The History of Tattoos in New York, from Bowery Sensation to Banned Art

The New-York Historical Society explores three centuries of Gotham’s relationship to the tattoo through vintage images, electric pens, and live demonstrations.

ALLISON MEIER, APRIL 6, 2017, hyperallergenic.com

Tattooing in New York has been a sideshow attraction, a banned underground practice, and an elite society trend. Performers in the early 1900s Bowery dime museums boasted wild tales of forced tattoos at the hands of “Indians,” while in the late 19th century, they were a fad with fashionable ladies, who got Japanese-style dragons and flowers inked in discreet places. Thomas Edison pioneered an electric pen in 1875, supposedly trying out some dots on himself in the process (although it was intended for reproducing documents). Then, just under a century later, in 1961, the city’s health department declared that it was “unlawful for any person to tattoo a human being.” The rule referenced several cases of Hepatitis B, but was likely meant to smooth the city’s rough edges ahead of the 1964 World’s Fair — never mind that the fully tattooed Betty Broadbent had been a star in the beauty pageant of the 1939 World’s Fair. Tattooed New York at the New-York Historical Society explored this complex history chronologically, emphasizing Gotham’s centrality in the development of the medium.

The exhibition, organized by Assistant Curator of Exhibitions Cristian Petru Panaite, opens with the indigenous tattoo traditions of New York, visualized through a group of 1710 mezzotints called “The Four Indian Kings.” Created by British printmaker John Simon after the work of John Verelst, they depict three Mohawk and one Mohican who went to London to ask for support for their tribe’s interests. The emissaries were treated more as a cultural sensation than a persuasive political force, unfortunately, and Simon’s prints were one of many responses to their unfamiliar appearance, including their tattoos. While I would have loved to learn more about the practice in the 18th-century United States, Tattooed New York then leaps offshore to the sea, where bored 19th-century sailors inked each other with good luck charms and scantily clad ladies. When they returned to ports like New York, they sometimes displayed their tattoos for money, or even set up shop.

Later, in the Civil War era, tattoos became popular with soldiers as a way of posthumous identification, a practice taken up by the New York–based Martin Hildebrandt. (He went on to ink Nora Hildebrandt, believed to be the first professional tattooed woman.) After Tattooed New York reaches the turn of the 20th century, its timeline gets tighter, and the individual characters that propelled the art, more distinct. Some tattoo artists, such as Samuel O’Reilly, inventor of the electric rotary pen and the first to open a mechanized tattoo shop in 1898, concentrated around the Bowery, while others gathered in Coney Island. Japanese artists arriving in the city introduced new inks and styles, with rice paper stencils giving way to acetate in the early 1900s. Sometimes a phonograph needle was used to trace a pattern, until the photocopier emerged in the 1980s.

Many of the early artists and their customers were men, yet Tattooed New York includes a series of cabinet cards of influential tattooed ladies. Some, including Irene Woodward, who had over 400 designs on her skin, told elaborate stories of being forcibly inked “by Indians” — a mythical story that went back to the 1850s and Olive Oatman, whose face tattoos, a mark of her status among the Mohave people, were sensationalized. Other women were tattoo artists themselves, like Trixie Richardson, who gave thousands of 1920s women their own subtle butterflies and forget-me-nots.

The 1961 tattoo ban, which endured until 1997, sent the parlors underground. On view is a 1962 window shade of flash designs from Tony D’Annessa’s tattoo shop on West 48th Street; he could quickly pull it up, as if he were the owner of a Prohibition speakeasy hiding its booze. During the time of the ban, tattoos also paradoxically started to get mainstream appreciation, appearing in exhibitions and supporting the public’s fascination with the art.

