The leading printer of rock concert posters during San Francisco’s vibrant music scene of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Tea Lautrec Litho was founded and owned by Levon Mosgofian (1907-1994), a master printer who spent more than five decades in the printing business. Beginning with a 1967 poster (BG-66) designed by Bonnie MacLean (b. 1939), Tea Lautrec Litho had printed over 200 posters for concert promoter Bill Graham (1931-1991) by the time Graham closed his Fillmore East and West ballrooms in mid-1971.
The firm also printed posters during those years for Chet Helms (1942-2005), who promoted concerts as The Family Dog at the Avalon Ballroom and later on San Francisco’s Great Highway. Mosgofian was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts, in 1907. His family moved to Fresno in 1918. He moved to Los Angeles in 1924 and entered the printing trade in 1925. After the 1929 stock market crash Mosgofian moved to San Francisco, which had a busy printing industry. A self-taught aratist, during the Depression he worked as a lithographer for the Works Progress Administration. Around 1946 he obtained work with the Neal, Stratford & Kerr printing company in San Francisco, a shop known for its letterpress printing but not lithography. Mosgofian took over their offset lithograph presses and developed a fine reputation for that work.
Through Joseph Buchwald (1917-2012), one of the printers who also worked there, Mosgofian was introduced to Graham; Buchwald’s son Marty Balin was a founder of the Jefferson Airplane, one of the bands Graham promoted. As the work for Graham increased, Mosgofian’s boss Gerald Stratford (d. 1992) became worried about the effect on the shop’s other business as barefoot hippies (the rock poster artists) came into the shop. Mosgofian set up a separate division to work with the rock poster artists, which he called “Toulouse Lautrec Posters, a Division of Neal, Stratford & Kerr,” paying homage to the great French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901). The name was shortened to “T. Lautrec Litho” until poster artist David Singer (b. 1941) suggested it should be “Tea Lautrec Litho,” with “Tea” being a slang term for marijuana.
When later in 1967 Neal, Stratford & Kerr closed its doors, Mosgofian took all of the offset lithograph equipment in lieu of unpaid overtime pay, did business as Tea Lautrec Litho and continued the fruitful relationship with Graham and his artists. The artists included the “Big Five” of rock poster art, Rick Griffin (1944-1991), Alton Kelley (1940-2008), Stanley Mouse (b. 1940), Victor Moscoso (b. 1936) and Wes Wilson (b. 1937), as well as MacLean, Lee Conklin (b. 1941) and David Singer. Mosgofian continued to employ Buchwald and added Monroe Schwartz (1925-2000) to the staff. Mosgofian, Buchwald and Schwartz were known for working closely with the artists and helping them to translate their visions into print, particularly with regard to color selection, a very important service since few of the artists (other than Moscoso) had any training in lithography. The printers also worked long hours to meet the weekly deadlines for printing the posters.
The Tea Lautrec printers and the others in the small offset lithography shops in San Francisco were the unsung heroes of San Francisco’s poster era. After the Family Dog and Graham closed their ballroom operations, the music business evolved but Tea Lautrec Litho continued to print posters and other materials for bands, including the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead and The Who. Singer designed a poster celebrating Mosgofian’s 70th birthday in 1977. The shop was still operating in 1990 when Graham commissioned it to print the poster for Paul McCartney’s concert in the University of California, Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium on March 31, 1990. Tea Lautrec Litho closed when Mosgofian died in San Francisco in 1994.
“San Francisco Rock Posters and the Art of Photo-Offset Lithography” – Victoria A. Binder, presented at the Book and Paper Group Session, 38th Annual Meeting of the American Institute for Conservation, May 11-14, 2010 Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
“Was Levon Mosgofian of Tea Lautrec Litho the Most Psychedelic Printer in Rock?” – Ben Marks, Collectors Weekly, September 22, 2014