Bert and Stephen Vallar

BERT and STEPHEN VALLAR

Robert Vallar and his younger brother Stephen both learned the art of tattooing from their father. They had both apprenticed under Prince Vallar before his death in 1949 and had become masters at the art. Stephen did not relish a future as a tattooist and left the family business around 1953, leaving Robert (Bert) as the sole proprietor.

Bert Vallar was an excellent Tattoo Artist and, in the opinion of many tattooists, the most talented of all the Vallars at the art.

When his Father died in 1949 Bert was 29 years old and had been tattooing for around 15 years. He had learned to execute each design with fantastic detail, and combined with his natural artistic ability, he perfected the single needle style of tattooing down to an exact science.bert.jpg larger

He was a freehand tattooist who only worked with 3 colours: Black, Green and Red (other tattooers were boasting of 10 or more) and he could put a tattoo on really fast. He drew all his own flash and his designs stood out a mile as they were described as ‘sketch-like’ in their appearance. He is remembered by his contemporaries for his fine line work and shading.

Woolwich tattooist Jack Ringo remembers he was influenced by Bert’s work: 

“One time when I was in the Navy, in Glasgow for the weekend, we went to see Bert Vallar, down Argyle Street. I’d never seen water shading like that before.

When we went in, he was tattooing a rose on someone and it looked like a photograph. It was beautiful work. That turned my head around. I realised I had to get experimenting but I didn’t get very far, because I was old school. I liked heavy shading and bold colour. But it stuck in my mind. The next time I saw anything like that was with Ron Ackers”

Bert’s work is still evident today on thousands of men throughout Scotland. Although time has taken its toll on these tattoos the quality of the work is still there for all to see. Each design has to be admired for its detail alone and without actually seeing an example in the flesh, the reader will find it hard to see from photographs what all the fuss was about. Anyone who has tattooed will know that it’s a skilled artist that can tattoo ‘single needle’ and Bert had this down to an exact science.

Today many people mistakenly attribute tattoos done by Bert as done ‘by Prince Vallar’ but this is an honest mistake.

Bert never removed his father’s name from the sign above the shop. It still read P. Vallar & Sons’ after his death in 1947 and remained that way up until 1965. Many customers visiting the parlour after 1947 were still under the impression that Prince was tattooing them. The reality was that it was now Bert that was actually doing their tattoos. Throughout his 30 years in Argyle Street Bert had earned a solid reputation as a great tattoo artist and a worthy successor to his father’s legacy.

Unfortunately he had grown tired of the profession and the sometimes rough clientele that patronised tattoo shops. Glasgow was a rough place to be in the 1940/50/60's and anyone who operated a tattoo shop during that period will tell you that wasn’t the easiest of jobs to be in at times. He later explained to me that he had only learned his father's trade because it was what was expected in those days.

In the end, he had simply had enough and did not even wish to even reminisce about the old days at the tattoo parlour.

Photography and Picture framing

By the 1950’s Bert had began to introduce photography into the business premises at 404 Argyle Street. When Prince had opened the shop in 1935 the whole shop was dedicated solely to tattooing. Through Bert’s ownership period, the front of the shop was increasingly used as a display area for photographic equipment and supplies, while the back was still used as a tattoo parlour. Bert sold cameras and offered other photographic services like hand-colouring black and white photos etc. This had been a common sideline in tattoo studios since the early 1900’s and was offered by lots of American shops. Bert also began framing pictures for customers and eventually the photography business took precedence in the shop.

Many customers visiting the shop for a tattoo vividly recall being in the middle of getting a tattoo done when Bert would suddenly rise up, without explanation, and attend to a potential photographic customer, leaving the tattoo half done until the camera sale was finalised. He is also remembered for doing the same thing at lunch time!

1965 marked the end of an era for tattooing in Scotland. Thousands of young men (and some women!) had passed through the doors of the small tattoo parlour at 404 Argyle Street, Glasgow and left with the mark of three of the greatest tattooists in Scottish history 

Prince Vallar & Sons