That fascination continues: at this moment, New York is flush with vintage tattoo exhibitions. The South Street Seaport Museum is tracing the “maritime roots of modern tattoo” through the early 20th-century work of Gus Wagner, and Ricco Maresca Gallery is exhibiting the midcentury tattoo art of Rosie Camanga, who moved from the Philippines to Honolulu right before World War II. Tattooing, of course, reaches far beyond New York; even Ötzi the Iceman, who died somewhere around 3105 BCE, has tattoos. But Tattooed New York demonstrates how the city’s legacy of international exchange and constant possibilities for self-metamorphosis have generated a unique style and tattoo culture. Fittingly, the exhibition’s three centuries of history culminate with contemporary art installed in a gallery that hosts live tattoo demonstrations on selected Fridays and weekends (the schedule is available online). There, visitors can witness the transformation of skin into canvas.

Samuel O’Reilly, “Eagle and shield” (1875–1905), watercolor, ink, and pencil on paper (collection of Lift Trucks Project)

Samuel O’Reilly, “Eagle and shield” (1875–1905), watercolor, ink, and pencil on paper (collection of Lift Trucks Project)

Irving Herzberg, “Tattoo shop of ‘Coney Island Freddie’ just prior to New York City’s ban on tattooing” (1961), digital print (courtesy Brooklyn Public Library)  

Irving Herzberg, “Tattoo shop of ‘Coney Island Freddie’ just prior to New York City’s ban on tattooing” (1961), digital print (courtesy Brooklyn Public Library)

 

When you read it you will know. This is for you.

A collection of poems by Kayla Milanes

"Subway”

All I see is sunflowers and white roses and Lily’s 

and railroad tracks

and there are white haired women singing “there will be days like this”

where the concrete don’t shine and the sidewalk cracks

singing “Young folk don’t know nothing bout love”

Like “There’s got to be days like this first”

There got to be days like this so you know you’re alive, child

so that young fool don't make you think he’s the reason

White haired women, they said there’d be days like this when all you got is the ride home

until the sun don’t shine on the things you once needed it to

 

“Save it for yourself”

Your mother’s hips did not stretch and her back break in half 

for you to give your body to a boy who does not worship it

 

“Stop looking”

Behind the sugar coating and the salt covered rims there is uneasiness

There is cracked paint

There is no beauty here 

Stop looking

 

“honor yourself first”

There will be times that your mind is a war zone that you cannot conquer

and your body is a dead soldier on the battlefield

You will lose your pride and your honor and there will be no one watching

There will be no flag spread for you

No memorial in your honor

You must clap for yourself

 

“Self explanatory”

Teaching a man how to love you is like teaching your body how to breathe

You shouldn't have to

 

“Your mother should've told you this"

You do not deserve any less than a heart that will break outside of its bones for you

 

“Mom”

My mother

with her cocoa covered skin and charcoal coated hair

is the first home I have ever planted my wet soil covered toes in

 

“No one can help you”

You are sad

You are a boneless body begging for someone to hold you up straight

You can’t even hold yourself up without collapsing into your own weathered skin

You can’t rise

You never could

 

“What it means to me”

To be loved is to be looked at like you are light

Like you are brighter than any shadow this cold world has tried to cast you in

 

“That is the only way you will feel whole”

Find someone who loves the parts of you 

you didn't know how to on your own

 

“It’s not over yet”

You are a crooked painting

Or maybe a crooked smile

Or a half healed scar

You are only trying the best you can

Keep trying

 

“What it should've been”

Love is not boastful

It is not loud or obscene

It is small

It is a hand or a ring finger

Anything you can hold onto

Anything you can fit into your pocket for the days you are not sure

On the days where your head beats louder than your heart

When your heart seems too small to feel its own beat this love will be a reminder

A soft whisper for when even your hands are too broken to feel it

 

About Kayla Milanes:
"I'm a 20 year old girl from a small town who writes for the people who need to hear it. Who will feel something, read my poems and understand." 

