Collecting Hippie Culture Memorabilia – The Journal of Antiques and Collectibles – May 2002
by Dr Gary Moss
From the standpoint of someone wanting to assemble a new and exciting collection, hippie artifacts are a potential goldmine. This subject overlaps many other well established collectible areas such as vintage clothes, political and protest buttons, rock posters and records, books and magazines, and outsider folk art to name a few. One advantage for a new collector is that the market is not yet established for many of these items, and several significant areas can be collected representing a gambit of price, The nice thing is that there are still a myriad of items in attics and basements waiting for a good home. The period of time we are dealing with is only 30 to 40 years ago, yet there is still tremendous investment potential in many new undiscovered treasures. The reason being many of these items are quite scarce because they were not considered worthy of keeping, and many items were made in limited quantities.
From 1965-1972, both the East and West Coasts were magnets for young Americans who became disenchanted with traditional conservatism and disillusioned with both conventional politics and increasing American troop presence in Viet Nam. A square mile area in San Francisco known as “Haight Ashbury,” attracted a growing number of supporters that contributed to the “counter culture revolution.” This alternative to mainstream values and behaviors, included psychedelic drug experimentation, communal living, a return to the land, politically inspired rock music and an interest in Asian religions. Notable West Coast events of that period included Love-ins, Be-ins, Acid Tests, Happenings at Golden Gate Park and rock concerts at the Fillmore and Avalon Ballrooms.
On the East Coast, New York’s East Village, around St. Mark’s Place from the East River to Third Avenue and from Houston Street to Fourteenth Street was the primary area for “far out, progressive, activist” music, happenings, underground movie houses, grass (marijuana) and acid (LSD). This area featured the Balloon Farm, one of the first large warehouse style concert-dance halls to feature West Coast psychedelic bands as early as 1965. Also notable to this area was the Psychedelicatessen, the first head shop in New York at 10th Street and Avenue A, the protest musical groups the Fugs, and David Peel and the Eastside, sexual revolution, folk singers in Washington Park and a myriad of head shops and underground coffeehouses extending into the West Village along Bleeker and McDougal streets. Underground Uplift Unlimited, a major manufacturer of protest buttons, located at 28 St. Marks Place, across from the Electric Circus and around the corner from Fillmore East, sold buttons, stickers, and posters. They always had hundreds of different political, social and Vietnam protest pins for 25 cents each, most of which today sell for $10 to $35 and a few select ones reach the $100 mark.
The word “hippie,” was originally intended to be derogatory, deriving from “hipster” popularized during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s beatnik era. Beatniks looked down upon the newer counterculture because hippies used drugs simply for the experience rather than a higher artistic aesthetic. The use of the term hippie is first attributed to San Francisco Examiner writer Michael Fallon in a 1965 article1. In 1966, then governor Ronald Reagan described a hippie as someone who “dresses like Tarzan, has hair like Jane, and smells like Cheetah.”
The term Flower Power described hippie ideas and behavior as early as 1962 when Beat poet and anti-war activist Allen Ginsberg used it to describe how the power of nature could defeat war. At an October 1967 march on Washington, protesters placed flowers in the rifle barrels of National Guardsmen urging them to put down their guns. During the mid 1960’s, hippies were referred to as flower children, but within a few years the meaning had become diluted, taken on a more commercial flavor that applied to designs, clothing and decorative items. What is now recognized as one of the 1960’s most common icons, the peace symbol actually pre-dates the hippie period by nearly a decade. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, a sponsor of mass marches and sit-downs in London, England adopted the symbol in 1958. Originally, it stood for “the death of man and the unborn child”, but by the mid-1960’s it gained universal recognition as a symbol for peace2. It was referred to as “the footprint of the great American chicken” by many American soldiers during the Viet Nam war era.
