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Inflation of the Digger Dollar

A Cautionary Tale for Archivists of the Counterculture

The verso side of a "Digger Dollar" (c. 1967). Size is 8.5" x 3.125". Click on the image to view a larger version.

Over the past twenty years of putting this website together, it's been an interesting experience dealing with the public who access these pages. Occasionally someone writes an email letting me know how they've used the online Digger Archives here. Recently, I came across a history of the Communication Company by Evan Edwin Carlson written for his librarian's master's thesis at San Jose State University last year (2012). I read through his history, which is very well written, very level headed, and noticed that he had attributed many of his sources to the Digger Archives. I asked and Evan gave permission to publish his research, which is now posted under the History section.

And then, a more recent inquiry came in from the Feedback Form, requesting a scan of the "Digger Dollar" for this individual who has an interest in counterculture history. Now this was an unusual request, but again all communication that comes from public viewers is unusual. There has not been a lot. So I promised to scan the "Digger Dollar" for this person.

I'm not sure why I never scanned and posted the Digger Dollar. I guess because it never seemed as significant as so much else in the collection. What exists here online is only five or ten percent of the collection. There are many significant pieces that make up the Digger Archives which deserve to be accessible but are not (yet).

But, then—a copy of a Digger Dollar came up for sale on a dealer's site. The owner was asking $300 and explained why that was such a deal, because there had been a recent copy sold for $600. The synchronicity of these two events was enough reason to open a new page and allow me to disclaim the bane of commercial success for a counterculture archivist.

When this site first opened in 1993, it was intended to be an inspiration for local community activists who may not have heard about the Digger Movement of the Sixties and its relevance to organizing today. When the Occupy Wall Street movement manifested itself briefly in Zucotti Park in 2011, the form of the encampment in that brief urban experiment resembled the vision of the Diggers in their Free City manifestos. There in the middle of the Wall Street confluence was a free store, a free kitchen, free library, and multiple collectives organizing all the work to maintain and sustain the community. Just as had been envisioned in the article Post-Competitive, Comparative Game of Free City, part of the Diggers' last publication from 1968.

The intent was also to preserve the history that many of us who were involved in the Diggers and the Digger Movement had experienced. The documents here represent what we devoted our youth to trying to build. Some will call it blasphemy but I believe there should be a Vietnam Memorial for those who fought AGAINST the Vietnam War. Many people made decisions to oppose government policy, many marched in the streets, some dropped out of the given lifepaths they had inherited and tried to create something anew. In the Sixties many people in America and around the world chose new paths to resist the dominant society. The Diggers are an important voice in that counterculture. With all due respect to the historians who will come afterwards, the most important thing incumbent on me was to preserve this incredibly rich documentary history of that time.

It came as a shock the first time I found someone selling Digger items online. The Digger philosophy was always Free. One of the early Diggers once suggested that the Digger Archives print up a batch of tye-dye "1% Free" t-shirts and sell them. The suggestion was made in complete jest. Anyone who knew the Diggers would realize how ludicrous the idea is of selling Digger artifacts. Now it has become commonplace to find vendors selling Com/Co street sheets or Free City news sheets and who copy and paste the Overview section here to use as their item description. It is so commonplace that it hardly is noticed anymore.

But when a Digger Dollar gets sold for $300, that gets my attention. Just as the online website represents only a small portion of the archive, so the actual collection is not nearly complete. I am continually finding new Communication Company street sheets. I just finished putting up the virtual archive of the Chester Anderson Papers at the Bancroft Library. Chester always told me he thought they had printed 900 items in those eight months of 1967. Yet, the total number of Com/Co sheets in his collection at the Bancroft collection is around 400 sheets. I have collected and cataloged around 400, many of which are not in the Anderson Papers. Clearly, we still have our work cut out putting together the definitive set of Communication Company street sheets. And that doesn't even get to the collections of Digger sheets, Free City news, Planetedge materials, Free Communes, etc.

Lest this diatribe start sounding like a pity party, just let me make a plea to the reader. To all those who may have Digger materials: if you find at some point that you would like to unburden yourself of your paper treasure, consider donating it to the Digger Archives. Eventually this collection will be completely accessible online in various formats. And it will find a home in some library that is copacetic with the history of this movement. But in the meantime, I sure as hell can't afford $300 for a Digger Dollar. Let's hope that the demand for these materials slackens. And hope that this site isn't helping propel the paradox of collector demand which is anathema to archivists everywhere.

Ed.
 

The recto side of a "Digger Dollar" (c. 1967).
Size is 8.5" x 3.125".
Click on the image to view a larger version.

 
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The Digger Archives is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Cite As: The Digger Archives (www.diggers.org) / CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 / All other uses must receive permission. Contact: curator at diggers dot org.