Kaliflower and The Free Print Shop
by Patricia L. Keats, Director of the Library
The California Historical Society is fortunate to have as one of its
manuscript collections an archive of the publication Kaliflower, produced
by the Free Print Shop in San Francisco from April 24, 1969, through June
22, 1972. Ms. 4008, The Friends of Perfection, which was the members'
semi-official name when dealing with outside agencies, is available for
research at the North Beach Research Library at the Society. These archival
materials were donated to the Society in 1973 by Irving Rosenthal and Eric
Noble. We are grateful to them both for the beautifully preserved condition
and the completeness of the set as they were donated to us. This year marks
the 25th anniversary of this donation to the Society.
The Free Print Shop grew out of one of the communes in the 1960s in San
Francisco, the Sutter Street Commune. The commune consciously adopted the
Digger Free Philosophy when it was founded in 1967. The Diggers, one of the
groups in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury District, took their name from the
original English Diggers (1649-50) who had promulgated a vision of society
free from private property and all forms of buying and selling. The San
Francisco Diggers evolved out of and combined elements of the bohemian arts
and underground theater communities as well as the radical Left political
that thrived in the San Francisco Bay Area in the mid-1960s.
The Diggers combined street theater, direct action, and art happenings in
their social agenda of creating a free city. Their most famous activities
revolved around distributing free food every day in Golden Gate Park and
distributing "surplus energy" at a series of free stores. The Digger
events, editorial comments of the day, pronouncements to the larger "hip"
community, manifestos and miscellaneous communications, were broadcast
through broadsides, leaflets and posters were distributed by hand on Haight
The Sutter Street Commune was set on implementing a blueprint for action
that the Diggers had outlined in 1967. The commune's founder brought his
printing presses to San Francisco in the summer of 1968, inspired by two
fellow Diggers who suggested a free publishing venture. Over the next
several years, the Free Print Shop published a variety of materials
including flyers for other communal groups, for free services, ecology
groups, free arts groups, and the occasional political protest.
In the spring of 1969 the Sutter Street Commune began publishing an
intercommunal newspaper, Kaliflower, named for Kaliyuga, the Hindu name for
the last and most violent age of humankind and the Hindu goddess Kali. For
over three years Kaliflower fulfilled the Digger intent to provide a free
publication for Bay Area communes. At its end there were close to three
hundred communes that were receiving Kaliflower every Thursday.
"Kaliflower Day," as the name by which Thursdays became known, was an
intercommunal ritual. That was the day of the week when Kaliflower got
bound and distributed to all the other communes on the routing list. In the
beginning, each commune that received Kaliflower had a plywood board with a
poster located in the communal space where the messengers would
hand-deliver the Kaliflowers. The California Historical Society has not
only copies of all the original issues of Kaliflower, but also one of the
plywood boards used for delivery. A bamboo tube, attached to the board, was
where any free messages were put waiting for the deliverer's pick up. Our
copies of Kaliflower were donated in an old Japanese steamer trunk salvaged
from a Victorian house in Japantown, where commune members lived for their
first seven years.
Each Kaliflower was printed and bound by hand. The binding used the
Japanese method of yarn overstitched on either the top or side. Every issue
was a different color, and offset printing was the method by which the
issues were printed. Kaliflower became an important mode of communication
among the communes. It was common for people who delivered Kaliflower to
come back with stories of going from one commune to another and being feted
at each in various ways. These messengers
would pick up announcements and free ads that would appear in the next
issue. The California Historical Society also has a complete set of the
broadsides, posters and other printed matter distributed with Kaliflower.
In addition, there are 286 Free Print Shop leaflets on various topics such
as "Free Presidio 27," "Bring Huey Home," "Hells Angels Party," " The
Non-Violent Revolution of India a Talk," and "Gay Liberation Now."
Eric Noble, one of the donors of the collection, became the unofficial
archivist for the commune and the movement at large. Noble, who still lives
and works in San Francisco, has also created a Web Site devoted to the
Diggers (www.diggers.org) which has a wealth of information about the
Diggers, Kaliflower (from which much of the above information was taken),
and other communes in the Bay Area during the 1960s and 1970s. The
California Historical Society also has another related manuscript, Ms.
3159, on the Haight Street Diggers, which is closely related to the above
donations and was donated by
Noble in 1976.
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