A Word On “New Trends” and Perspective

If you have been on the internet in the past three months odds are you have seen at least one story almost exactly like this photo below.

toddlerLate author edit: The link and photo above is from a satirical website. This entire post is more about news sources that will grab anything even remotely shocking and run with it. Yes this time it is satire but it doesn’t take much for something to become “Fact” on the internet these days. The following talk about perspective is about us “playing pretend” if this WAS becoming a widespread practice. 

Is this potentially shocking (fake or not)? Yes. Is this a new trend? No. One of the biggest annoyances I have about social media and this new wave of “TOP TEN MOST DISTURBING WHATEVER” lists is the fact that the “new trend” tag is used far too frequently. These are a few isolated cases of poorly made choices or completely made up stories being taken out of context for clicks to a website. This is the exact same issue we recently had with the eyelet being worn in a large labret photo. I do realize that body modification is not the only victim of these click hungry times, but it does almost feel like a blow to the gut as the internet is really starting to desensitize folks more than ever. I mean that last statement in a positive light because in my opinion when you get over the initial shock and awe of something you can begin to really understand more about what you’re viewing. ModBlog did exactly that for me a long time ago and will continue to.

Now on to what can we do about this whole thing…Satirical websites will be around forever and have their place, but the spread of bad information is an entirely different monster. We can be the messengers of good information and present ourselves and modifications in a positive light for the world to see. There will always be the hard nosed naysayers out there, but we need them too. I don’t mind if you oppose my train of thought or lifestlye but I mind if you trash it unintelligently. If you believe in this community and are absolutely sick of seeing ridiculous modification related things in your every day news feeds then spread good information. We can’t fault anyone for not being as educated as we are on a topic but we can fault ourselves for not attempting to educate.

I’d also like to throw a completely separate talk about perspective in this post. This is a thinking point that will be possibly controversial but interesting at the least. Taking the photo above for what it is worth, even if it is photoshop /satire what have you… how did it make you feel? The photo below is one of many that a fast internet search yielded. I don’t have the photographer credit but if anyone has it let me know so I can update this post immediately. My point being here that the modification of young children-young adults is deeply ingrained in many cultures. This particular photo was posted as a child of the Mursi tribe however I can’t fully verify that as truth. Either way my point should be made.


Did you bat an eye at this? What if this photo pulled out to reveal a young African American child in an urban setting who’s parents began stretching their ears while they were an infant? Would that change your opinion on what is acceptable? A quick comparative example is that many parents are vegan, and therefore feel it is right to raise vegan children. I’m not comparing apples to apples here I know but it is just an example of parents passing down values or beliefs.  Many ModBlog followers also subscribe to the modern primitive movement, and may choose to us raise a child according to our own ideals. Would early age modification or “family rites of passage” be considered an abomination or culturally significant?

This is the matter of perspective I’m talking about, where we are very quick to slam one group of people for doing the same things we may admire another group for. Please don’t misinterpret what I’m saying here, my personal opinion is that a non consenting human being should not be modified under any circumstance- cultural tradition permitting or not. All of these things go back to the roots of body modification as a whole and in my opinion a topic that needs to be discussed. Large gauge piercings especially stretched earlobe piercings are becoming more acceptable than ever. Does this fact mean that as a modern society we are starting to pass this new (old) cultural wave on to our children? I would love to hear everybody’s thoughts on this.

What to call this?