 

Kayla02.JPG

Ink We Get - Part the Second

Selected Tattoo flash sheets are available for purchase at ltproject.com/inventory

https://www.forbes.com/sites/janelevere/2017/01/31/new-museum-exhibition-will-explore-300-years-of-tattooing-in-nyc-from-native-american-era-to-today/#56d355075d20

https://www.forbes.com/sites/janelevere/2017/01/31/new-museum-exhibition-will-explore-300-years-of-tattooing-in-nyc-from-native-american-era-to-today/#56d355075d20

http://www.newyorker.com/goings-on-about-town/art/tattooed-new-york

http://www.newyorker.com/goings-on-about-town/art/tattooed-new-york

WAKE UP CALL

Take heart antique dealers of the world!  Just because there are no more sales for pewter, Lionel Trains, Model T's and spinning wheels does not mean the industry is dead. Pier Shows, Armory and Barnstorm shows are all taking dirt naps right now.  But stop all your complaining. You will be fine.  Reset. Look at brighter, more exciting stuff. Like Tattoo flash. Look at the age of the crowd at Ricco Maresca's exhibit of Rosie Camanga's tattoo work. The drawings are brilliant and resonate with a younger crowd.  And they are engaged. The one to watch is the visionary gallerist Frank Maresca. This collection is from Don Ed Hardy (yes, the awful clothing guy). But he is also one of the most respected guys in the tattoo world. He alone set the scene for contemporary tattooists to prosper. He's a Yale educated writer who years ago pointed out that human skin is the new canvass. Movable, time sensitive and site specific, to quote a bunch of artworld buzz terms. He is right.  

Switch gears, put all your 19th century furniture in long term-park-lock-take the key storage. Better yet, keep on walking to the nearest pier and throw the key in. It's over. 

"Let's all go over to Jason's apartment and see his new antique quilt and paperweight collection.” Said no one. Ever.

Rosie Camanga  ROSE TATTOO March 9 to May 6, 2017

Opening Reception, March 9th 6-8pm

Ricco Maresca Gallery

29 West 20th St. 3rd Floor (between 10th and 11th Ave)
Tue-Fri: 10am-6pm, Sat: 11am-6pm

Selected Tattoo flash sheets are available for purchase at ltproject.com/inventory

 

 

Always Rosie in New York City

Tino (“Rosie”) Camanga (1910-?) moved to Honolulu from his native Philippines sometime prior to World War II. He worked for a time as a photographer, probably in one of the souvenir photo booths where one could have a picture taken against a painted backdrop of a prototypical Hawaiian scene: grass shack, Diamond Head, etc.—often accompanied by a “hula girl,” complete with grass skirt, provided by the photo operator.

After observing fellow Filipinos tattooing in the many shops in the downtown/Chinatown area, Rosie was granted a part-time job in 1944. He told the shop owner that the job was easy, since the work was all done with stencils; he’d “sketched” his whole life and knew he could do it. The owner scoffed at this and said he’d pay him $50 if he could put on a credible tattoo. Rosie demonstrated his ability by putting a piece on his own leg and was given the job. In wartime Honolulu, hundreds of thousands of military personnel swarmed through the downtown zone, boosting business to incredible levels in the penny arcades, bars, dance halls, government-sanctioned whorehouses, and tattoo shops that blanketed the area. After a couple of years, Rosie had drawn about 400 sheets of flash and left to open his own shop. He tattooed continuously in a variety of locations around the Hotel Street (downtown) area until 1991. After a short hiatus, he re-opened his final shop in a former shoeshine stand on the edge of Chinatown. As business was virtually non-existent for him at this point, he retired for good but kept on drawing.

Sailor Jerry Collins introduced me to Rosie in 1968. At that time, they had the only two tattoo shops on the island of Oahu, situated about a block apart. Jerry realized Rosie’s tattoo ability was primitive, to put it mildly, but respected him for his sobriety and industriousness. Rosie’s tiny shop was overlaid with his distinctive hand-drawn flash, layer upon layer, in a style unlike anything I’d ever seen. My early amazement and condescension at his raw version of classic tattoo design gradually gave way to unqualified admiration. When he began selling off his shop contents in the early 1990s I bought much of his flash and brokered it for him at art galleries on the mainland.

