“Royalty and Tattoo”

The end of this feature was too degraded to read, but I thought that this article from June 17, 1899 from the The Lima Daily News (Lima, Ohio) was interesting both in how much name dropping it does, the range of tattoos it talks about, and the final statement on the size of the trend. The more of these old stories I read the more connected I feel to the past — history really does repeat itself.


Tattoo is just now the popular pastime of the leisured world, says Harmsworth’s Magazine. One of the best known men in high European circles, the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia is most elaborately tattooed, Prince and Princess Waldemar of Denmark, Queen Olga of Greece, King Oscar of Sweden, the duke of York, the Grand Duke Constantine, Lady Randolph Churchill, with many others of royal and distinguished rank have submitted themselves to the hekling but painless and albeit pleasant sensation afforded by the improved tattooing needle which is nowadays worked on a simple plan aided by the galvanic current, the genius of the artist supplying the rest of the operation. The duke of Save-Coborg and Gotha like his cousin, Alexis of Russia, is another elaborately tattooed man. Anyone meeting the duke of Newcastle or the earl of Portarlington, or Sir Edmand Lechmere in the street would hardly realize the fact that these gentlemen are proud wearers of tattoo marks— much so.

The present fancy for being tattooed, according to Prof. Riley— than whom no artist has tattooed more distinguished people—mainly exists among men who have traveled much, which ladies have also taken a strong liking to this form of personal decoration, which, from a woman’s point of view is about as expensive as dress, but not so costly as good jewelry. In place of spending her spare time posing in front of the camera, or reclining her head in the dentist chair, or placing herself resignedly in the hands of her coiffeur for want of something better to do, or for the pirpose of passing her time in the “off” season, the lady about town now consents to be pricked by the tattoo artist’s operating needle, and to have her forearm or shoulder adorned with a serpent representing eternity. The skill of the tattoo artist to be realized properly and fairly, must be seen in beautiful colors on a white skin— work which is amazing.

The sketches he employs are made in various colored inks. His great skill is in the faithful reproduction of any symbol or picture desired by the sitter. These designs vary in size from a small fly or bee to that of an immense Chinese dragon occupying the whole space offered by the back or chest, or a huge snake many inches in thickness coiling round the body from the knees to the shoulders.

Tattooing has its humorous side as well as its serious. A lover whose heart was once melted away in a soft, sweet, passionate love got the artist to imprint in indelible inks, over the region of his heart, a single heart of charming and delicate outline, colored, as it should be, in all the blushing tints, with the name of his loved one stamped thereon. Three years afterward he followed the artist to London, and seeking him out, with face palled, the light of his eye almost gone out, and looking utterly miserable and careworn, he requested the tattooer to imprint under that same symbol, in bold big letters, the word “deceiver.” A well-known army officer had tattooed over his heart the simple name of “Mary,” with a lover’s knot, but six months afterward the uncanny word “traitress” tattooed under it. An English actress had a butterfly tattooed on her fair shoulder, the initials of her fiance, “F. V.,” being placed underneath. Not long afterward she also came back and had the “F” converted to “E” and the “V” into “W,” the letters reading “E. W.” She eventually married “E. W.” and to this day “E. W.” thinks his initials were the first tattooed on her arm.

Colonials visiting England usually return home bearing on some part of their body an emblem of some national importance. This takes the shape of a portrait of the queen, or the standard, the union jack, also, not being despised. A man may admire a favorite picture and desire a reproduction of it tattooed on his back or upon his chest. Prof. Riley is at the present time engaged “etching” on a man’s back Landseer’s famous picture, “Dignity and Impudence” and when finished it will measure twelve by nine inches. The same artist is also outlining on the chest of a Scotch baron a copy of Constable’s famous etching “Mrs. Pelham,” after Sir Joshua Reynolds, the original etching of which fetched, in June last, at Christie’s, the record sum of £425.

While most people are pleased to go through the performance of being tattooed just for fun of the thing, as it were, many, on the other hand, approach the tattooer with a serious object in view. Eschewing all fancy designs, they choose frequently their own name and address as an aid to identification in case of accident, or, as has been the case recently, a wife may induce her husband to have her name tattooed on her arm as a guaranty of good faith.

An official connected with one of our leading railways has had tattooed around his arm, in snake fashion, a train going at full speed. The scene is laid at night. The shades of evening envelop the snorting locomotive and flying carriages, while the rays of light proceeding from the opened furnace of the locomotive are effectively shown lighting up the cars. There are lights, too, issuing from the carriages, showing how the passengers inside are passing away the time. Some of them are reading, some sleeping, (article become illegible)

…There are over 100,000 people in London who bear on part of their anatomy some evidence of the tattooing needle.

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About Shannon Larratt

Shannon Larratt is the founder of BME (1994) and its former editor and publisher. After a four year hiatus between 2008 and 2012, Shannon is back adding his commentary to ModBlog. It should be noted that any comments in these entries are the opinion of Shannon Larratt and may or may not be shared by BMEzine.com LLC or the other staff or members of BME. Entry text Copyright © Shannon Larratt. Reproduced under license by BMEzine.com LLC. Pictures may be copyright to their respective owners. You can also find Shannon at Zentastic or on Facebook.

7 thoughts on ““Royalty and Tattoo”

  1. Thats an awsome read, I wish it all would have been legible. Thanks for the all the past articules, its awsome to look back and see how far we have come and yet realize how small of a step it actually has been.

  2. I think it is totally awesome that they author goes into such detail at the end with the people in the train.
    I look at art from the old days and I see how much care and detail went into their work.
    As compared to todays artist who is jaded by walk ins who want tattoos cause they are a fad or they want to be a cool kid (I’ve seen these people with my own eyes).
    Thats not to say that these same artists arent awesome, but its not the same as yesterdays artist.

  3. It’s interesting to know that people were fucking up the whole ‘get your sweetheart’s name tattooed’ thing 100 years ago.

  4. Oh yeah, and it would be utterly *mindblowing* to see some of the tattoos mentioned, but we can but wish.

  5. I second AshPlant. Usually when you think [or at least, I think] “Historic Tattoo”, the image of some salty old salior comes up, or perhaps a man with the traditional markings of his people under his skin….
    It would be amazing to see tattoos from then, see how they stack up to my “older=cruder/simpler” bias* and compare to today’s artists.

    [* yes, I know, it's not always the case; I suppose I get the "crude" impression from middle-ages engravings and tapestries; the "simple" is really more to address the traditional designs, which arn't so much "crude" as they are basic in form, but can become complex as patterns.]

  6. A Google image search reveals that “Landseer’s famous picture, ‘Dignity and Impudence’â€? is a painting of two dogs, a bloodhound and a Yorkie (I think.) I guess cute and fuzzy has been popular for a while…

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