Tattoo History that Will Stick with You

Do you have any tattoos? Do you know of someone who has tattoos? Have you ever heard of Henk Schiffmacher? Tattoo is one of our newest reference additions. It’s a beautifully bound book full of tattoo images from all over the world. Henk “Hanky Panky” Schiffmacher was born in the Netherlands and this book is a little bit autobiographical, as he tells stories of his world-wide travels, and a little bit anthropological, as he includes historical facts. 

The book begins with a history of Schiffmacher’s background growing up in a small village as the son of a butcher. He was an avid reader and had a strong appreciation for art. Many of his first photographs are included in the book. From the beginning, he draws his readers in with a conversational tone.

Once he sets the stage for us, he dives “needle-first” into tribal tattoos from the 1730s up to the 1900s. There are many full-page images and photographs detailing tattoos on indigenous people. Schiffmacher also includes photographs of the primitive tools used to create the tattoo. They are made of wood and bone. There’s even a picture of a preserved Maori head with a full facial tattoo! When you see the images of the process, you might be grateful that modern technology has progressed beyond pounding a large inked nail into your flesh by hand with half a dozen people holding you down.

The next few chapters feature many more genres covering over a century of tattoo art. He takes a sincere look at tattoo artists from a sociological background. He says “Tattooers have historically been outside of polite society because of the negative connotations of criminality or disease. This had very real consequences because the craft was decentralized, with very few standards.” Today there are many health standards and safety guidelines that tattoo artists have to follow. Many tattoo artists are revered and there’s even a Tattoo Expo in Indianapolis every June. Perspectives on tattooed people have changed to one of more acceptance and admiration.

It is clear Schiffmacher has respect for the craft and wants his readers to learn more about the history of tattooing. Even if you don’t have any tattoos, you can still admire the craft and beauty of the images within this book. If you are interested in learning more about the history of tattoos or just looking for your next tattoo idea, this book is sure to fascinate you! Tattoo is located in the Reference section.

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