Rosie was a complete original. Humorous and tough-minded, he survived for decades in control of his own game in a volatile honky-tonk environment. A sense of sly humor helped keep him afloat—once he told a health inspector that the powdered charcoal used to apply stencils to the skin came from the barbecue. Rosie’s flash, from early examples (none of his work is signed or dated, but clues exist from dates or events depicted in the designs), segued from standardized versions of classic tattoo designs to eccentric and mysterious scenarios that were his alone. The format of a sheet of flash, crowded with multiple images, or the notion that something might be appealing to someone to wear indelibly for life, were mere jumping-off points for the world he created. He often collaged sheets with images he liked, which he’d clipped from a magazine or assembled from previous designs, which regularly depicted things and sentiments never seen in any other tattoo context. He continued to draw after he stopped tattooing, using the flash format for ever-more unexpected forms. The phrases accompanying the pictures are rendered in the artist’s adopted and imperfect English, often resulting in a hilarious and mysterious poetry of meaning. The overall effect is a wacky mixture of cartoon humor, lofty emotions, menace, and smoldering sexuality.

Rosie’s art anticipates today’s stretching of the boundaries in the canon of tattoo themes. But much “art flash” or actual tattoos by younger artists are often loaded with self-conscious irony and rampant careerism, retro-fishing from a world they never experienced. Rosie was the real thing: immensely prolific, completely sincere, and driven by a passion for drawing that ultimately sought to satisfy only himself. Yet, making his works available to a global audience, far beyond his tiny Chinatown shop, will realize a phrase found in one of his sheets of flash: “I fly from Honolulu to eternity.”

-Don Ed Hardy

 

 

Ricco Maresca Gallery, 529 West 20th Street, 3rd Floor, New York, New York 10011

Ricco Maresca Gallery, 529 West 20th Street, 3rd Floor, New York, New York 10011

Untitled (Parrot), c. 1950-80 ink on paper 13.75 x 11.5 in.

Untitled (Parrot), c. 1950-80
ink on paper
13.75 x 11.5 in.

Lego Me Arm, Matey

A dispatch from Crutch, Lift Trucks Project correspondent at large. With many thanks to, "S---t my LPO says."

There is a Facebook page called"S _ _ T MY LPO SAYS " LPO means Leading Petty Officer..They post all sorts of funny and many times not so funny new navy stuff...lots of new sailor Tats. I don’t get them all exactly…such as the 2 Submarine Pin Dolphins modified to the goldfish and the other with vicious dolphins...the Legoland Sailor = ummm = but back in my day there were lot of guys got Hotstuff the Little Devil, mostly guys that worked in the Enginerooms…and the cartoon Magpie Birds Heckle ’n Jeckle ...anyway here are a few new sailor tats to take a look at…

Tattooed Royalty at VIP Party

Lift Trucks Project contributed to the Tattooed New York exhibit at the New-York Historical Society, and had the pleasure of attending the opening. 

“Through artwork, artifacts, photography, oral histories, and live demonstrations, Tattooed New York explores the fascinating stories behind this controversial art form, from its early use by Native Americans to the launch of modern tattooing in New York City at the turn of the 20th century, the three-decade ban on tattooing and the recent mainstreaming of tattoo culture.”

New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West (77th Street) NY, NY 10024

On display from February 3 through April 30 2017 

Bowery paper mache window display, possibly Charlie Wagner’s.

Bowery paper mache window display, possibly Charlie Wagner’s.

A Bowery corner

A Bowery corner

Tony D’Annessa -  In front of his tattoo booth re-created at the NYHS

Tony D’Annessa -  In front of his tattoo booth re-created at the NYHS

Tony D'Annessa's tattoo shop with original window shade flash used in the 1960's. Made to easily roll up if the police came looking for tattooists. In 1961, it became illegal in New York to be a tattooist.

Tony D'Annessa's tattoo shop with original window shade flash used in the 1960's. Made to easily roll up if the police came looking for tattooists. In 1961, it became illegal in New York to be a tattooist.

Artist, Virginia Elwood

Artist, Virginia Elwood

Her arm

Her arm

Tattoo royalty - Wagner (Charlie's Grandson) and Moskowitz (son of Willy)

Tattoo royalty - Wagner (Charlie's Grandson) and Moskowitz (son of Willy)

Brad Fink and Michelle Myles of Daredevil Tattoo with Cristian Paniate, NYHS, Curator Tattooed New York.

