TATTOOED ROYALTY. Queer Stories of a Queer Craze
by R. J. Stephen -The Harmsworth Monthly Pictorial Magazine - Vol 1. 1898
When royalty hangs onto a craze, you may be assured that the rest of
the exclusive world of wealth and power soon follow in the same
path, and annex the peculiarities of the pleasures of which have
given amusement to their heroes born in the purple.
What wonder, then, that tattooing is just now the popular pastime
of the leisured world? For one of the best-known men in high
European circles, the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia, is most
elaborately tattooed. And Prince and Princess Waldemar of Denmark,
Queen Olga of Greece, King Oscar of Sweden, the Duke of York, the
Grand Duke Constantine, Lady Randolph Churchill, with many others of
royal and distinguished rank, have submitted themselves to the
tickling, but painless and albeit pleasant, sensation afforded by
the improved tattooing needle, which is nowadays worked on a simple
plan, aided by the galvanic current, the genius of the artist
supplying the rest of the operation.
The Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, like his cousin Alexis of
Russia is another elaborately - tattooed man; but even his
decorations, and those of other profusely-tattooed men, fall short
in point of quantity when compared with those marks upon the body of
that Greek gentleman who was exhibited not long ago at the Royal
Aquarium, whose body was completely covered with fine tattoo work,
every square inch of it.
Anyone meeting the Duke of Newcastle, or the Earl of
Portarlington, or Sir Edmund Lechmere, in the street, would hardly
realize the fact that these gentlemen are proud wearers of tattoo
marks - very much so.
We are able to give facsimilies of the designs which have been
tattooed on the Duke of York, Prince Francis of Teck, Prince George
of Greece, together with other examples of the art.
Professor Riley's work is pronounced to be, by no less that a
celebrated Royal Academician, who takes considerable interest in
tattoo work, the finest in the world.
The present fancy for being tattooed, according to Professor
Riley - than whom an artist has tattooed more distinguished people -
mainly exists among men who have travelled much; while ladies have
also taken a strong liking to this form of personal decoration,
which, from a woman's point of view, is about as expensive as a
dress, but not so costly as good jewellery. In place of spending her
spare time posing in front of the camera, or reclining her head in
the dentist's chair, or placing herself resignedly in the hands of
her coiffeur for something better to do, or for the purpose of
passing her time in the "off" season, the lady about town now
consents to be pricked by the tattoo artist's operating needle, and
to have her forearm or shoulder adorned with perhaps such a mark as
this - a serpent holding it's tail in its mouth - a symbol
In order to form an idea of the kind of work that is wanted by
those who give their patronage to this specific class of fine art, a
close examination of these illustrations will assist you. The skill
of the tattoo artist, to be realized properly and fairly, must be
seen in beautiful colours on a white skin - work which is amazing.
The sketches he employs are made in various coloured inks. His great
skill is in the faithful reproduction of any symbol or picture
desired by the sitter. These designs vary in size from a small fly,
or bee, to that of an immense Chinese dragon, occupying the whole
space offered by the back or chest, or a huge snake many inches in
thickness coiling round the body from the knees to the shoulders.
Tattooing has its humorous side, as well as its serious. A lover
whose heart was once melted away in a soft, sweet, passionate love,
got the artist to imprint in indelible inks, over the region of his
heart, a single heart of charming and delicate outline, coloured, as
it should be, in all the blushing tints, with the name of his loved
one stamped thereon. Three years afterwards he followed the artist
to London, and, seeking him out, with face pallid, the light of his
eye almost gone out, and looking utterly miserable and care-worn, he
requested that the tattooer to imprint under that same symbol, in
bold, big letters, the work "deceived".
A well known army officer had tattooed over his heart the simple
name of "Mary" with a lover's knot, but six months afterwards the
same gentleman had the uncanny work "traitress" tattooed underneath.
