Traditional Tattoos 

What are American traditional tattoos and where did the style come from? Often called ‘Old School’, this style of art originated in the USA, and was historically associated with war.

These were in their infancy stages in WWII and seemed to be worn by those with extreme nationalistic pride or those who had seen action. They were also found in earlier times throughout travelling circuses and freak shows.

The traditional tattoo style is defined by its heavy lines, simplistic nature of design, and limited use of bold colours. The style started as early as the American civil war, and like any timeless art form, it has trodden its way right through to the present day with very little change.

Apparently, New York City’s first tattoo shop was opened in 1846. This shop reportedly tattooed soldiers from both sides of the American Revolution.

In the 1880s, travelling circuses were at a panicle of interest and amongst the strong men and bearded women almost all of the performers had tattoos. With such a trending industry as the circus, this also really pushed tattoos into the mainstream over time. Of course, for most of the 19th century, people with tattoos were definitely viewed to be on the outskirts of society.

In 1891, Samuel O’Reilly invented the electric tattoo machine which was a game changer and was a noticeable time of growth within the industry, and some would dispute it was the true start of American traditional tattoo.

Jump ahead to the dirty 30s where the slang saying ‘screwed, stewed and tattooed’ came into play, and with statements, this cool of course traditional tattoo started exploding! American sailors led the way into the WWII with their amazing pin up girls, anchor tattoos, beautiful ship tattoos and American eagles.

Sailor Jerry made his name in tattooing in this classic style. In 1961 it was made officially illegal in the United States to give tattoos, which drove the American Traditional Tattoo style further underground, adopting shop alias’s such as ‘black-eye specialists’. However, the art form and traditional style stayed very much alive and have passed times test, remaining a heavily collected tattoo style and is here to stay!

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