Victorian Era Photos Reveal The Work Of Britain’s First Tattoo Artist

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Victorian Era Photos Reveal The Work Of Britain’s First Tattoo Artist

Victorian Era Photos Reveal The Work Of Britain's First Tattoo Artist
Victorian Era Photos Reveal The Work Of Britain’s First Tattoo Artist

These Victorian era photos reveal the work of Britain’s first tattoo artist, Sutherland Macdonald. He is unanimously recognized as Great Britain’s first professional tattoo artist and his work is immortalized in these unique vintage snapshots.

During Victorian Britain, after James Cook traveled to the South Pacific and was exposed to the inking culture of the Polynesian islands, tattoos exploded in popularity all around the world.

Sutherland Macdonald decided to make a living out of something that wasn’t even a profession back then, after being exposed to tattooing while serving in the British Army, during the 1880’s.

Victorian Era Photos Reveal The Work Of Britain's First Tattoo Artist
Victorian Era Photos Reveal The Work Of Britain’s First Tattoo Artist

In 1889, at the Haman Turkish Baths, located on 76 Jermyn Street in London, Sutherland Macdonald opened Britain’s first tattoo parlor. Due to the success of his tattoo parlor, the Post Office Directory – The Yellow Pages from back then, even had to add a new professional category and invented the word ‘tattooist’, by combining the words ‘tattoo’ and ‘artist’.

For the next four years, Sutherland Macdonald remained the only tattoo artist activating in the London area.

Victorian Era Photos Reveal The Work Of Britain’s First Tattoo Artist

“While tattooing was going on, there is no evidence of another professional studio in Britain at the time, working on paying customers,” explains Matt Lodder, lecturer at the University of Essex.

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Britain’s first tattoo artist started off by working with very basic tools and went on patenting an electric machine for tattooing in 1894. He even tattooed several of Queen VIctoria’s sons and the kings of Norway and Denmark. Tattoos grew in popularity after Europe’s royal families started showing off their ink art. Britain’s King Edward VII and his son got tattoos in Jerusalem and Japan, respectively, and this made everybody want to get inked.

“For nearly forty years crowned heads and famous people climbed the narrow staircase in Jermyn Street to visit Macdonald and to leave bearing some of the most wonderful ornaments ever placed on human skin,” wrote George Burchett in his 1953 book, Memoirs of a Tattooist.

“A well-spoken, intelligent and gentle man, Sutherland Macdonald made friends of his customers, who treated him as an equal.” he added.

Victorian Era Photos Reveal The Work Of Britain's First Tattoo Artist
Victorian Era Photos Reveal The Work Of Britain’s First Tattoo Artist

These photos are part of the exhibition Tattoo: British Tattoo Art Revealed, on view at the National Maritime Musem of Cornwall through January 7, 2018.

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