Generally, when one refers to the psychedelic posters of the late 1960s they are talking about posters that were advertising rock concerts, used to sell tickets first and sold or collected as amazing art for one's walls second. But in fact, the late 60s teenager's life was dominated by posters - all sorts of them!
The cover story for Life Magazine's September 1, 1967 issue called this, "The Big Poster Hang-up - Walls and Walls of Expendable Art," shedding light on the prevalence of posters among teenagers. In addition to what we would call "traditional" Fillmore and Avalon posters, teenagers plastered their walls with "personality posters" - depicting larger-than-life images of popular personalities, such as Muhammad Ali, Marlon Brando, Raquel Welch (both, above), Steve McQueen, Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin or JFK. The Life Magazine article estimated overall sales of more than a million posters per WEEK and retail outlet Print Mint in Berkeley alone was selling 800+ posters a day.
Also above are 2 bright-colored examples of what are now broadly referred to as Headshop posters - these often used dayglo colors, embodied the psychedelic spirit of the times, and served as, "posters to get stoned to." They captured the fashion, beliefs, and rebellion of the era in a wild and provocative style that were deliberately unsettling to older generations.
The use of Day-Glo and glow-in-the-dark paint was a relatively new phenomenon, and it was embraced by manufacturers of blacklight posters. Artists experimented with these fluorescent paints, giving rise to blacklight posters that reflected the hippie aesthetic and symbolized viewing the world through an altered lens, akin to the experience of using LSD or other mind-altering substances.
There is little documentation on or scholarship about headshop posters and they were frequently printed in small batches as demand required and so these is not way to tell what printing a poster is. Many times the artist was not even credited and many of them were jammed out quickly to meet demand and were anything but exceptional. Given that few of these posters lasted even a decade, it’s a wonder than ANY are left at all.
Headshops and well-known poster stores back in the day included the Psychedelic Shop, Print Mint and Postermat in San Francisco, the Mole Hole in Chicago, the Infinite Poster, the Intergalactic Trading Post, and Electric Lotus in New York, the Kazoo and Poster Junction in Los Angeles, George’s Folly and Truc in Boston, Head Shop South in Coconut Grove, Florida, the Emporium in Miami Beach, Yonder's Wall in DC, Houston's Mind Mart, to shops in college towns all over the country and finally, Macys! Spencer Gifts, an iconic northeast retailer, expanded rapidly during this period, operating 450 stores by late 1967.
Numerous poster printing companies emerged nationwide, including Funky Features, East Totem West, Astro, The Food, Sparta, Pandora, Berkeley Bonaparte, Saladin Productions, Royal Screen Printing, and the well-known Peter Max. Other lesser-known printers and producers appeared, such as Pro Arts in Media, Ohio, and Poster Prints of Conshohocken, PA. However, as demand declined, many of these companies eventually vanished without a trace.
These posters were often printed on thin paper and were meant to serve the moment and not last for 50 years or more. One must also remember that many of the printers, artists, and distributors were living in the moment, perhaps stoned, and certainly unaware of the enduring appeal these visually captivating and culturally significant posters would hold over an audience even after 55 years.
Finding headshop posters like these in good condition is increasingly difficult. They’ve rotted in attics, Mom threw them away or they were just battered and beaten to the point where they weren’t worth keeping. Many of the posters were printed on very thin paper and so for those we get them backed with linen to protect them.
“Suddenly, posters are the national hang-up. They serve as low-cost paintings, do-it-yourself wallpaper, comic Valentines or propaganda for such things as Batman and rye bread. Posters is every dimension and description are being plastered across the U.S. More than a million a week are gobbled up by avid visual maniacs who apparently abhor a void….Whatever else a poster may be intended to put across, in an age mad for images, it is expendable art that is within everyone’s financial means” - “The Great Poster Wave,” Life Magazine September 1, 1967