I’ve posted creative work before by Courtney Jane Maxwell of Saint Sabrina’s in Minneapolis (saintsabrinas.com) — a creative lobe placement and an unusual helix piercing — and here again she takes advantage of a customer that came in with slightly unusual ear anatomy. Most people would have a fold in their ear where a snug piercing could be placed, but this person presented an entirely flat surface, with the inner conch running out to the edge of the ear. The customer had actually come in wanting a triple forward helix, but Courtney offered her something much more unique.

unusual conch piercing

Early Ear Tunnel Design Precursors

I’ve sort of gotten hooked on reading these old patent records related to body modification, and just came across one that surprised me because of how ahead-of-its-time it was. In early 1875, Albert S. Baker of Somerville, MA filed a patent for what he called an “Imrpovement in Ear-rings” (US Patent #161,853). The patent is for a small gauge flanged tunnel to be worn in the earlobe — he explains,

“It is well known that in the use of ear-rings, as ordinarily constructed, the wires frequently tear out or cut the ear, and when not made of proper materials poison the parts with which they come in contact, thus sometimes causing great injury to the wearer. My invention is designed to obviate these difficulties and objections.”


He goes on to describe the device (which he calls a “spool” at times), which he instructs should be made of high quality gold, thus eliminating materials reactions such as nickel allergies. In addition, because the device is larger gauge than the fine wire that often makes up the hook of an earring, it reduces the chance of the jewelry pulling through. What, you thought Todd Bertrang was the first person to tell the world these things? Still, I was pleasantly surprised to see these concepts tossed around in detail nearly 140 years ago.

Many later jewelry designs also presented similar ideas (his appears to be the first hollow tunnel that was patented), but I will just very briefly mention another one of them, a patent filed in 1976 by Mary C. Ivey of Atlanta, GA (US Patent #4,067,341). Her concept is almost identical, and she explains it very similarly in her application, but adds that her design both allows the secondary jewelry more freedom to move due to the tunnel being larger, and also suggests taking advantage of advances that have been made in materials sciences (specifically plastics) to improve the design. Unfortunately she’s vague on many aspects (as is frustratingly common in patents) and does not however come out and say the actual diameter of the tunnel — as pictured I’m guessing in the realm of 8ga.


As you can see in those illustrations, the visual effect of someone wearing these tunnels — or “pierced earlobe protector” as Ms. Ivey titles it — is very, very close to someone wearing a small gauge tunnel of the sort we see all the time walking out the doors of your friendly neighborhood piercing studio. The one thing that neither Ivey nor Baker mention in their patents how the piercing is to be done, which I’m curious about, especially with Ivey’s, which seems to be getting too big to just shove into your average hole*. The only such insertion-method explanation I stumbled across regarding this style of jewelry was one filed in 1949 by Robert W. Spicher of Havre, MT (US Patent #2,568,207) for a “Surgical Piercing Device”.


The jewelry itself is superficially similar in design and intent to the others in this entry, but it also includes a sharpened taper that can be tightly fitted over the tunnel, either creating the new piercing hole or squeezing into an existing one, and then expanding that hole. The particularly creative part is that he then uses a syringe to blow air into the tunnel to make the taper pop off like a champagne cork — hopefully not shooting like a tiny bullet into the wearer’s neck! — to be replaced with a cap that keeps the tunnel from falling out.

* “that’s what she said”

The Early History Of The Ear Piercing Gun

This morning I was reading old patents (yes, this is what I do for entertainment) and came across an interesting one from way back the last time piercing was überpopular over 130 years ago — filed May 10 and patented July 13, 1880 by Edward Seyfarth in Illinois (US Patent #240,073). As you can see, the design is not that much different from the piercing guns used by disease spreading hacks ^H^H^H^H nostril mutilating morons ^H^H^H^H I mean beauty salon “piercers” even to this day. The patent application reads in part,

“Be it known that I, Edward Seyfarth, of Lanark, in the county of Carroll and State of Illinois, have invented a new and useful Improvement in Ear-Piercers … The object of this invention is to furnish ear-piercers so constructed that the puncture can be made in exactly the desired spot and so quickly as to be painless … The invention consists in constructing an ear-piercer of a pair of bars hinged to each other at one end and provided at their other ends with sockets to receive blocks to be pressed against the ear, the tube having a cap upon its outer end, the needle having a disk and a notch, the spiral spring, and the catch for holding the needle when drawn out, so that the ear may be pierced while being compressed.”

