This month’s poster has a bit of a different bent: our models decided to tell the story.

Two circus workers, the tattooed lady and her “husband”, between shows and relaxing in the living quarters. He makes a good living tattooing the marks as the circus travels from town to town, and she is his calling card. But the circus is a magnet for those that live on the fringes of society, those that don’t quite fit in, and those that seek adventure. While playing the role of husband (no doubt as protector for his best friend) he dreams of wearing her clothes. In the privacy of their tent, she lets him.

The turn of the century marks a big change in tattooing, which up to then was performed with varying versions of the stick-and-poke method. Even though Samuel O’Reilly invents the first electric tattoo machine  in 1891, folks in the 1900s would probably still be tattooing by hand with a long stick and a pot of ink. The first tattoo machine with a coil and tube was patented by Charlie Wagner in 1904, which is virtually the same machine in use today. The automation of tattooing in this decade enabled tattoos to become more accessible to a larger body of clients.

The archival record of tattooed people mostly shows circus folks, who worked as attractions as well as doing other jobs around the circus. In fact, tattooers often doubled as sign painters, and tattooed ladies doubled as acrobats and such. But the fact that a living was to be made as a travelling tattooer, combined with the invention of the electric tattoo machine and fact that many shops were popping up in permanent places around this time, speaks to the reality that many ordinary folks sported tattoos at this time.

Models: Moira Sauer and Colin Wright

Photography: Dan Bushnell

Layout: Dan Bushnell

Graphics and lettering: Sarah Gallagher


Further Reading

Clerk, Carol (2010). Vintage Tattoos: the book of Old-School Skin Art. Dubai: Universe.

Flash from the Bowery: http://www.schifferbooks.com/flash-from-the-bowery-classic-american-tattoos-1900-1950-4594.html

Mifflin, Margot (2013). Bodies of Subversion: a Secret History of Women and Tattoos. Brooklyn: powerHouse Books.

Charlie Wagner: http://tattooarchive.com/tattoo_history/wagner_charlie.html 

George Burchett: http://tattooarchive.com/tattoo_history/burchett_george_charles.html

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