Old School Tattoos

Sailor Jerry Tattoos Reloaded!

Old school tattoos as they have come to be known were practiced in the earlier days of modern tattooing. The characteristics of old school tattoos are usually quite simple designs with bold outlines. Some popular old school designs are navy and armed forces symbols, pinup (calendar) girls, hearts and other designs with "ribbons" surrounding a motto, name or special date.


Old school tattoos like this are being rediscovered by a whole new generation of tattoo lovers.

The birthplace was Chatham Square in New York. Samuel O'Reilly came from Boston and set up shop there. He took on an apprentice named Charlie Wagner. After O'Reilly's death in 1908, Wagner opened a supply business with Lew Alberts. Alberts had trained as a wallpaper designer and he transferred those skills to the design of tattoos. He is noted for redesigning a large portion of early tattoo flash art.

While tattooing was declining in popularity across the country, in Chatham Square in flourished. Husbands tattooed their wives with examples of their best work. They played the role of walking advertisements for their husbands' work. At this time, cosmetic tattooing became popular, blush for cheeks, coloured lips, and eyeliner. With World War I, the flash art images changed to those of bravery and wartime icons.

See More Old School Tattoos HERE

In the 1920s, with prohibition and then the depression, Chatham Square became unpopular. The center for tattoo art moved to Coney Island. Across the country, tattooists opened shops in areas that would support them, namely cities with military bases close by, particularly naval bases. Tattoos were known as travel markers. You could tell where a person had been by their tattoos.

Old school tattoos like this are being rediscovered by a whole new generation of tattoo lovers.

After the second world war, tattoos became further denigrated by their associations with Marlon Brando type bikers and Juvenile delinquents. Tattooing had little respect in American culture. Then, in 1961 there was an outbreak of hepatitis and tattooing was sent further underground.

Though most tattoo shops had sterilization machines, few used them. Newspapers reported stories of blood poisoning, hepatitis, and other diseases. The general population held tattoo parlors in disrepute. At first, the New York City government gave the tattoos an opportunity to form an association and self-regulate, but tattooists being independent as they are were not able to organize themselves. A health code violation went into effect and the tattoo shops at Times Square and Coney Island were shut down.

For a time, it was difficult to get a tattoo in New York. It became illegal and tattoos had a terrible reputation. Very few people wanted a tattoo then but luckily we have seen tattooing re-emerge as an accepted art form with old school tattoos being reborn into a new style called commonly known as nu skool.