The history of tattooing and its significance (Wilfrid Dyson Hambly; 1925)

This 1925 survey constitutes one of the most complete histories of world tattoo practices. It was written at the end of a significant era in anthropological fieldwork, when the efforts of missionaries and the impact of European imperialism had suppressed all but the final vestiges of indigenous native tattoo traditions. Subsequent opportunities for original fieldwork related to tattooing were rare, making this book a valuable link to vanishing cultures.

In addition to 80 photographs and illustrations many of them new to this edition this fascinating study discusses the significance of tattoos and other forms of body marking in terms of religious beliefs and social purposes. Author Wilfrid Dyson Hambly offers a wealth of examples from fieldwork conducted around the world. Hambly discusses the religious and magical uses of tattooing, which range from the prevention of pain, protection against witchcraft, and attraction of good luck to the preservation of youth and insurance of the survival of the soul after death.

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Memoirs of a tattooist (George Burchett; 1958)

Expelled from school at the age of twelve for tattooing his classmates, George Burchett-Davis joined the Royal Navy against his parents wishes a year later. His skills were encouraged during his travels, and honed by his exposure to the masters of Asia. He jumped ship in Jaffa, finding the navy to be too disciplined for his lifestyle, only returning to England twelve years later, his name shortened to avoid charges of desertion. With clients ranging from European monarchs (including the ‘Sailor King’ George V) to transient seamen, George Burchett was deemed the 'King of Tattooists,” continuing his art until his sudden death in 1953. This is the first edition of his collected memoirs, published five years posthumously.

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Tattoo: Secrets of a Strange Art (Albert Parry; 1933)

Tattoo: Secrets of a Strange Art first appeared in 1933, when the majority of people with tattoos were sailors, prostitutes, and criminals. Venturing from waterfront tattoo parlors to circus midways, author Albert Parry talked to many of the great tattoo artists of the early twentieth century about their techniques. Parry was among the first to analyze the custom's subconscious motivations and to expose its erotic implications. His fascinating stories examine overt and subliminal tattoo messages of masochistic tendencies, membership in a select society, sexual fantasy and romantic devotion, patriotism, and religious fervor. A unique historical document and a compelling psychological study, this book offers a thought-provoking look at one aspect of the human drive for self-expression.

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Bad Boys and Tough Tattoos: A Social History of the Tattoo With Gangs, Sailors, and Street-Corner Punks 1950-1965 (Sammual Steward aka Phil Sparrow)

In the early 1950s, when tattoos were the indelible mark of a lowlife, an erudite professor of English—a friend of Gertrude Stein, Thomas Mann, Andre Gide, and Thornton Wilder—abandoned his job to become a tattoo artist (and incidentally a researcher for Alfred Kinsey). Bad Boys and Tough Tattoos tells the story of his years working in a squalid arcade on Chicago’s tough State Street. During that time he left his mark on a hundred thousand people, from youthful sailors who flaunted their tattoos as a rite of manhood to executives who had to hide their passion for well-ornamented flesh.

Bad Boys and Tough Tattoos is anything but politically correct. The gritty, film-noir details of Skid Row life are rendered with unflinching honesty and furtive tenderness. His lascivious relish for the young sailors swaggering or staggering in for a new tattoo does not blind him to the sordidness of the world they inhabited. From studly nineteen-year-olds who traded blow jobs for tattoos to hard-bitten dykes who scared the sailors out of the shop, the clientele was seedy at best: sailors, con men, drunks, hustlers, and Hells Angels.

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Marks of Civilization: Artistic Transformations of the Human Body (Arnold Rubin; 1988)

Body piercing, scarification, tattooing - for thousands of years decorative alteration of the human body has been invested with profound cultural and social meaning. This collection of essays, photographs and drawings focuses on the many and diverse ways that human beings have permanently decorated their bodies. The book grew out of a symposium entitled "Art of the Body" held at the University of California, Los Angeles in the early 1980s. Contributors encompass the fields of anthropology, sociology, art history, archaeology and folklore. The geographical and historical perspectives are from Europe and Euro-America, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Pacific Basin (Asia, Oceania, and Native America). The book's text and photographs acknowledge body art as a meaningful part of human behaviour. What dominates throughout is the recognition of artistic potency, mysterious or commonplace, that is a part of marking the body.

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Convict Tattoos: Marked men and women of Australia (Simon Barnard 2016)

Read my review of Convict Tattoos here.

At least thirty-seven per cent of male convicts and fifteen per cent of female convicts were tattooed by the time they arrived in the penal colonies, making Australians quite possibly the world’s most heavily tattooed English-speaking people of the nineteenth century.

Each convict’s details, including their tattoos, were recorded when they disembarked, providing an extensive physical account of Australia’s convict men and women.

Simon Barnard has meticulously combed through those records to reveal a rich pictorial history. Convict Tattoos explores various aspects of tattooing—from the symbolism of tattoo motifs to inking methods, from their use as means of identification and control to expressions of individualism and defiance—providing a fascinating glimpse of the lives of the people behind the records.

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Tattoo: Bodies, Art, and Exchange in the Pacific and the West - History of Tatooing (Eds. Thomas, Nicholas Cole, Anna Douglas, Bronwen; 2005)

The history of tattooing is shrouded in controversy. Citing the Polynesian derivation of the word “tattoo,” many scholars and tattoo enthusiasts have believed that the modern practice of tattooing originated in the Pacific, and specifically in the contacts between Captain Cook’s seamen and the Tahitians. Tattoo demonstrates that while the history of tattooing is far more complex than this, Pacific body arts have provided powerful stimuli to the West intermittently from the eighteenth century to the present day. The essays collected here document the extraordinary, intertwined histories of processes of cultural exchange and Pacific tattoo practices. Art historians, anthropologists, and scholars of Oceania provide a transcultural history of tattooing in and beyond the Pacific.

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Written on the Body: The Tattoo in European and American History (Ed. Caplan, Jane; 2000)

Despite the social sciences' growing fascination with tattooing—and the immense popularity of tattoos themselves—the practice has not left much of a historical record. And, until very recently, there was no good context for writing a serious history of tattooing in the West. This collection exposes, for the first time, the richness of the tattoo's European and American history from antiquity to the present day. In the process, it rescues tattoos from their stereotypical and sensationalized association with criminality.

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