PRINCE VALLAR

Prince Vallar was born in Derry, Ireland in 1888.

His mother's name was Henrietta Rosine and his father name was Stephen Vallar.

Both parents were professional stage entertainers. Their show included clairvoyance, mind reading, palmistry and magic tricks. They were aided in their popular act by a small dog called Tiny who was billed as ‘the educated dog’.

prince vallarStephen and Henrietta performed all over Ireland, England and Scotland, appearing in large theatres, smaller venues like Waxworks, side shows, exhibitions and fairs. They promoted their shows as being ‘patronised by Royalty’ and billed themselves as ‘Society Entertainers’. They also offered their entertainment services for private engagements and drawing room gatherings.

Waxworks were popping up all over Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland. They were a new, popular form of entertainment and they housed livings Zoos and Museums as well as fairground type rides and galleries. Among the popular venues were Humber’s in Aberdeen, Stewarts in Edinburgh, Crouches in Liverpool and Glasgow and Carters Waxworks in Belfast. The performers and acts at each location was varied but included a strange variety of bearded ladies, Strongmen, giants, dwarves, Siamese twins, clairvoyants, fortune tellers and freaks of all kinds. Tattooing was also viewed as a curiosity and was in big demand at most waxworks at that period in time.

In July 1903 Stephen Vallar accepted an engagement with Carters Waxworks in Belfast, Ireland to appear for the summer season with other performers that included rifle sharpshooters, magicians, comedians.

carters

Also on the same bill was Ted Frisco, The Tattooed Showman and Tattoo Artist.

Click here for further reading on Ted Frisco Tattoo Artist

Ted Frisco had been brought in to replace journeyman tattoo artist Joe Kilbride at Carter's Waxworks. Professor Kilbride had previously spent a few years tattooing in Dublin and had came north to tattoo for 'J.C.' Carter for 8 weeks from February - March 1903. Kilbride then moved into a small premises in Belfast City Centre in April. In August he placed an advert in thew Belfast Newspaper that read:

kilbride advert for apprentice

Stephen Vallar quickly realised that this was an excellent opportunity for his son Prince to learn a trade that would eventually allow him to make a living wherever the family found themselves performing. Note that there was a 'fee' to be paid. That was typical of the time and a guaranteed entry into the world of tattooing. Prince learned the skills of tattooing from Joe Kilbride and stayed in Belfast with him while his Father and his wife continued on with their travels and performances. He worked with Joe Kilbride until April 1905, spending 2 years under his guidance before Kilbride decided to travel back to his hometown of Bradford, England.

For further reading on Professor Joe Kilbride please click here

Prince Vallar Greenock

Prince Vallar began his professional tattooing career in Greenock, Scotland in May 1905 when he was just 16 years old. He operated initially from a small shop at 31 The Vennel, Greenock which had previously been occupied by Thomas North, a Bill Poster contractor. Prince tattooed here alongside Madame Rosene who offered palmistry.

VALLAR AT VENNEL

VENELL 2

 In August 1905 they moved premises to 7 Kilblain Street, Greenock. Prince continued to tattoo here at least up until October 1905.

Prince Vallar - The Waxworks

In Scotland's main cities the was an explosion of waxwoks entertainment complexes. These buildings housed all sorts of human freaks and exoctic animals as well as conjourers, magicians and variety shows. Every show promotor was desperate to secure the service of a tattoo artists as the new electric tattooing was a crowd drawer in itself. Adverts were placed in the entertainment newspapers offering a share of profits or a decent weekly wage for an expert tattooer. There were several artists already working this circuit in Scotland like Charles Smith, Robert Leckie and the various travelling 'Professors' of tattooing that made a living from this type of work. Prince Vallar had his pick of various locations in Glasgow like Pickards, Fell's Crouches and Morrisons.

waxworks looking for artists

Prince Vallar Edinburgh.

