Near the end of the 19th century a pickpocket was arrested in the German town of Mainz. This was in itself an ordinary occurrence, but in his belongings were discovered a notebook full of drawings, many of them categorized by profession, along with vials of red and black ink and wooden needles, all housed in a spectacle case. The drawings in the album were templates for tattoos, and the man claimed to have purchased this kit from a tattoo artist in the mountains, who specialized in the sale of these kits – perhaps named Joseph Ragozet.
The kit so fascinated judge Fritz Eller that he sent along a description of the kit, along with photographs of the drawings, to the sociologist and criminologist Franz Gross, which is how this early and valuable documentation of a portable tattoo kit in the German underworld came to be published in a periodical devoted to criminal anthropology. Like much of the scarce early modern research into tattoos, it comes from a criminological or medical standpoint. Gross was fascinated enough by the case to contribute a foreward to the article, in which he makes the claim that this may be the first description of such a commercial, portable kit. There must have been earlier descriptions – if you know of any, please get in touch.
Eller fortunately goes into some detail on the method of tattooing. The design is first drawn onto the flesh with the drawing as a template and then the long wooden needles, also dipped in ink, puncture the skin. Smaller tattoos could be done in as little time as a quarter of an hour with this method. According to this account, the wooden needles were very painful, and customers often vomited or passed out from the pain, or interrupted the process, often leaving a partial tattoo.
The drawings are strikingly beautiful, direct in line but finely detailed and very expressive. The division according to occupation is especially fascinating from an anthropological standpoint, indicating the sort of workers who might get a tattoo – there are plenty of designs for seamen, of course, but also portrayed are Seiltänzerin (funambulist or tightrope walker), Kufeltänzerin (juggler), Ballspieler (ball player?), zirkusreiterin (circus rider), Räuberhauptmann (Robber chief), Maurer (bricklayer), Bäcker (baker), Barbier (barber), Metzger (butcher), taubenkönigin, Schlosser (locksmith), Kutscher (coachman), etc. – all the best occupations, though unfortunately we don’t find one for bookseller.
Eller, Fritz. ‘Ein Vorlagebuch für Tätowierungen’ in Archiv für Kriminal-Anthropologie und Kriminalistik 19. Band, 1. u 2. Heft. Leipzig: Verlag von F. C. W. Vogel, 1905. 8vo, 207 pp, rebound at an early date in brown leatherette over marbled boards, titled in gilt at the spine.
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