The Print Mint was a major publisher of underground comics during the genre's heydey. Starting as retailer of psychedelic posters, it soon evolved into a publisher, printer, and distributor. It was "ground zero" for the psychedelic poster. The Print Mint was originally owned by poet Don Schenker and his wife Alice, later partnered in the business with Bob and Peggy Rita.
Don and Alice Schenker started The Print Mint as a retailer of posters and art reproductions on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, California, in December of 1965, originally sharing a store with Moe's Books, but later on moving into a separate location down the block. (The Schenkers and Moe's Books owner Moe Moskowitz had been friends back in New York City during the 1950s Beat era, so this association was a continuation of that connection.)
Posters and underground comics
The Print Mint soon opened a wholesale division, publishing and distributing posters and underground comics. The dance venues at The Avalon Ballroom and The Fillmore were advertised by posters designed by artists Stanley Mouse, Rick Griffin, Alton Kelley, Victor Moscoso, and others. These posters were soon in much demand, and The Print Mint distributed many of them along with work by Peter Keymack, Hambly silkscreens, Solo Period posters, M. C. Escher prints, Neon Rose, Bob Frieds Food line, and many others.
Move to The Haight
In December 1966, the Print Mint opened a second store on Haight Street, in the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco, in a building that Moe Moscowitz had purchased to install a book store. (Unfortunately, the city had refused to give Moscowitz a permit to sell used books, so his plan was never realized.) 1967 was an eventful time, with the store being a center of neighborhood activites, a main source of countercultural information and creative energy to the huge influx of young people coming into San Francisco that summer. The store grew from being a simple retailer into a complex cross-country distribution and then publishing operation.
Moscowitz forfeited the building in December of 1967, bringing a demise to Print Mint in San Francisco.
Beginning in 1968, but really getting going in 1969, publishing and distribution of underground comics became The Print Mint's major endeavor. With their partners the Ritas, (employees that the Schenkers had offered a partnership to in 1967), Don did the organizing, editing and layout of the books, working with the artists. Bob and Peggy Rita and Alice did the distribution and the nuts and bolts of running the business. Alice also oversaw the Berkeley store.
The Print Mint published such underground comix notables as Robert Crumb, Rick Griffin, S. Clay Wilson, Victor Moscoso, Gilbert Shelton, Spain Rodriguez, and Robert Williams. Titles they published include Zap Comix, Mr. Natural, The Legion of Charlies, Moondog, and Cheech Wizard. In addition they published one of the first eco-comics, the Dying Dolphin, a solo effort by rock poster artist Jim Evans, with contributions by Ron Cobb and Rick Griffin.
The Print Mint's bold experiment with Arcade: The Comix Revue, started in 1975 and edited by Art Spiegelman and Bill Griffith, with each issue sporting a cover by R. Crumb, paved the way for RAW! just a few years later.
The Print Mint weathered a lawsuit filed over the publication of Robert Crumb's Zap, particularly issue #4 (published in 1969). The Schenkers were arrested and charged with publishing pornography by the Berkeley Police Department. Previous to that, Simon Lowinsky, who had a gallery on College Avenue in Berkeley and had put up an exhibition of the comic artist’s original drawings, had been arrested on the same charge. His case came to trial first. He was acquitted after supportive testimony from Peter Selz, a prominent figure in the art world. At that point the city dropped the charges against the Print Mint.
By 1975 the partnership with the Ritas was not going smoothly. Alice Schenker says that an agreement was made to split the business between retail and wholesale, the Schenkers taking the retail store and the Ritas the wholesale and publishing. The Print Mint ceased publishing comics in 1978, but the poster shop continued. In 1985 the Schenkers sold the store. It continues to this day, looking much the same.