“In using the piercer the blocks (D) are placed upon the opposite sides of the lobe of the ear in such a position that the hole through the blocks (D) will be directly over the spot where it is desired to puncture the ear. The arms (A and B) are then pressed together to numb the part of the ear between the blocks (D). The catch (K) is then drawn back to release the needle (G), which is forced forward to make the puncture by the elasticity of the spring (H), thus making the puncture without causing pain. The needle (G) is then drawn back, the instrument is removed from the ear, and a wire or thread passed through the puncture in the usual way.”


I’ve often heard the urban myth that the ear piercing gun is directly based on or evolved from the tool that places tags in animal ears — it wouldn’t surprise me if I’ve even written that at times. Even the extremely qualified and knowledgeable Elayne Angel says this in her recent book on the subject “The Piercing Bible” (which reminds me, check out her excellent piercing blog at that link), writing “these gadgets were originally invented for tagging cattle and other animals, and later adapted for use on humans”. But it seems this is a misleading statement, arguably false — at best the two tools co-evolved. More likely when we’re talking about piercing tools of the “gun” type that’s most common, one should more accurately argue the evolutionary process is actually the other way around, with a number of patents for animal tagging tools going to far as to explicitly refer back to this very ear-piercing gun patent by Edward Seyfarth! On the whole though I think it’s more realistic to say that the vast majority of animal tagging tools come from the same design family as modified pliers like riveting tools and leather punches, without that much overlap with the design of piercing guns (with a number of notable exceptions). But I’m beginning to digress.

Speaking of ear piercing guns that look more like animal tagging tools, there’s Francis X. Xavbet’s “ear piercing pliers” filed December 3rd, 1880 (US Patent #250,121 issued November 29, 1881), a simple clamp-like device. Xavbet’s design, unlike Seyfarth’s which only creates the hole, uses sharpened jewelry to accomplish the process in a single step as the tool places the ring. His patent reads in part,

“The object I have in view is to produce simple and convenient means for piercing ears, in which the ear-ring itself can be used as the piercing-point, and will be released by the instrument when the hole is formed, so as to remain in the ear till healed.”

“The ear-ring (F) … has a sharp-pointed wire (g). It is grasped by the clamp (A), in the position shown in Fig. 1, the plate (E) is then pushed toward the socket (D), and the lobe of the ear is introduced between such plate and the point of the ear-ring. The pliers are then forced together and the ear pierced, when the chain (B) draws back the dog (B) and the clamp is released. The instrument can now be removed from the ear and leave the ear-ring in position. The sharp point of the ear-ring can then be cut off; but this is not necessary, if the ear-ring is provided with a closed keeper, such as is used on safety pins.”

“When it is desired to place in the ears earrings not provided with sharpened points the removable cutting-points (h), Fig. 6, are used. These can be detached from the wires of the ear-rings after the holes are formed.”


I want to mention one other piercing tool that I dug up, filed just after the Seyfarth design by James McAlpine, on May 20, 1880 with the patent issued November 30th (US Patent #234,881). It deserves mention because it’s by far the simplest — not much more than a holder to help shove a short needle through the lobe with your thumb — he even suggests piercing both ears at once, as the tool is designed to be one-handed. The patent reads,

“The invention consists, mainly, in certain peculiarities of construction … [a] means of which the instrument is adapted for use with one hand, in consequence of which it is possible, by applying an instrument to each ear and operating them simultaneously, to pierce both ears at the same time.”

“The operation is substantially as follows: The jaws having been opened, the set-screw being loose, the bearing-faces may be adjusted to the lobe of the ear, and then be held in the proper position simply by tightening the set-screw. By means of the stop projection and pin the jaws are prevented from being brought together too closely. An instrument being thus attached to each ear, as indicated in Fig. 7, and the piercers being inserted in the tubes, the operator, by means of his thumb and finger, simply presses the piercer toward the button, in consequence of which the lobe is pierced. The hands being used simultaneously, both ears are pierced at once.”