Many extremist groups evolved in the late 1960’s as vocal and visible catalysts of change. However, several of these factions became so militant that they alienated even the most ardent of their grass roots supporters. Better known groups of the period include: the Black Panthers, the Weathermen, the Yippies, the Chicago Seven, and the Catonsville Nine. Longer lasting movements were created by visionaries represented by Women’s Liberation, Gay and Lesbian Advocacy and Global Ecological Awareness. The mood of the period was characterized in the lyrics of the song “Eve Of Destruction” written by P.F. Sloan and recorded by Barry McGuire for Dunhill Records: “The Eastern world it is explodin’, violence flarin’ and bullets loadin’. You’re old enough to kill, but not for votin’, You don’t believe in war, but what’s that gun you’re totin’?” The song, which was banned from being aired in several cities due to the incendiary lyrics was released during the early part of the Hippie period -1960’s.
The Port Huron Statement, the guiding manifesto of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was written for the most part by Tom Hayden, a twenty-two-year-old former editor of the student newspaper at the University of Michigan. It proposed that students initiate reform within society, a role previously spearheaded by organized labor, and called for students to join in a movement to establish “participatory democracy.”3 It starts out stating: “We are the people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit.” Coincidental with the growth of the SDS was the Free Speech Movement. A part of Telegraph Avenue called the Bancroft Strip, adjacent to the University of California Berkeley campus, had for years been a place where students would give speeches, distribute pamphlets, sign petitions, and enlist people in their causes. The Berkeley Free Speech Movement, led by a junior philosophy major named Mario Savio, started with a sit-in and eventual arrest of 500 students at Sproul Hall UC Berkeley to protest 5 students that were brought up on disciplinary action for expressing their political rights in September 1965. The police moved in to break up the sit-in, but the ensuing demonstrations eventually forced the campus to close, resulting in national news headlines. The Free Speech Movement at the University of California Berkeley campus is considered the first major confrontation and start of the 60’s student revolution.
In January 1966, President Lyndon Johnson eliminated student deferments from the draft, increasing student resentment over the war in Vietnam. The SDS saw the increased anti-war sentiment as an opportunity to ignite a united student movement. Hundreds of new SDS chapters had been formed on campuses across the country. Slogans used by the SDS included “Make Love, Not War”. SDS organized draft-card burnings including one in New York’s Central Park, called the Spring Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam (1969) which drew half a million anti-war protesters. Chanting, “Burn cards, not people,” and “Hell, no we won’t go!” hundreds of young men threw their draft cards into a large bonfire. One of the most shocking incidents of the time was the unprovoked shooting by Ohio National Guardsmen of four students at Kent State University on May 4, 1970.
The Black Panther Party, started in Oakland, California in October 1966, as a militant group advocating black self-defense and the restructuring of American society based on increased social, political, and economic equality for black Afro-Americans. The founding members, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale first attracted attention in May 1967 at a protest march of a bill under consideration that would outlaw carrying loaded weapons in public. Marchers wearing distinctive black leather jackets and black berets gathered at the California state capital in Sacramento armed with weapons. The extensive national media news coverage given to the event led to the formation of Black Panther chapters outside the San Francisco Bay Area, eventually spreading throughout the country. Eldrige Cleaver led the Panther’s “Free Huey” movement after Newton was arrested in October 1967 and charged with murdering a police officer in Oakland. Cleaver became Black Panther Party leader and in 1968 the presidential candidate from the anti-war Peace and Freedom Party. The clenched fist, originally used by European Socialists and Communists, symbolized “power to the people.” It was adopted by the Black Panthers and other radical student groups.
Migrant farm workers were being organized by Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers of the AFL-CIO. The May ‘69 Boycott Poster “Don’t Eat Grapes” includes a quote by Chavez at the bottom: “We are men and women who have suffered and endured much and not only because of our abject poverty but because we have been kept poor. The colors of our skins, the languages of our cultural and native origins, the lack of formal education, the exclusion from the democratic process, the numbers of our slain in recent wars – all these burdens generation after generation have sought to demoralize us, to break our human spirit. But God knows that we are not beasts of burden, we are not agricultural implements or rented slaves, we are men. We are men locked in a death struggle against man’s inhumanity to man.”
