Investing in vintage concert posters

A surprisingly valuable slice of nostalgia.


Today we’re exploring an esoteric yet highly investable asset class: vintage concert posters.

I’ll be honest: When our co-founder and CIO Wyatt first suggested we look into concert posters for our ALTS 1 Fund, I was skeptical. I never collected them myself, and didn’t realize there was such a robust market for them. (And I’m a huge music fan!)

But this asset class, which we’ve been investing in from the start, has held up very well during a difficult macro climate. We’ve done the research and believe graded concert posters will bounce in a big way as the economy comes back.

It ticks all the right boxes from a nostalgia point of view, and they’re damn nice to look at.

Let’s go 👇

What are concert posters?

When we were young, many of us slapped posters on our walls. From bedrooms to dorm rooms, posters brought us closer to our favorite music, movies, and athletes.

Concert posters were originally designed to promote upcoming shows. But starting about 25 years ago, a retro movement born out of nostalgia meant lots of these posters from the 60s and 70s became incredibly popular among collectors.

This original ’69 Woodstock poster is a classic. Framed originals easily clear $2,500+

Owning an original poster from a concert you attended brings back memories and makes for terrific wall art. As boomers get older and richer, it makes sense that they yearn for this stuff.

Why concert posters?

Collecting concert posters can be a financial investment or an emotional one.

Much like toys, vintage maps, and vintage electronics, concert posters are nostalgia-driven. They have the power to freeze and memorialize a specific moment in time.

Ticket stubs are probably the closest comparison here. But concert posters are far more visually appealing than tickets, and make a much cooler living room centerpiece.

Earlier this year, when considering these for inclusion in ALTS 1, we began tracking the price of original concert posters across half a dozen websites & auction houses.

What we found surprised us:

Our Concert Posters 50 Index tracks the prices of the fifty most valuable original concert posters. It’s up nearly 2x since 2018, and the asset class has been one of the rare winners of 2022.

Over the past 5 years, the average sale prices of the world’s most valuable concert posters have nearly doubled.

As far as we know, nobody else is tracking this stuff. The data didn’t exist anywhere else, so we collected it ourselves. This was exactly the information we needed to decide on whether to include concert posters in ALTS 1.

We’re very happy to be ahead of the curve here. As you’ll see below, we’ve already scooped up some true grails.

What makes a concert poster valuable?

Value on these can be a bit mercurial. Emotion runs deep and people tend to overpay.

Still, there are plenty of ways to analyze a poster’s fair market value. We’ve built a scorecard system for this very purpose:

More ✅ = More 💰

✅ Historical significance
✅ Nostalgia
✅ Popularity
✅ Scarcity
✅ Condition
✅ Autographs
✅ Liquidity
✅ Price vs Inferred Value
✅ Growth Potential
✅ Cover Art
✅ Promoter (Family Dog and Bill Graham are two key promoters to look out for)

Let’s look at some of these

Historical significance

The more important/significant the event, the more likely the poster will be sought-after.

Woodstock ’69 was obviously hugely significant. But it’s not the only time crazy stuff has gone down:

  • Woodstock 1999, where rioters basically burned the entire venue to the ground (check out the Netflix documentary)
  • Dimebag Darrell of heavy metal band Pantera was sadly killed while on tour in Ohio
  • Ozzy Osbourne bit the head off a dead bat

Apparently, Ozzy thought the bat was fake. But it was real.

These are big moments in the musical canon and pop culture. Having a poster for any of these concerts is an immediate winner.

Nostalgia

Each nostalgia cycle takes about 25 years:

  1. A good falls completely out of fashion, value falls
  2. Supply decreases and scarcity goes up
  3. The good’s original owners grow up
  4. Demand returns, scarcity remains high, and the good is “re-valued”
  5. Rinse, repeat

25 years may actually be a bit too conservative when it comes to posters. Sure, there are plenty of artists with valuable concert posters from the 80s, 90s and 00s. But the really valuable stuff is from 50+ years ago.

Think Grateful Dead, The Beatles, Buddy Holly, and Elvis.

On this 1955 poster, Elvis Presley was on the lineup below a slew of musicians you’ve likely never heard of. It took just six bids to drive the price to $42,500.

Popularity

It’s difficult to predict an artist’s legacy based on their current popularity. It takes decades to know whether a band is a one-hit wonder or the next Nirvana. We all know that The Doors and Metallica are timeless now, but that wasn’t necessarily obvious back then.

Will an Ed Sheeran poster still be relevant in 2050? Will anybody care that Billie Eilish toured Japan?

The most expensive Ed Sheeran concert poster sold in the past few months barely cost $15. (Let’s check back on this in 30 years!)

