Field Trip: Vintage Tattoo Flash Art

Value (2016) | $8,600 Auction$11,000 Auction

HOST: It's the art that goes with you wherever you go. People have adorned their bodies with tattoos for centuries. And today, tattoos are generally considered to be socially acceptable, even fashionable. Vintage flash art-- display sheets showing the tattoo designs available at a tattoo parlor-- has become a popular area of collecting today. Appraiser Bruce Shackelford had some terrific examples to share.

Started out with a few serious collectors, often the tattoo artists themselves. But it has a lot wider audience now. And there's more available modern flash than there ever has been before. But vintage flash is somewhat rare. A lot of it wasn't sold, and now it's very collectible. The little book was probably done in the late 1880s, early 1890s. It may have been a tattoo sailor on the U.S.S. Chicago. It was a battleship commissioned in the 1880s, and he has that inside the cover with initials. And it's all classic American sailing tattoos. HOST: And what would be the value of this book?

If it came up for auction, conservatively, $5,000 to $7,000. There's only four or five of these type of things known. This piece is by Norman Collins. Sailor Jerry is what we know him as, and he started tattooing in Chicago after a stint in the Merchant Marines and then moved to Hawaii, and in Hawaii he began to combine American tattoos with Asian tattoos, especially Japanese style. And he changed the world of tattoos as we know it today. This piece is probably from the late '50s or the '60s. HOST: I can see that this one's been preserved and cared for, but this is very thin paper. Does that affect the value?

It does. It's on tissue. If it was on watercolor paper or was on a heavier board, it had a lot of color work on it, it would probably be worth two to three times what this one is. HOST: What is the value of this piece?

This one would probably go at auction for $1,800 to $2,000. Full color, $3,000 to $5,000. HOST: There's also a pretty significant connection when we talk about tattooing with the circus. Maybe you can tell me about that.

Well, most circus performers and side show performers that were the tattooed man or the tattooed woman, they had sort of American folk tattoos. And Stoney St. Clair came out of the circus. He worked in the circus as a sword swallower for a short time and then got interested in tattoos and in doing tattoos. And so he became a tattoo artist, and he worked in that American folk style. HOST: What an interesting turn of events there because here we have an example of someone who was actually a side show performer, who then learned the art of tattoo.

Right, and then opened up his own shop and tattooed everybody from bikers, to college students, to other tattoo artists. HOST: And what years was he working?

Stoney was working in the 1950s up through the '70s. HOST: And I understand you have several examples of his work, but we've picked one to take a look at here.

I have a number of examples of his flash. I mean he had a shop where the walls were covered, just like this shop. And it's a very classic, American folk style. Beautifully done drawings, nice colors, and very graphic images. HOST: And the value of a piece like this?

It would probably bring $1,800 to $2,000, conservatively. And if it's a piece that you could see in a photograph of his shop on the wall, it would add to the value. HOST: Fascinating to take a look at this art, and always a pleasure to talk to you.

Hey, I enjoyed it.

Appraisal Details

San Antonio, TX
Appraised value (2016)
$8,600 Auction$11,000 Auction
Corpus Christi, TX (August 04, 2012)

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