The Communication Company
"Publishing Arm of the Diggers"
San Francisco Haight-Ashbury
The collective members of the Communication Company fashioned themselves "the publishing arm of the Diggers." As such, their record of broadsides, manifestos, leaflets and street sheets leaves us a rich slice of Digger philosophy as it played out on the streets of the Haight-Ashbury during the spring and summer months of 1967. Many of the anonymous sheets came from the Diggers themselves; others had been penned by Chester Anderson, one of the Beat survivors from North Beach who gravitated to the new scene in the Haight. Inspired by the Diggers and their Free philosophy, Chester and his partners Claude and Helene Hayward set up a printing operation with two "beautiful" Gestetner mimeograph machines that had been nefariously obtained through the offices of Ramparts magazine. Everything (or nearly so) was free of charge. If someone had heard a rumor of a bust, or had a good lead on free food, or wanted to announce a poetry reading, Communication Company had roving reporters on the street who could rush at a moment's notice back to the flat where the Gestetners were kept. Within a short time, a new street sheet would appear, to be distributed by the volunteers who acted as the distributors.
I started collecting ComCo sheets, as we called them, in 1971. Chester had estimated there were "around 900" unique sheets. To this day, I've collected around 350. My plan for these Web pages is to create a history of the Diggers out of the enormous archive of writings and publications they left behind. This collection of street sheets is a vital link to that history. I only hope they will bring as much pleasure to my audience as they have me over the years.
Note on the format: I have used the catalog numbers that I assigned to the Digger and Communication Company materials as I collected them. Thus, the very first ComCo sheet that I collected is CC001. (It also happens to be the first ComCo sheet that was printed, as far as I know.) I have included a title for each item, although in many cases this is simply the first line of the broadside.
NOTE (10/16/97): I now have my bibliographic database available through a Web form. I will be working on the format for displaying the ComCo collection in order to integrate the database with this listing. For now, click here for a complete listing of the catalog.
Among the many myths surrounding the Communication Company was always the idea that Chester had a stash of ComCo sheets that he had sent his "archivist". Chester had trotted out this story on numerous occasions when I had visited him at UCSF after a kidney operation in 1973 (1975?), even referring to this as a "complete run" of the Communication Company. Now, twenty years later, in one of those moments of serendipity that brightens any collector's day, I discovered the following notation while searching MELVYL (the online University of California Library Catalog):
FI PA ANDERSON, CHESTER Search result: 22 records at all libraries D 3 LONG Type HELP for other display options. 3. ARCHIVE/MANUSCRIPT Author: Anderson, Chester, 1932- Title: Chester Anderson papers, [ca. 1963-1980]. Description: 1 box (.4 linear ft.) Notes: Records (Jan.-Sept. 1967) of the Communication Company (San Francisco, Calif.), a member of the Undergound Press Syndicate, including broadsides, flyers, and handbills printed for the Diggers, San Francisco Mime Troupe, and the Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood Council, among other organizations, individuals, and events, including Human Be-In and the Invisible Circus at Glide Church. Also includes copy of a letter, 9 Feb. 1967, written by Chester Anderson to his friend, Thurlonius Benjamin Weed in Florida, discussing his move to San Francisco, his work, and his involvement in the Haight-Ashbury community. Also, includes edited typescripts of "Puppies" (Entwhistle Books, 1979) and "Fox & Hare" (Entwhistle Books, 1980). Literary figure of the Beat Era and the Haight-Ashbury community of San Francisco, Calif. in the 1960s. Founded the Communication Company, an innovative news service in 1967. Published works under his own name and a pseudonym, John Valentine. Anderson died in April 1991 in Homer, Ga., where he lived with relatives. Subjects: Communication Company (San Francisco, Calif.) Underground Press Syndicate. Diggers (Organization : San Francisco, Calif.) San Francisco Mime Troupe. Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood Council. Human Be-In (San Francisco, Calif.) Invisible Circus (San Francisco, Calif.) Beat generation -- California -- San Francisco. Psychedelic art -- Specimens. Haight-Ashbury (San Francisco, Calif.) Ephemera. Handbills. Poems. Other entries: Weed, Thurlonius Benjamin. Valentine, John. Puppies. 1979 Anderson, Chester, 1932- Fox & hare. 1980 Call numbers: UCB Bancroft BANC MSS 92/839 c
So, I skedaddled over to Berkeley, laying all prejudice against an East Bay outing aside, and visited Chester's MSS Collection at Bancroft. I have started to take notes which I have included here for anyone not in the vicinity or the fortitude to venture to the Camponile. Most impressive so far is that Chester apparently dated many, if not most, of the sheets he was sending his archivist. Also be sure to read the letter he wrote, as a newcomer on the scene, before he was totally immersed in the goings-on of the "New Community" in the Haight.