Tattoo: Secrets of a Strange Art
by Albert Parry.
This book is a Dover reprint of the 1933 book on tattooing by Albert Parry, which was originally titled "Tattoos: Secrets of a Strange Art as Practiced among the Natives of the United States." It was the first book ever written to try and get a comprehensive look at tattooing of the time, and specifically of tattooing and its place in American culture at the time.
At the time, the electric tattoo machine was a new modern invention and Parry talks about how artists who embraced this newfangled technology quickly got an advantage over their counterparts who were still tattooing by hand. The timesaving that came with the electric device often meant that a tattooist using an electric machine could often handle many more customers in a day than his rivals who were not.
Parry offers up some history and profiles on top tattooists at the time. The tattoo culture was heavily centered on New York City then, whereas almost a century later, many people feel the cutting edge and greater acceptance can be found on the West Coast. The lament of those wishing to learn tattooing sounds the same as today: many artists were and still are reluctant to train someone they feel will just be future competition.
Many chapters are devoted to talking about just who was getting tattooed ta the time. Whereas tattooing today has moved fully into the mainstream, in the earlier days of US tattoo culture, it seemed to take root at on the fringes. Sailors, prostitutes, criminals and members of high society. That may seem like a contradiction, but the segments of society that either were already outcast or which could rise above having to fit in were the ones free to get tattooed. The higher echelons were rather into having their family crests tattooed on them, in imitation of the fad that swept the British upper class and royalty at the end of the 19th century.
Parry applies the psychology of the day in looking at why people get tattooed, and in this area, almost nothing has changed. To fit in, as a symbol of rejection, for sexual attraction, as a show of strength, as a remembrance. It would seem the reasons for why someone gets tattooed hasn't changed one bit in all these decades. In fact, the further I read into this book, the more I was surprised at how little seems to have changed across all of American tattoo culture from the 1930s until the present.
I found this book to be a nice light read even with all of the historical information it contains. The stories and history are related in a friendly, not-strictly-linear way, sort of how many tattooist tell stories to clients while working on them. A great addition to the home or professional tattoo library!