Concert Poster Ever” in the 100-year history of the medium. It’s that special, that unique, that important, that historic, that compelling and charismatic, that just plain… stunning.
Dylan’s annotating and autographing on this piece, 36 hours after the first major concert of his career, is just so far off the charts that words escape us. It would’ve been amazing if the 21-year-old future rock god had signed it just once and left it at that. But instead he signs it twice, for a folkie who had just put him up for the night and made him breakfast, and then doodles three more humorous sets of words that knock this thing into the next galaxy.
We know that we’re gushing, but there’s not a shred of exaggeration going on here. This was already the best concert poster of Dylan’s entire career, and one of the rarest; we’ve sold the handbill before, but forget about this cardboard poster, there are only 2-3 others known to exist and they’re in elite collections. The original paperwork for this, found at Vanguard Records many years ago, states that only 50 were printed.
Then you add in Dylan’s own handwriting, the Letter of Provenance and the story behind it, and it’s just magical, and even that word isn’t enough. It’s truly otherworldly.
In previously selling the flyer, I have written, “It’s a double-trophy handbill in that it gets an A+ in both history/importance and in graphics/appearance.” Well, does that make this a triple-trophy piece because it’s the big cardboard poster, and then a quadruple-trophy piece because it’s autographed & doodled on the weekend of the concert? How about 100 trophies, is that too many?
Some may wonder why we chose to not have this restored, and it’s a good question. But the general and easy consensus around Heritage and consulting the big poster guys is that it has so much character, originality and authenticity that it needs to be left alone. So for now it consists of 100% 1963 molecules; the new owner may decide to have a restoration expert go to town on it. But… we wouldn’t recommend that.
As for the event itself, this was unquestionably Bob Dylan’s first major concert.
Show promoter Harold Leventhal was a prominent manager and publisher in the folk-music world; he administered Woody Guthrie’s music publishing and managed Pete Seeger. He was taking a chance on this charismatic folk singer who was the talk of Greenwich Village. As Dylan scholar and author Clinton Heylin writes, “Some 900 hip souls attend Bob Dylan’s first solo concert at a major New York venue. Billboard and the New York Times have both sent reviewers. For the first time, Dylan [plays] nothing but his own material.”
Columbia rolled tapes for a possible live album which never materialized, but fans have enjoyed hearing tracks from this show on bootlegs since the 1970s, and Sony Legacy has since released a few of the recordings on its Bootleg Series.
How can one just not love the looks of this advertising piece?
A full 50% of it shows Bob in his typical 1963 garb of work shirt, acoustic guitar, and harmonica around his neck. The other half, with words, has every bell and whistle imaginable. The famous promoter and early Dylan advocate at the top; Dylan’s name in that fantastic font; a New York City venue; the full date, including year; ticket information; and then…
…take a look at those press quotes. Just amazing stuff. Remember, Dylan had not released the Freewheelin’ yet; the public still saw him as the cherub-cheeked, corduroy-capped choir boy from his first album, Bob Dylan. He had to be hyped to get rears in seats. And the funny things found in those quotes… “ragamuffin minstrel”? “Citybilly”? “He’s so goddamn real”? It’s a tour de force of Greenwich Village coffeeshop-speak by folk-circuit insiders. (FYI: the Little Sandy Review was a Minneapolis-based folk music circular published in tiny numbers by later-renowned music critic Paul Nelson.) Nice to see Columbia Records plugged in small letters at the bottom, too… even if Bob did call them “a drag.” That may be the funniest thing on the poster. Oh – excuse us – on this poster. Only. In Bob’s hand. That’s what makes this thing so unique and priceless.”
Pete Howard, Director of Concert Posters at Heritage has a unique perspective when it comes to this piece, and he was kind enough to give us some insight into what went into obtaining this poster.
“I have a personal connection to this poster in several ways. First, I had a relationship with one of the other 2-3 known specimens a generation ago, when I told a high-end poster dealer who said he was getting one, “I want that poster, and I don’t care what the price is. Just get it for me.” Being only middle-class, it was the only time in 30 years of serious concert-poster collecting that I told a dealer, “SOLD – no matter what the price.” It can be reckless to say that, but it was a huge win for me. How huge? Um… well, I loved my poster for several years, even loaned it to a museum for display, and then sold it back to the same dealer/friend for four times the amount he had charged me for it. A poster this great and rare does nothing but go up in value.
So then, I joined Heritage in April 2019. The month before, my future Heritage comrade, Garry Shrum, told me that HA had been contacted about this signed & doodled poster. I couldn’t believe my ears. The month before joining HA, I was hundreds of miles from my home in a tiny, rainy town in Oregon tending to my dying father in hospice. But I told Garry, “I don’t really work for you yet, but would you like me to make the call and try to get this thing? I can talk to the potential consignor for hours about Dylan and this poster!!” Garry said go for it, so in March 2019, I started the long process of wooing this poster out of the family’s hands for a Heritage auction – and surely a big payday for something they had once gotten for free.
I was quite sad when I heard from the son last year that his father had passed away. But the door was slowly opening, and I was very patient. So you can imagine my euphoria this summer when the son called me and said, “We’re ready.” I don’t recall what else I had planned for the cover of the Heritage Concert Posters catalog this auction, but all ideas got cleared off the table with one sweep of my arm to make room for this Dylan masterpiece. When I had first seen the picture of it in March 2019, I had kinda fallen off my chair.
It’s such a perfect gem of the concert-poster and handwriting-collecting worlds coming together. The fact that Dylan wrote his name out twice, in full, and then had three more funny comments is as priceless as it is prolific. And don’t forget – this was Dylan’s first major concert ever, so even without the handwriting the poster’s importance is an A+. With the handwriting and our sparkling LOP, it gets an “A” with a hundred plusses after it.
If I had to pick one of these two posters to take to a desert island for the rest of my life, I just simply would not know what to do; I’d be in a tizzy. It would be a true Sophie’s Choice scenario. And I don’t say that as a salesman… I say that as a music lover, collector and historian for over half a century, who adores the backstory (make that “front story”) of the Winter Dance Party poster but who has also seen Bob Dylan in concert over 50 times throughout my life. Should I say “luckily,” I don’t have to be faced with that choice? But I sure know what I’d do if I were Bill Gates or Warren Buffett.
I’d have two desert islands.”
Many thanks to Pete for lending his thoughts to this blog!
If you’re curious, this is the Setlist of the Bob Dylan concert on 12 April 1963:
Ramblin’ Down Thru The World
Bob Dylan’s Dream
Talkin’ New York
Ballad Of Hollis Brown
Walls Of Red Wing
All Over You
Talking John Birch Paranoid Blues
Boots Of Spanish Leather
Blowin’ In The Wind
Tomorrow Is A Long Time
A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall
Dusty Old Fairgrounds
Who Killed Davey Moore?
Highway 51 (Curtis Jones)
Pretty Peggy-O (trad., arranged by Bob Dylan)
Bob Dylan’s New Orleans Rag
Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right
Hiding Too Long
With God On Our Side
Masters Of War
Last Thoughts On Woody Guthrie