Scarcity

Thanks to technology, artists these days barely even need to use posters to promote shows. However, back when bands played at the local pub, printing promo posters for a gig could get expensive — especially when not many people were guaranteed to show up.

Because of this, print runs during the 60s were often very low — usually less than 100 were ever printed.

A rule of thumb on concert poster scarcity is this: If there are more than ten of the same poster on sale at any given time, it’s probably not that rare.

Some of The Beatles’ most-valuable concert posters are from back when they played local gigs, way before Sgt. Pepper and Yoko Ono entered the fray. The same is true of legends like Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, and Janis Joplin.

By order of the council, strictly no Teddy Boy Suits!

Condition

Finding rare posters from the 50s-70s in an excellent state can be super difficult. They probably adorned walls without a frame, and basically nobody kept them as investments. So unless they were framed immediately, most would have suffered decades’ worth of wear and tear.

Sometimes promoters didn’t even sell concert posters independently – fans had to rip them off brick walls and other promo sites.

Graded posters are worth more than their ungraded counterparts, even if they’re in near-identical condition. This is where CGC, Certified Guaranty Company, comes into play. These guys are responsible for much of the world’s official comic book grading. But they recently added concert posters, handbills (small posters) and postcards.

Back in 1991, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam toured together. This small CGC-graded 9.8 poster sold for about $3k. The exact same poster, ungraded, sold for half.

What are the most valuable concert posters?

Three pieces are considered the crème de la crème. Each of these consistently sells for over $100,000.

1. The Beatles at Shea Stadium, 1966 ($285,000)

Unsurprisingly, that the world’s most expensive concert poster belongs to The Beatles.

The yellow poster in superb condition promotes a 1966 gig in New York. It sold last year for $150,000, and then $285,000 just a few months later at Heritage Auctions.

The design isn’t remarkable or inventive (especially compared to the Grateful Dead one below). But it’s a pristine copy. And it’s The Beatles, after all.

The story behind this poster is interesting. The Beatles’ sheen was wearing off. John Lennon had pissed off an entire country by claiming that The Beatles were “more popular than Jesus”. People outside the UK were growing a bit tired of them.

So, promoter Sid Bernstein printed 500 of these yellow cardboard flaps to ensure Shea Stadium would sell out. Just a week after the concert, the band called it quits. It was to be their last official show. They never played live again (except for their famous rooftop concert.)

From the original 500, we only know of ten of these posters still in circulation.

2. The Grateful Dead Skeleton & Roses, 1966 ($165,000)

Some of the most-loved from the 60s era are from what’s known as the Family Dog Series, which advertised a series of shows at San Francisco’s famous Avalon Ballroom.

These represent the first wave of psychedelia, and are often so beautiful that they hold their own as standalone art.

Of all the 147 posters in the Family Dog series, one stands above the rest – Grateful Dead’s 1966 Skeleton & Roses.
…Although the designer basically stole the design from E.J. Sullivan’s book The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

This is a classic from the era of hippies, bright colors, and LSD experimentation. In fact, the concert being promoted occurred just three weeks before LSD was banned in California. Since then, its cultural significance hasn’t wavered.

Copies regularly sell for over $100k. In fact, in early 2022, someone bought the highest-graded Skeleton & Roses poster for $165,000.

Who was the buyer?

It was us! 🤘

That’s right — Our ALTS 1 Fund holds this ultra-special poster graded 9.8 from CGC. This is the holy grail of the entire asset class, and we got ahold of it in the highest-possible grade.

We’re not the only ones with our hands on a copy. Pete Howard, Heritage Auctions’ Director of Concert Posters (cool title), talks about how this 9.6 version managed to stay in excellent condition throughout the years.

And Rally Rd is IPOing a 9.6 version later this year:

Be grateful: The price of this 9.6 version is 🤌

3. The Hank Williams Ohio Poster, 1953 ($150,000)

On New Year’s Eve in 1952, Hank Williams set out to perform a couple of shows in Ohio.

At 7 pm, Williams and his driver stopped to rest in Knoxville. The duo ordered a couple of steaks to their room + a doctor for Williams, who’d had a bit too much booze. The doctor came up to the room and delivered Williams a shot of vitamin B12 and, for some reason, morphine. Soon after, Williams and his driver left the hotel and continued their trek.

The two stumbled to an all-night diner, where his driver went in to grab some food. When he returned, the singer was unresponsive. Hank Williams died a few hours later at age 29, just hours before his show.

The world’s third-most valuable poster promotes a concert that never happened. The tragic story has boosted the value of this poster to $150,000.

How to invest in concert posters

It’s not too late to get into concert poster collecting & selling. But where do you begin?

Where to find concert posters

As obvious as it may sound, buying a poster from the concert is the best way to ensure authenticity. Plus, you’re supporting artists directly, and you get the chance to have it signed. Win-win.