Brad Fink and Michelle Myles of Daredevil Tattoo with Cristian Paniate, NYHS, Curator Tattooed New York.

Tattoo flash from the Bowery, NYC

Tattoo flash from the Bowery, NYC

Museum Director speech

Museum Director speech

Circus sideshow banners

Circus sideshow banners

Arthole at DIA

Here is the DIA Art Foundation’s 350,000 square feet of art space that was formerly an old box factory for Nabisco. We suppose in a science-fiction kind of way it’s pretty cool, but ghosts abound as most of it appears as dull as an unsalted three-day-old cracker. One clue is the nearly empty parking lot, but the grounds are wonderful with lovely plantings. 

Michael Heizer’s arthole seems butchered in the middle of one majestic room with high ceilings, beautiful hardwood maple or highly polished concrete floors. It really is a series of deep holes in the floor. From our shallow perspective, construction sites are infinitely more interesting.

Overall, it's a pleasant visit; the building makes it worthwhile. The art is incredibly minimalist with the exception of Richard Serra’s CoreTen scary-about-to-crush-you steel slabs and one other interesting display that we forgot to write down. Rooms of Dan Flavins' florescent light bulbs and strings going up to the ceiling which resembles a sheet of glass? Okay, we get it, but overall about as engaging as someone else's kid’s 5th grade science fair project.

There was a young lady who looked like a lost Bernie Sanders supporter staring at a pile of rubber stuff. Another person walking around the downstairs green light area. We all read Art Forum at least once in college (or looked at the ads anyway). It's okay. We get it.

It's salubrious to visit once every ten years when they change the exhibits. In addition, it serves a purpose; a visit to DIA makes us all realize why we love drawing, painting and sculpture.

Dia:Chelsea

535, 541 and 545 West 22nd Street , NY, NY 10011

Tuesday–Saturday 11 am–6 pm

 

Save the Dates! February 3rd- April 30th at the New York Historical Society

“Tattooed New York” will be on view from February 3, 2017 until April 30, 2017 at the New York Historical Society, with contributions by Lift Trucks Project.

ARTS & CULTURE

12/26/2016 01:54 pm ET

Weird That Thomas Edison Kind Of Invented The Tattoo Gun, No?

So much cooler than the electric light bulb.

Thomas Edison is often billed as America’s greatest inventor. While the title is normally discussed in reference to things like the electric light bulb and motion picture camera, we’d like to humbly add the tattoo gun to the list.

You see, it was Thomas Edison’s 1876 discovery of the electric pen, the terrifying-looking device above, that was the inspiration for the original electric tattoo machine.

Originally, Edison’s device was meant to create multiple copies of a single image or text by passing over a stencil with an inked roller, which moved at 50 punctures per second, transferring the stencil’s contents to a sheet of paper below. 

As a writing implement, the electric pen was a flop. But it caught the eye of a New York tattoo artist named Samuel F. O’Reilly, who, in 1891, created the first electric tattoo needle based on Edison’s prototype. The device increased the speed and accuracy of a process that had long been done by hand. 

So, basically, brilliant inventor Thomas Edison is the reason your ink looks so damn fly. Maybe that fun fact will come in handy when convincing your parents that your dream tattoo is in fact the product of a genius, historic American invention. You are simply doing your part to pay tribute to an American hero, is that so wrong? 

An original model of Edison’s electric pen is coming to the New York Historical Society in February, as part of an exhibition on the history of tattoo culture in New York City. The exhibit also includes painfully cool photos collected from the 300 year history of permanent body art, definitely disproving your family’s theory that tattoos are just a trend. 

Tattooed New York” will be on view from February 3, 2017 until April 30, 2017 at the New York Historical Society.

Painting the Revolution in Philadelphia.