An English actress had a butterfly tattooed on her fair shoulder,
the initials of her fiance, "F.V." being placed underneath. Not long
afterwards she also came back and had the "F" converted into "E" and
the "V" into "W", the letters reading "E.W." She eventually married
"E.W." and to this day "E.W" thinks his initials were the first
tattooed on her arm.
Colonials visiting England usually return home bearing on some
part of their body an emblem of some national importance. This takes
the shape of a portrait of the Queen, or the Standard, the Union
Jack also not being despised.
A man may admire a favourite picture and desire a reproduction of
it tattooed on his back, or upon his chest. Professor Riley is at
the present time engaged "etching" on a mans back Landseer's famous
picture "Dignity and Impudence" and when finished it will measure 12
by 9 inches. The same artist is also outlining on the chest of a
Scotch baron a copy of Constable's famous etching, "Mrs. Pelham,"
after Sir Joshua Reynolds, the original etching of which fetched, in
June last, at Christie's, the record sum of 425 pounds.
While most people are pleased to go through the performance of
being tattooed just for the fun of the thing, as it were, many, on
the other hand, approach the tattooer with a serious object in view.
Eschewing all fancy designs, they choose frequently their own name
and address as an aid to identification in case of accident, or, as
has been the case recently, a wife may induce her husband to have
her name tattooed on his arm, as a guarantee of good faith.
An official connected with one of our leading railways has had
tattooed round his arm, in snake fashion, a train going at full
speed. The scene is laid at night. The shades of evening envelop the
snorting locomotive and flying carriages, while the rays of light
proceeding from the open furnace of the locomotive are effectively
shown lighting up the cars. There are lights, two, issuing from the
carriages, showing how the passengers inside are passing away the
time. Some of them are reading, some sleeping, some talking, some
sullenly looking out of the windows. A darkened portion of the train
is passing the signal box, and the dim light there from faintly
lights up that part of the train. The picture is a perfect ideal of
the tattooer's art, and shows the great advance tattooing has made
during recent years.
Professor Riley has never done anything more striking or
effective, if perhaps we accept the large snake he tattooed all
around the body of a certain popular member of the Royal family,
which is an extremely life like reptile.
As there are over one hundred thousand people in London alone who
bear on some part of their anatomy evidence of the tattooing needle,
it is obviously an impossible task to attempt to emmunerate, with
fidelity to truth, the designs most favour by patient disciples, but
these are many and various.
As regards the time usually taken to imprint marks on the body
one may hazard a correct opinion. To work, say, a little house fly
on your arm takes about fifteen minutes; but when you require an
elaborate presentation done, comprising the reproduction of perhaps
a celebrated picture, that, of course, would take time and cost you
money. In a case like this the artist would "give you the needle"
for a period extending to eighty hours divided into ten or twelve
sittings, each sitting costing you perhaps a couple of guineas or
The cost of a fiercely-bearded ferocious-looking Japanese dragon,
or a pretty Jap girl draped in all the finery of the coming Oriental
nation, or a snake coiling around your body, would, of course,
depend on how it was done - lavishly or otherwise - and wether the
artist worked from some special directions.
Some people have tougher skins than the meat of their fellow
creatures, and here the artist has to make his calculations as to
time - the tough-skinned gentlemen presenting difficulties not to be
taken into account when reckoning up the finer-skinned man. But a
sitting does not last more than two hours.
Of all the classes of people who patronize the art, the worst to
operate upon, singular to say, are medical men. An artist of the
brush will sit patiently and direct operations in a way by
suggesting little ideas which the genuine tattooer is not slow to
act upon, but the medico fidgets dreadfully, and persists in wanting
to know things - such as, for instance, to what depth the needle
penetrates the skin, of what the pigment used are made, and if the
tattooer has had or heard of any blood poisoning resulting from the
operation of being tattooed; also what effect sitting so long and
bending so much has on the operators chest - interesting questions,
but problematical to the tattooer. The skull and bones symbol is the
favorite one among medical men.
There are about twenty tattoo artists in London, some good, some
very bad, some very indifferent.
Professor Riley is among the best.
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