A few retailers specialize in selling OG music posters:

  • Classic Posters is where we bought the 9.8 Grateful Dead Skeleton & Roses poster. It has a great selection, and does both auctions and buy-it-nows.
  • Limited Runs has a bunch of vintage posters on sale, including this cool 1966 Bob Dylan movie poster for $750.
  • Wolfgangs has original prints of posters, tickets, and handbills. There are nearly 50 Jimi Hendrix posters for sale, including a $6,600 signed 1968 serigraph for a gig at the Filmore Auditorium.
In a serigraph print, each color is printed separately. It’s labor-intensive and takes weeks to create. We take digital art for granted today, but back in the 60s creating a piece like this was a true work of art.

The best concert posters to buy now

It’s important to understand that these are long-term investments. Unless something extraordinary takes place, concert posters don’t just triple in value after a concert. They become ultra valuable once when it’s clear the artist stands the test of time.

Some affordable options from the past few decades are seeing their demand start to fly. For example, take Nick Cave. While he isn’t the most well-known artist, he’s highly respected and considered a bit of a genius within musical circles.

A 2006 poster promoting his Manchester Concert originally cost £50. It’s now worth about £1,000 — 20x in 16 years (24% CAGR)

Signed, numbered, and doodled. Each of these 333 posters was hand-drawn and signed by artist Emek. Everything in the poster represents a song, album or lyric written by Nick Cave.

Nirvana posters are another great opportunity. By the 2040s, it will have been half a century since Nirvana took the world by storm. (Feel old yet?) If so, great. It means the timing is right for an artist to become vintage.

You can pick up some 1994 near-mint posters from their concerts in Germany for about $400. Each poster’s design is slightly different for each German city Nirvana played in.

Another option is the limited edition poster from this 1994 gig in Rome, where Nirvana played alongside Melvins.

Is Nirvana vintage? You bet. More time has passed between today and the release of Nervermind, than the release of Nevermind and the Kennedy assassination.

Closing thoughts

Concert posters are an unexpectedly high-growth collectible. Yet they’re still a relatively nascent & untapped asset class — all the really big sales have only happened in the past few years.

We were early to identify this trend, but there is plenty more upside. This stuff is artwork, after all. It’s beautiful. It’s timeless. In some cases, it’s legendary. (Though if you’re looking to make money, you need to focus on originals, not reproductions.)

Let’s circle back to the most expensive concert poster on the market, The Beatles’ Shea Stadium 1966. At this moment, the poster is worth $275k. But I don’t think that’s anywhere close to its true price ceiling. You just need patience.

Populations are ultra-low on these things too. Compared to a similar artwork-driven asset class like comic books, it’s not even close.

Take the comic book Amazing Fantasy #15 (which contains the world’s first appearance of Spiderman). Collectors think 2,000 copies of this comic exist, and it’s valued at up to $3m. So, as far as we know, the Beatles Shea Stadium poster is 200x rarer than one of the world’s most valuable comic books.

Now, concert posters may never fully catch up to comic books, but there’s certainly plenty of room for growth. If you’re a music lover, or just looking for a unique piece of artwork that doubles as an investment, it’s definitely not too late to jump in the pool.

Water’s still warm!

Disclosures

  • We have acquired a total of 5 concert posters for the ALTS 1 Fund, including the Grateful Dead Skeleton & Roses 9.8 mentioned above.
  • For more detail, read our most recent ALTS 1 Quarterly Report.

Share

Author

Stefan von Imhof

Stefan von Imhof

Stefan von Imhof is the co-founder and CEO of Alts.co.  With a background in alternative asset analysis, valuations, and due diligence, Stefan was born for this world. His alternative investing  newsletter has grown into Alts.co — the world's largest alt investing community, with over 230,000 investors. Originally from Boston and later Santa Barbara, CA, he now lives in Melbourne, Australia with his beautiful wife.

Related Posts

The Economics of Media Bundling

The streaming market is completely overrun. We explore the media bundling pendulum swing. How it works, where we are in the cycle, and and why re-bundling is an inevitability.

atm machine economics and plumbing

The Hidden World of ATM Machines

People don’t think much about ATMs, but there’s fascinating stuff going on behind the scenes. If you ever wondered about the “plumbing” behind ATM machines, this issue is for you.

The CIA’s Secret VC Fund

Today, we’re looking at ​In-Q-Tel​, the secretive firm funding some of America’s leading tech companies, operated by none other than the CIA.

Recently Published

Curious about investing in Cultural Assets?

Get updates on new IPOs across Rally, Collectable, and Otis.


Join the club. Start here.

    Join thousands of subscribers.
    Absolutely spam-free.