“Some of the advantages are as follows: The use of two instruments at once for simultaneous action is desirable, because, first, a saving of time is effected, and, second, the pain and difficulty resulting from two distinct operations are avoided.”


The above designs are some of the earliest piercing tools of their respective families that I have been able to find to date — although I’m still searching and I strongly believe there are earlier ones in the patent archives that are still to be dug up. I don’t know for certain whether the first one is the earliest patent on a “true piercing gun” and whether Mr. Seyfarth can be credited as the concept’s overall inventor (I doubt it), but it’s certainly very early and you can still see its influence in ear piercing guns in use around the world.

As you may have noticed from these three Victorian patents, at this point there wasn’t a standardized design for the initial jewelry such as the ubiquitous butterfly-back that is still common today. However, browsing other early patents you start to see hints of this line of thinking, and definite precursors of designs that are still in use. From left to right below are US patents 216,954 (filed May 1, 1879 by Lois Heckman), 269,383 (May 8, 1882 by John Caldwell), and 320,991 (May 1, 1885 by Charles Westcott) — what is it with piercing inspiration and the month of May by the way?


All three of these designs use some variation on the backing lightly clamping into place on the bar, the first two being aesthetically closest to modern salon-style jewelry. The third one caught my eye though, because although it is functionally similar to the first two, visually it is identical to the barbell jewelry popularized in the body piercing world by Jim Ward in the 1970s…

When I have more time I will do additional patent research on this subject, both on the early history of body modification, and on some of the more recent patents, which have the advantage of being far more hilarious. For example, I was just reading a silly patent on a line of tongue piercing jewelry that contains a receptacle to release “a substance such as a chemical, breath freshener, pleasant flavor, or medication into the mouth of a wearer” (US Patents 6,675,613 and 8,006,516). The concept works just as you’d expect — a hollow bar to hold the substance, which is then released through holes in the beads. Anyone who has ever brushed plaque off of a tongue barbell can imagine just how disgusting this jewelry has the potential of becoming!!!

A couple more Kielties

I’ve shared Patrick Kielty’s work a couple times before (most noteably this great handprint scar) — and the work of his daughter — but my eye was caught by a couple of recent additions to his piercing portfolio. First, a nasallang placed so high that it makes my nose hurt just thinking about it (although not the most extreme I’ve seen), and second, an absolutely charming double-heart-shaped helix piercing using interlinked heart jewelry.

patrick1t patrick2t

Opportunity: SEIZED!

The client in this picture walked into Saint Sabrina’s in Minneapolis (saintsabrinas.com) to have Courtney Jane Maxwell do an industrial for her. Courtney, seeing one of those rare ears that’s got enough of a developed helix fold to actually tuck a piercing into, convinced her to skip the industrial and get a set of piercings that very few people could, using two rose gold pave disks and a gold teardrop. This is one of the big arguments for going to a higher end shop with experienced creative piercers — the standard shop would have just given her the industrial, but since she went to Saint Sabrina’s, she’s now got one of those rare and special piercings that looks deceptively normal, but to those familiar with piercings jumps out as something really unique and unusual.


Let the heart-shaped drama END

The idea of bending jewelry into the shape of a heart for earrings is not a new one, existing in lobes probably back hundreds of years. In the daith, where it really took off in this subculture, piercers have been doing them since the 1990s if not earlier, but it can be difficult actually proving this since the documentation of piercing prior to about ten years ago was limited at best, and more importantly, it’s easy enough for any old person to say “well, I did this back in 1992″… the key is proving it, which generally means publication in a tattoo magazine, or on BME or some other independent site that marks pictures with a date stamp. It’s unfortunate there’s so little documentation from that period, because I suspect that there were more of these being done in the mid 1990s than in the mid 2000s, because in the former, it was not uncommon for piercers to make their own jewelry, but every year that passed that became less common.

