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.


Save the Date


Save the Date Opening day is Saturday, September 24.


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

Trader Vics' legacy.

Here sits the polished skull of my vanquished enemy says one Chief Executive Officer. Where the disagreeable end up. What's that you were saying? As he reaches across the desk for a sharpened #2 pencil from the bone white skull. Now, are we being part of the solution or part of the problem?

These Tiki Mugs held wildly intoxicating rum drinks like Navy Grog and Scorpions. Many heralded from that old rum house, Trader Vic's. Be there but one good reason Not to vote for Trump, it would be that evil Ivana Trump. She dispensed with the Trader Vic's at the Plaza Hotel in NYC. It resided for years on 59th Street while she and The Donald were busy plundering trophy properties all over New York City.

Just keep Ol' Dry Bones out to set the proper tone. Ponder ye, the fate of the last quarrelsome soul to trod the well-worn Persian rug leading to this Captains well oiled desk!



The guy's name is Harry Lawson, right? 


Recently looked at a sheet that was unidentified. It's early and nicely drawn. We wanted to try and identify the author, if possible.

There's a date; May 20th 1930 written in pencil and erased under the eagle wings of the crossed equator design. Which caused us to look further. Scotty in the Lift Trucks Lab found another erased set of letters at the bottom of the sheet.  Looked like "...rry V Law...n.  He then looked at it a different way by flipping colors on the computer to a negative. Almost like a blueprint. You can see it clearly in person, not so much in the photo (apologies.) But you get the idea. All falls into place and says in all caps; HARRY V LAWSON.

Not a bad way to check for signatures on a sheet. Flipping some colors will work better than others. Old computers sometimes have a color matrix rotation system button. On newer models, try Photoshop or iPhoto and swap out one color for another.
One tell was the unique style of feathered shadows under the feet of the women. A black line with fade cast. This is on other Lawson's in a book. Shows up here on the ukulele girl and pirate lass giving stylistic evidence, along with the block letter signature, that sheet is most likely by Harry V. Lawson.  

Maybe another reason to dig back into into the slag heap of unidentified tattoo flash sheets.

 Click image to see enlarged. block letters: HARRY V LAWSON



Goodnight Irene 


Irene Woodward, also known as La Belle Irene, was a tattooed lady who performed during the 1880s. She made her New York debut just weeks after Nora Hildebrandt to great fanfare, including a report in the New York Times. She worked at Bunnell's museum and successfully toured Europe. Onstage, she claimed to have been tattooed by her father, and, in a break from the usual tales of forcible tattooing, claimed she actually wanted the work done. Woodward was actually tattooed by Samuel O'Reilly and his then-apprentice Charles Wagner. At times, she claimed to have been inspired by having seen Constantine. In 1883, she married a showbiz man named George E Sterling with whom she had a son, also named George, and spent 15 years in the circus.

She died in December of 1915 at the age of 53 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Info courtesy of MBEzine.

Here's a sketchbook page from the sketchbook of Samuel F. O'Reily, Irene Woodward was illustrated by him.



Ed's Tatoo Parlour 

Tattooist: How about a butterfly on your hip? 
Teenage Girl: Its like you read my mind! 

Will be stopping by Ed's.  Location rocks, stumble on over with me, matey.  Must be lovely, rear of Finn's bar.  Although not a confidence builder having the word "tatoo" misspelled on his shingle. All doubts were quickly dispensed seeing the classy English spelling of the word Parlour. Wonder what city this was in?  Must have been back east somewhere. I don't exactly remember. Heh, heh. You going to finish that Rob Roy?


Aloha, Baby 

Here's a sheet of tattoo flash that surfaced at an obscure auction. Story was that it originally came through a swap meet in Northern California, not sure what one but maybe the now defunct Marin City. Which was a very cool place where lots of hippies would set up selling stuff from wealthy guys like the Jefferson Airplane musicians. Phil Ochs widow was there a lot. Kind of sad actually but she had nice things for sale and was a nice person. A well heeled town with good items not just sand candles and yarn dream catchers but expensive bikes, early electronic gear and mint Bill Graham Fillmore posters.
Anyway the auctioneer said the guy who owned the sheet of flash remembered that he got it from Albert Morse. Mr. Morse was a famous comic book artists' lawyer (don't mention his name to comic book guys, as they will spit and fume.)  Unhappy dealings! They cry.

Albert Morse traveled the country and documented many tattooists. A hero in this world as he preserved history, wrote The Tattooists and had a great tattoo art show at the Oakland Museum of Art 25 years ago.  Brought tattoo panels out of back rooms onto museum walls and the public eye.  

We originally thought this piece might be Owen Jensen's as the girl and peacock is something he drew occasionally.  But the fine line drawing just isn't his.  It kind of looks Californian even though it says Aloha Hawaii. Beautifully done, but one more for the Anonymous pile.