THE HISTORY OF TATTOOING

Although the art of tattooing can be traced back to the beginning of time, modern electric tattooing was still in its infancy when Prince Vallar began his career.  In the late 1800's the art of tattooing was being practiced by a handfull of professionals in the UK. The advent of the electric tattooing machine saw a huge influx of persons entering the profession.

Around 1889 the first reports of electric tatttoing began to emerge. Samuel O'Reilly had patened the Electric Tattoo Machine (an early adaptation of the Thomas Edison Pen) in the USA and similar versions of this were being submitted to the UK patent office in the following years. Sutherland MacDonald, Tom Riley and Alfred South all applied for patents for variations on these early prototypes and many others were developing their own machines and were now using them to in a commercial capacity.

By early1900's there were several tattoo artists in Britain that had adopted electric tattooing. The Commercial opportunities were obvious. Quicker operating time meant more customers for the tattoo artist, which equalled more money. This in turn fueled the proliferation of the tattooed showman/woman that were now in big demand by the sideshow/Circus promoters. No longer would the prospective performer have to wait months, even years, to aquire a full bodysuit which would enable them to work the Circus, Fair, Zoo and Exhibition circuits for a handsome wage or share of profits. The required artwork could be completed in a few of months if necessary.

Sutherland MacDonald, Alfred South, George Burchett, Tom Riley, Joe Kitteridge, William Thomas, Jack Bowman., Leopold Heath, Jim Wilson, Tom Londsdale, Jemmy Green, Edward Taylor, William McGrath, Henri Swiftt, W.H.C Ryan, Prince Vallar, Ted Frisco, Joe Kilbride, Robert Leckie, Charles Smith, James Shephard and  Fred Phillips were among the profesionals earning a living from the art.

There was another extensive list of Showmen, Circus and fair tattooists working the waxworks and zoo stands that were also making a living from electric tattooing. These included Professors Williams, Balerno, LLoyd, Thomas, Whittingham and Norton.

 

 

George Burchett was also a leading tattoo artist in the first part of the 1900's starting his profession at the age of 12 and working at it for over 55 years. Among his clients were Kings, Queens, judges, admirals, a bishop and tens of thousands ordinary men and women. Before his death in 1953, at the age of 80, Burchett had prepared notes for a book of his memoirs. This book is a rare publication and a must for any serious tattoo enthusiast.

george burchett

George Burchett at work in his studio.

With the popularity of tattooing increasing around the turn of the century more and more tattoo artists sprung up around the country. 

In the early 1900's there were no tattoo supply companies and the secrets of tattooing would be closely guarded. Information on tattooing was usually bought from an already established tattoo artist and the art remained this way until the early 1970's when the proliferation of tattoo supply companies saw more and more people enter the profession.

Those far gone days are now history. Tattooing has taken a massive jump forward, much for the better, and the advances in technology and popularity of the art could not have been imagined by Vallar, Burchett, Riley and MacDonald way back in the early 1990's. The modern day tattoo celebrities and TV shows would not have existed if it hadn't been for the pioneers who brought the profession from the backroom parlours to the modern day High Streets.

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