So… let’s figure out what BME has to say on the subject. Now, I want to be clear that this is far from definitive. There may be older images, because there are literally tens of thousands of pictures to sift through and not all of them have proper captions so it’s not as simple as searching for “heart”. The only gallery where I took the time to manually look at every photo between 2006 and the beginning of BME was the daith gallery.

On December 9th, 2005, Phil Barbosa posted a picture of a daith heart to BME’s galleries. At that point we were usually running about a week behind at most, so the dates may actually be a little earlier — and of course there’s no way for me to prove when it was actually pierced — but we can only go by the publication date since it’s the only one we can outright prove. This was done by Nicc Stienmetz, a piercer at Seattle’s Slave To The Needle. It was popular with his clients, and he started submitting more, the next one coming at the end of January, 2006. Then another one a few days later from John Lopez, also at Slave To The Needle, which was posted to ModBlog. You can see the first two pictured below, or click here to see the one that hit ModBlog.

At the time, ModBlog was the most widely read piercing media in the world, and it was instantly loved by the general public. Person after person posted with some variation on “sign me up!”, and almost immediately piercers all over the world started doing them and posting them to BME. Giving credit where it’s due, I should mention that Penelope from Haven Body Arts (Lucky’s at the time), the company involved in filing a trademark application for this jewelry’s name, and thus central to the drama, did her first one on Dailee Joyce in 2006, which I processed and added to BME on April 29, 2006. So she’s not the quite first, and not as early as it claims on their website, nor did she even do it before the design was widely known internationally by both thousands of piercers and hundreds of thousands of piercing enthusiasts, but she was definitely an early adopter and has been an ardent supporter and promoter of the design ever since. Below is that early picture of Dailee’s piercing from BME’s archives.

I’m also happy to say that I continue seeing new ideas in this general design — different ways of bending the jewelry, different materials, gem settings, and little design nuances like overlapping metal with little “notches” to hold the shape together better. But the funny thing is that all these things, as new as they seem to the people doing them, have almost certainly been done before. Piercing is definitely a place where the old saying “great minds think alike” is very true and oft validated in our history. And while I think most piercers claiming to be “first” genuinely believe it and make the claim with honest intentions, even if it’s not true, there is also some truth to the other old saying, sometimes attributed to Picasso but probably apocryphal, “good artists borrow, great artists steal.”

Anyway, if anyone can document an earlier date than December 9, 2005, let me know. I know there are lots of people who’ve done it earlier — so the real trick here is documenting it. Until then, as far as I’m concerned, the person who first documented it — which had the effect of popularizing it — is Nicc Stienmetz, and he is who could best to be said to be responsible for this trend taking off if we’re going to track the “influence chain”.

Daith on Atypical Anatomy

Ash Bagwell, piercer at The Machine Shop Tattoo Studio in Conroe, TX just got the rare opportunity to do what is I think best described as a daith piercing, but it took really taking a hard look at the anatomy to be certain of that. It’s not 100% clear from the photo so I’ll clarify that this is an actual piercing through an unusual fold of cartilage, not a ring wrapped around a free-floating bridge of tissue. Ash did the piercing using a 16ga needle which she slightly curved, into a receiving tube. It’s always a treat when people don’t try and hide their unique anatomy, but instead glorify it with a piercing or other modification!

Starry Outer Conch

As absolutely lovely and quite discreet star-shaped implant by Lary (larypiercing.fi) in Turku, Finland. It looks gorgeous for being only six weeks old — as I mentioned in a recent posts, it can take up to a year for these very fine implants in the ear to settle and really be properly visible. The cute little heart-shaped daith is nice as well of course, but you can’t beat the subtlety of these ear implants — the sort of thing that must get a lot of double-takes from strangers on the street who notice it out of the corner of their eye, probably wondering if it’s something the person was born with, or an elective procedure, since I doubt that mainstream awareness of this type of implant is that common.