The Haight Ashbury Diggers and political radicals organized the first “Human Be-In” held at Golden Gate Park in January 1967 to enlist grass roots support for their causes. Thousands of hippies attended a day long happening that featured gurus, rock music, and free love. Happenings were originally a blend of artistic performance that involved audience participation. However, many evolved into ill-defined music fetes where hallucinogenic drugs were central to what occurred. The original location of the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival was to be Walkill, New York. However, local townspeople enacted an ordinance to prevent the concert from occurring. From August 15-17, 1969, the three day concert, attended by nearly a half million, was located on Max Yasgar’s 600 acre dairy farm near the village of White Lake, the closest town being Bethel, New York. There were three deaths and two births during the rain drenched concert. Other Psychedelic 60’s Bands had names like The Doors, Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company, West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, Question Mark and the Mysterians, Seeds, 13th Floor Elevators, Vanilla Fudge, Moby Grape, Mandrake Memorial, Pearls Before Swine. The Cream’s 1968 Wheels of Fire album was the first platinum album in the music industry.
Hippie Folk Art was quite colorful, often using innovative materials with a focus on recycled components and definitely of an outsider orientation. Remnants of old clothes, patches, safety pins, paper clips, chewing gum and cigarette wrappers, and day-glo paints were all used. The pull tab beer can hat was hand made by an enterprising hippy who probably sold them at street fairs. This daring fashion was made back when beer cans had removable pull tabs. Vests and dresses were also popular subjects for this form of hippie folk art. This example was embellished with gaudy, plastic pink carnations. The folk designed suede cowboy hat and wood guitar, both intricately decorated and probably taking several months to complete, reveal personal experiences of the owner through symbols and events common to that period.
Hippie apparel was an extension of the lifestyle, quite colorful, festive and often hand made. Clothes were regularly made from patches of leather or colorful cottons. Well known leather craft shops included East West Musical Instruments Garment Company of San Francisco, North Beach Leather in Los Angeles, and Walter Dyer in Boston. Custom designed leather pieces that cost $200 thirty years ago can command $500 and more today. A Janis Joplin type short leather jacket with hanging feathers from the arms and back sold recently for $375 and a leather shirt with an embroidered cannabis leaf from East West Musical sold for $500. Used leather jackets from the late 60’s in good condition with heavy stitching or tooled design typically sell today for $100 to $200. An unusual designed leather belt with a silver hoop buckle, hand tooled peace signs and shooting stars recently sold for $135. Quite popular for woman today are the full length embroidered wooly Afghan coats that typically range from $150 to $250. Other styles popularized by hippies included bell-bottoms with wide flared legs, peasant dresses and folky embroidered tunic style shirts, Jessie McClintock Gunne dresses, earth shoes designed by Anne Kalso, Moghul and Nehru style jackets, batik and tie-dye. The western style fringed suede poncho was worn at the [amazon_link id=”B001NXDSLQ” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Woodstock Music and Art Festival[/amazon_link] in the summer of 1969 while Jimi Hendrix played the “[amazon_link id=”B00000DHZJ” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Star Spangled Banner[/amazon_link]”, the Who played “[amazon_link id=”B004BSCZ5A” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Summertime Blues[/amazon_link]”; Crosby, Stills and Nash sang “[amazon_link id=”B00123KF54″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Suite Judy Blue Eyes[/amazon_link]” and Sly and the Family Stone sang “[amazon_link id=”B0000024VT” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Take Me Higher[/amazon_link]” as the nonstop rain and mud drenched all in attendance.
