Kaliflower and The Free Print Shop

By Patricia L. Keats, Director of the California Historical Society (CHS) Library.

Originally published in the CHS newsletter, 1998.

Click here for the OAC guide to the Friends of Perfection (Kaliflower) collection at CHS. (OAC = Online Archive of California)

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 movements 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 Street.

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.

Copyright 1998 California Historical Society. All rights reserved.

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