TATTOO. 1730s-1970s. Henk Schiffmacher's Private Collection
All photos courtesy of the Schiffmacher Tattoo Heritage
Life

Vintage Photos From One of the World's Biggest Archives of Tattoo Art

Legendary Dutch tattooist Henk Schiffmacher has spent decades collecting priceless memorabilia from his industry.
December 21, 2020, 9:45am

Henk Schiffmacher didn’t intend to become a tattoo historian, but it ended up happening anyway. The legendary Dutch tattoo artist wanted to be an artist or a painter when he was a kid, but his father insisted he had to go to school and learn a profession. He ended up moving to Amsterdam and starting out tattooing American GIs out of a basement owned by a former Hells Angels boss.

Advertisement

Over the years, Schiffmacher has tattooed everyone from Kurt Cobain to Lady Gaga, but today the 68-year-old is talking about his new TASCHEN book, TATTOO. 1730s-1970s. Henk Schiffmacher's Private Collection. It’s an impressive, exhaustive tour through the history of tattooing, including everything from the Indigenous traditions of Māori people and South Pacific Islanders to the roots of old-school Western tattooing in Europe and the US.

“When I started to make money from tattoos and from conventions etc,” he tells VICE UK, “I felt like I couldn’t use this money for myself and that it belonged to the tattoo community, so I would use it to buy tattoo memorabilia and put this in a collection so it could be preserved and made visible and accessible to the public.”

That archive eventually became the Schiffmacher Tattoo Heritage and is now one of the biggest collections of contemporary and historical tattoo ephemera in the world. He credits the work of photographer Diane Arbus as the source of his original inspiration for the book.

“[She] was a huge influence on me and I liked that she befriended and even lived with the people she took photos of, who were all types of people including circus people and tattoo people,” he explains. “I fell in love with these tattooed people whose tattoos were so open and honest. That’s different to what people are making today. They are making complicated tattoos which is not what I think they should be. This whole book is about the simplistic type of tattoos I’m interested in.”

Advertisement

You can check out some of the photos from the book below.

TATTOO. 1730s-1970s. Henk Schiffmacher's Private Collection

Hand-colored photograph of a tattooed messenger, by Italian-British photographer Felice “Felix” Beato, ca. 1864−1867. One of the first war photographers and photojournalists, Beato took photographs of Edo Japan. Courtesy of the Schiffmacher Tattoo Heritage

TATTOO. 1730s-1970s. Henk Schiffmacher's Private Collection

Rare tattoo album by the early Japanese tattoo artist K. Akamatsu, ca. 1910s. These incredibly delicate drawings could only be made into tattoos using hand instruments. Courtesy of the Schiffmacher Tattoo Heritage

TATTOO. 1730s-1970s. Henk Schiffmacher's Private Collection

Famous American tattooed woman Artoria Gibbons, ca. 1920s. Gibbons was one of the longest-performing tattooed ladies ever. She worked the circus sideshows, dime museums, and carnivals until 1981. Courtesy of the Schiffmacher Tattoo Heritage

TATTOO. 1730s-1970s. Henk Schiffmacher's Private Collection

"Homeward Bound" tattoo design by famous American tattoo artist Bert Grimm, ca. 1940s, colored in by another legend, Doc Webb. The "Homeward Bound" motif was a beloved tattoo in early Western tattooing. Courtesy of the Schiffmacher Tattoo Heritage

TATTOO. 1730s-1970s. Henk Schiffmacher's Private Collection

Tommy Stephens with tattoos by the legendary American tattoo artist Bert Grimm, ca. 1940s. Grimm was a master and a huge influence on Western tattooing. Courtesy of the Schiffmacher Tattoo Heritage

TATTOO. 1730s-1970s. Henk Schiffmacher's Private Collection

Rare album of tattoo designs by British master tattoo artist George Burchett, ca. 1910s. Courtesy of the Schiffmacher Tattoo Heritage

TATTOO. 1730s-1970s. Henk Schiffmacher's Private Collection

Famous American tattoo artist Charlie Wagner, center, with a tattooed lady and American sailor, ca. 1930s. Wagner loved staging photographs. Here, he’s tattooing the tattooed lady’s shoulder, while she tattoos the young sailor. Courtesy of the Schiffmacher Tattoo Heritage

TATTOO. 1730s-1970s. Henk Schiffmacher's Private Collection

Portrait of a Māori woman with chin moko and feather from the prized huia bird, ca. 1900s. Māori women were traditionally tattooed on their chins and lips. Courtesy of the Schiffmacher Tattoo Heritage

TATTOO. 1730s-1970s. Henk Schiffmacher's Private Collection

The cover features rare vintage tattoos from Henk Schiffmacher's collection

TATTOO. 1730s-1970s. Henk Schiffmacher's Private Collection is out on 21st December on TASCHEN.