Underground Papers were to be found in hundreds of cities and college towns throughout the country. The first West Coast underground paper was the Los Angeles Free Press, started in 1964, followed by The San Francisco Oracle and The Berkeley Barb claiming a circulation of 90,000 at its peak in 1969. On the East Coast, East Village Other, started in 1965, Village Voice and Rat which later became Women’s Liberation, were New York’s better known papers. All of these papers reported on anti-war and free speech demonstrations, local rock events, the social and political scene among the downtrodden, and articles on drugs and other counterculture happenings. The Liberation News Service, started by political revolutionaries in 1967, regularly supplied articles, photographs and cartoons to more than 100 underground newspapers. It eventually split up along political lines, one part going to a commune in Western Massachusetts with all the money, the other composed of Marxists, remained in New York, both continuing to supply news stories.
Among the psychedelic poster artists working in the San Francisco area in the late 1960’s, five of the better known were: Victor Moscoso, Stanley Mouse, Rick Griffin, Alton Kelley, and Wes Wilson. Moscoso, was best known for posters that changed colors under different illumination and “black lighting”, while Wilson used a flowing Art Nouveau style similar to early 1900’s Viennese posters. All of these artists produced artwork and graphics for posters, record album covers, books, and underground comics. In New York, Peter Max became the most commercially successful poster artist in the country applying his psychedelic technique of brightly colored, stark images to textiles and household accessories.
The drug culture was an inherent part of 60’s hippie life, aptly characterized by the title of a lecture given by former Harvard professor and LSD guru Timothy Leary, PhD in 1967. Leary founded the League for Spiritual Discovery which advocated the reverent use of hallucinogenic drugs. When he lectured his advice was to “turn on, tune in, drop out”, meaning look at what was happening around you, drop out of school and search for true meaning in life. He was supported in his efforts by his former colleague from Harvard, Richard Alpert, who re-emerged into the public as Baba Ram Dass after spending a year in an Indian ashram. The rock band Jefferson Airplane endorsed drug use in the song White Rabbit that opens with Grace Slick singing “one pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small.”
There was no official end to the Hippie Movement, however, much of the visible protest associated with hippies abruptly diminished with the signing of a cease fire agreement on January 23, 1973 and the start of American troop withdrawal from Viet Nam. Many of the hardcore hippies that became dis-illusioned with the commercialism associated with the movement that started in the early 1970’s were the drop-outs that sought refuge in the rural communes of the “back-to-the-land movement.” These refugees returned to basic group living conditions as the means for their search to the meaning of life. Well known communes of the time were: The Diggers, The Hog Farm, Drop City and Free Spirit. Both “Jesus Freaks” and “Hare Krishnas” were lifestyle variations of the same theme evolving from a search for universal truth.
About the Author
Dr. Gary Moss, OD, MBA is an Associate Professor at The New England College of Optometry, teaching practice management, and a clinical instructor at The New England Eye Institute in Boston, MA. Since 1985 he has consulted for over 400 eye doctors in 22 states and Canada. He is an adjunct faculty instructor at Emmanuel College in Boston and the University of Phoenix in Braintree, MA, a licensed real estate broker, and former owner of Kenmore Cards, a sports memorabilia store in Boston. He authored a textbook, entitled Eyecare Business: Marketing and Strategy, published by Butterworth-Heineman of Boston in March, 2001, and is currently working on the sequel, Eyecare Business: Management and Motivation, scheduled to be published in 2003. He has published over 25 articles in leading eye care journals, and lectures annually at the 2 largest eye care conferences in the country in New York and Atlanta.
He is presently completing a book, entitled [amazon_link id=”076431758X” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Hippie Artifacts[/amazon_link], to be published by Schiffer Books in the Fall of 2002. He is an active part time antiques dealer selling at Brimfield, select specialty collector shows, and a New Hampshire group shop. His 150 vintage Hawaiian shirt collection from the 1940’s is scheduled for exhibition at the American Textile History Museum in Lowell, MA, from July through October 2003. He lives with his wife, Traudi, and two teenage daughters, Amber and Blaise, on Renaissance Farm, an equestrian riding and training facility, in Westford, MA.
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