Great art sometimes comes in times of major stress. This show deals with a school of art that has been recently overlooked if not relegated to the dustbin of history. We need to look again, the curators show us. These pieces in this show were created during years of social upheaval and revolution in Mexico. Conflict can be a catalist for great painting. An example of this theory occuring at the same time but on the other side of the world, was the German Expressionism movement. These artists were were slathering right out of the tube paint over screaming black lines while being shot at, suffering nervous breakdowns and being imprisoned during both World Wars. Meanwhile, neutral Switzerland snoozed under a blanket of 500 years of peace, supplying the world with cuckoo clocks and boxed chocolate. 

We are taken aback at how modern it all looks. There is a refreshing lack of European compositional elements. Even with leaders like Porfirio Diaz sending many Mexican artists to Europe to try learn 'em up.  The only klunkers are at the beginning of the show where the artists used old school compositional tricks of the trade. For example the golden section which serves to divide a painting into pleasing sections, often two thirds or two fifths. Typically a horizon line is employed or a figure stands exactly at this designated classical picture making proportion.  Thankfully Mexican painters went their own way basing their art on experience and the tradition of folk art.  

 

This Diego Rivera drawing looks fresh. We would not be surprised to find it on a mural in East LA or the cover of Juxtapoz magazine. It's from 1938.  
 

Inconceivable that this painting, Zapatistas by Alfredo Ramos Martinez, could by a French Impressionist. Flat, graphic and patterened, it stands up to today's aesthetics of design. The total lack of any perspective brings you right into the close quarters and the resolve of troops ready for battle. The one guy without a hat is a brilliant touch. 
Diego Rivera's dancers.

This grisly image was painted on the spot by Goita, an illustrator in Pancho Villa's army. He recorded the horrors of the Mexican Revolution in the summer of 1914. Communicates as well as a Goya. We like the owls.

Art for the people, these paintings cry! Enough of the bourgeois with their materialistic values and conventional attitudes. This show brings these brilliant painters together maybe in in all encompsing show for the first time? Clear out ideas of the cliched ol' south of the border art.

Drop everything take the bus or drive. Watch the local area parking fees ($55) and don't stay at the Logan Hotel - where we were interupted in the middle of the night by an employee with a pass key wandering about. "Oh, that was just Eddie, will somebody please tell him stop doing that, again?" Said the lady at the front desk.

building

Now Through January 8, 2017

From the start of the Mexican Revolution to the aftermath of World War II, artists and intellectuals in Mexico were at the center of a great debate about their country’s destiny. The exhibition tells the story of this exhilarating period through a remarkable range of images, from masterpieces by Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Frida Kahlo, and Rufino Tamayo to transfixing works by their contemporaries Dr. Atl, María Izquierdo, Roberto Montenegro, Carlos Mérida, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, and many others.

 

Lew Alberts, Bowery Artist

"Lew The Jew"  influenced Charlie Wagner, Ed Smith, Samuel F O'Reilly and scores of other Bowery tattoo artists at the turn of the century. He was very proud of his Jewish heritage as a positive selling tool and a way to distinguish himself.  This piece was found on the back of another old tattoo drawing in a ruined frame. This chest or back piece is the only finished color drawing discovered to date, by this seminal New York tattoo artist.

This piece travels through time, bringing us back to era of long gone sailing ships relying on lighthouses to navigate the rocky shoals. Identified as by the hand of Lewis Alberts, Bowery tattoo artist. Resting tightly in the museum at Daredevil Tattoo,Bowery, NYC, where it rightly belongs.

 Don Ed Hardy's book

The distinctive shading technique, rendering of ocean waves , light house depiction and especially the signature seagulls, stylistically prove this is indeed, by Lewis Alberts.

Lew "The Jew" Alberts, pencil and watercolor on board, The Bowery, NYC, c1910

Ashton Taylor & the Dragon

We have been told this drawing is by Ashton Taylor. Ok, we said. It's a great dragon and has all the hallmarks of tattoo flash. And why do we like English artists in the tattoo world? 

From the book;  Tattoo, Secrets of a Strange Art, as Practised among the Natives of the United States , the author Albert Parry cites many British tattoo examples  "...rather frequently because of the natural proximity of the motives and historical development to those of American tattooing."  The themes, many designs and the men themselves originate from Great Britain.