The next recorded address for Prince Vallar was at the newly opened Marine Garden (pleasure gardens) Portobello, Edinburgh around 1909. The Gardens opened on 31 May 1909. Its attractions initially included a ballroom, circus and zoo, cinema and theatre, scenic railway, ornamental gardens with a maze and a football ground. 750,000 visitors flocked to the Gardens in the first year alone. The Gardens only opened in the summer months so this would mean that Prince Vallar would be able to work constantly from May until the end of August. The rest of the year would be taken up with private tattooing, working the waxworks circuit or tattooing from short term rented locations.

Over the next few years Prince Vallar working the summer seasons at the Marine Gardens in Edinburgh as well as tattooing in the waxworks and for private clients.

Competitors

Sutherland MacDonald, George Burchett, Alfred South and Tom Riley were all expert tattooists based in England at this time. They were all attracting lots of press coverage and Prince Vallar would have been more than aware of their celebrity and fame. Although not directly competing with Vallar, nearer home he found himself in competition with a host of other professional tattooists who had set up in Scotland's main cities.

Joe Kitteridge from Woolwich, London was now tattooing in Aberdeen. Professor George Norton had relocated to Dundee from Bishop Auckland. Ben Louvre was tattooing in Jedburgh in the Scottish Borders region. Sheffield born Charles Clement Augustus Smith was working the Marine Gardens in Edinburgh and also had spells in Glasgow, Dundee and finally in Aberdeen.

Visiting tattooist included the various Professor's who made their living from the waxworks and fairs. These included Prof Williams (Chicago USA) Tom Riley and Jim Wilson of London, Prof W. Thomas (London) and Prof A. E Lloyd (London) as well as a procession of other artists who were now tattooing for a living.

Tattooing had become increasingly fashionable with the British upper classes and the 1911 Census lists approximately 40 tattooists in Britain at the time. Prince Vallar listed his employment as that of 'Society tattooist' in the Scottish Census of that year.  This may have been an attempt to elevate himself above Kitteridge, Norton and Smith and the other tattooists around him at the time. Perhaps the years of working the waxworks and attractions circuit had taken their toll on Prince? Did he seek to elevate himself above the hearts and daggers that were a daily repeated request in the tattoo stance and look to spend more time doing elaborate artworks for well paying upper society clients? It was definite nod to MacDonald and Co and may have been a major factor in his next career move.

Prince Vallar United States of America

On 27th May 1912 Prince Vallar decided that his future lay across the broad Atlantic Ocean.  There was a thriving tattooing scene gathering pace in the United States of America and Prince Vallar must have been keen to see if he could be a part of the big show. He sailed from Glasgow to New York on the ship Caledonia aged 23 with £100 (approx. £8,000 in today’s money) in his pocket.

Landing in New York he would most likely have visited the tattoo parlours of New York’s leading Tattooists Charlie Wagner and Lew the Jew. Wagner was a leading light in the tattoo world at the time who tattooed at 11 Chatham Square in The Bowery from 1890 until his death in 1953. It’s safe to assume that Prince Vallar would have heard of him as many American sailors would have landed in Glasgow and Edinburgh during their sea travels and showed off his amazing work. Wagner sold tattooing equipment and it’s possible that Vallar visited with him to buy equipment and trade stories. 

It’s unknown at present what other cities Prince Vallar visited in the USA but he must have traveled around as there is a newspaper listing of him tattooing in Galveston, Texas at 2016 Market, Rooms 2420, Post office Street, Galveston.

vallar in texas. clipped

Prince Vallar Glasgow Zoo

On the 13th December 1912 The Scottish Referee Newspaper announced the return home to Glasgow from America of Prince Vallar, Society tattooist. He would now be operating at The Carnival, Glasgow Zoo, New City Road, Glasgow. The Zoo had been a favourite location for visiting tattooist since 1892 and had been host to Prof Williams from Chicago, Tom Riley and later his protégé Jim Wilson.  Unfortunately this would have been a short lived location for Prince as The Zoo was taken over by the military around 1914 at the start of WW1. The building finally closed around 1920.

return from usa clipped bw

Prince Vallar Falkirk

In December 1913 Prince took a month long lease in a shop at 132 High Street Falkirk. He advertised that he would be in the town for one month only and offered ‘first class work’ This would allow him to work day and night for 30 days and perhaps build up some cash to supplement his travelling tattooing throughout the rest of the year.

vallar advert falkirk

Prince Vallar Edinburgh

 

vallar at leith

VALLAR 1915 small

On 28th July 1915 The Edinburgh Evening news ran an advert announcing ‘Prince Vallar, Society Tattooist of Glasgow was tattooing at Marine Arcade, Portobello and would remain there until the end of August’. When the Arcade closed for the winter season Prince rented a small shop at 169 Leith Walk in Edinburgh to continue his trade.