 These guys could really draw. Classically trained, they would study at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Natural History Museum in London. They also assimilated Japanese design elements.  Many immigrated to America carrying the designs with them. As a group they were a great influence on the American tattoo scene.

From Paul at Rambo Tattoo Museum, UK:
"The dragon art design you mention was from chris wrebluskey the author of many tattoo books including skin shows etc.

It came from an old tattoo art sketch book I bought of him some years back he said it was ashton taylors
It was one of three loose sheets in the book it was on display in my museum for the last 20 years before I traded it."

 Ashton Taylor piece came from this distinguished museum in London.   And a photo of this gent was tucked inside the frame. Speculation was that it might be a photo was of Ashton Taylor. Logic tells us otherwise. We think a long time ago, someone got hold of the frame and switched out the society swell for the dragon drawing. Dude looks way to mainstream comfy. Also, tattoo artists would not have the means nor inclination to wear Savile Row handmade suits.  


 

The New York Historical Society: Tattooed New York

Where it all started...

Hi Tom,

Thanks for the nice postcard. I’m putting it into my Tattoo photo album with all my pictures, letters, business cards and such.

It’s my scrapbook of memories of my years in the business.

The postcard shows that I achieved my goal of sharing this beautiful art that I have owned for 40+ years with the world.

Thanks for your help in making it happen.

Your friend,

Jim “Jimbo” Laporte

This is where it all started for me on the Long Beach Pike. Then I had shops in San Diego, Lancaster & 29 Palms California.


Caveat Emptor

Hey, no experts here... but we have been collecting and looking at junk for over 30 years. So this current eBay listing got our interest. Cool dragons, old lightning bolts and lettering on a trunk full of tattoo artifacts. Sign us up.

Then, something just didn't feel right. So we checked with other collectors and antique guys who know about old paint and age.Top dealers, collectors in other fields and tattooists who know what they are doing. Not so fast! They all cried. Step back and take another look. The first 'tell' being that clean black line painted over a beat to shit old white hinge in the top left corner. Why is that black line so crisp?
And where's the ink mess? Black Ink spots should be around the holes that were drilled into that folding piece of wood supposedly used for the upright machines to rest in while the guy was tattooing.

Next, stylistically, the outlined wings on the eagle don't trap the paint. Never seen this type of loose line and wobbly paint on a tattoo sign or folk art item before. It's like bad crayon book coloring. Maybe works for wonky modern drawings, but not seen in the 1920's. Logically a tattooist would want to completely fill in outlined areas. Always finish coloring and shading up to the black outline. A sign serves as a portfolio for the tattooists work.
The machines inside are unidentified. One even employs the classic Mud Flap Girl as a cut out frame. This does not seem like the 1920's. If it ever was a machine frame, it was probably made later like in the sixties or seventies.

Then there's this half dollar sized blotch in the green painted lid. So why does the nice dragon painting go right over the dashed out area? Wouldn't the douse on the lid have also taken a chunk out of the dragon? Looks more like new paint over an old box. Same methods as the decorative Electric Tattoo painted box, that at this typing, is still suffering along on eBay. These are both nice looking items. Obviously created by a very skilled artist/craftsman. They probably started out being sold as out as very cool, nice looking decorative items. Problem is, once into the marketplace, they move up the bs ladder until somebody swears they are real. As in "found in my grandfathers dusty old attic" real.

Now the box maybe have been a tattooists box. But the paint probably has been improved, embellished or added on recently. Then you have to wonder, just how did Mr. Tattooist carry this here box? Like a dead goat or a bag of concrete? Where are the attachments for handles or rope straps?

Important note: We are talking about the item, here not the seller. Nobody is blaming the seller. He probably doesn't know. And he made the right move running it by Chuck Eldridge. Who we all know is reputable and would never betray the Paul Rogers Trust.

Problem is that the eventual buyer will someday figure it out. Feel 'took' and likely give up on a cool field of collecting. It's a time bomb waiting to go off. A rather expensive one.


Picture Information courtesy eBay