VALLAR LEITH FOR PUBLISHING

On the 15th December that year Prince Vallar married Margaret Collis in Glasgow.

Private Vallar Soldier

On 24th June 1916 Prince Vallar enlisted as a soldier in the 2/1 Highland Cyclist Battalion and was based at Arbroath on the east coast of Scotland. On 8th August 1918 he transferred to 6th Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment and served in Wicklow, Ireland. He served 2 years and 84 days in total and was discharged due to medical reasons on 8 Feb 1919.

prince vallar

Back in Glasgow

The years after WW1 were difficult for everyone in Scotland. The Spanish Flu Pandemic swept through Glasgow (the first city in the Britain to be affected by this deadly influenza pandemic which claims the lives of millions worldwide) and Scotland was mourning a 25% loss of all its Soldiers who had went off to war.

There was also a major downswing in the Scottish economic fortunes as shipbuilding and heavy industry ground to a sudden halt.

Very little is known about Prince Vallar’s tattooing career during the 15 years after WW1 and the only official records available relate to the birth of his 2 sons Robert and Stephen. It’s safe to assume that tattooing was not a priority among the Glasgow/Edinburgh population and that its popularity was on the slide during this time.

He did continue to tattoo but it’s not known if he worked from home or travelled around to client’s homes.

The world depression in 1929 loomed and unemployment levels soared. In 1933 at the height of the depression around 30 per cent of the Glasgow’s working age population was out of work.

However despite the economic downturn in 1935 Prince Vallar opened a tattoo parlour at 404 Argyle Street in the city’s Anderson area. Being located close to the Glasgow docks and shipyards could have been a deliberate attempt to bring his exceptional artistic skills to the working classes and offer wider accessibility to his tattooing services. In 1936 several newspapers reported that “Prince Vallar, Scotland’s only tattooist (This is wrong: There were others) has completed his 50,000th subject after tattooing busily in Glasgow for 35 years” and that his longest tattoo had taken “36 hours, working in 4 hour shifts. It was a representation of the Garden of Eden on a man’s chest”

WW2

The years of WW2 (1939-1945) were an extremely busy time for Tattoo Artists in ports and cities worldwide and Prince Vallar’s Tattoo parlour was no exception. The Sunday Post Newspaper reported in 1942 that “war has brought prosperity to the trade” and that “soldiers were having their regimental badges, airmen have them set between wings, while sailors prefer their initials set on an anchor”  In another newspaper interview in 1945 Prince is quoted as saying he will not tattoo women “the leading and oldest established - 42 years – tattoo artist of the city shook his head when asked if he had had any WRENS, ATs or WAAFs as recent customers. No, I have not. And if they did come I’d refuse to oblige. I don’t think it right for a woman to be tattooed.”
tattooing not for girls prince

The Final Journey

Prince Vallar tattooed in the Argyle Street parlour for 12 years up until his death in 1947 aged 59 years.

In his 42 years as a professional tattoo artist he had developed a unique style of tattooing that was instantly recognised worldwide. His fine, single needle, sketch-like designs with simple colouring were admired and copied by many. He had marked the skin of thousands of sailors, soldiers, merchant seamen and travellers from Russia to Hong Kong.

He was a skilled, freehand artist who drew all his own designs, preferring to hand-draw each individual tattoo straight onto the skin without the aid of stencils or transfers. Prince's work is seldom seen on the skin today in Scotland but his legacy was carried on by his 2 sons Robert and Stephen after his death.