TAT Shaking Hands With The Past w/PICS

Discussion in 'Vaginarium' started by Buttons, Aug 19, 2008.

  1. Buttons

    Buttons OT Supporter

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    This article is rather long but I really liked it. If you're in or near Ft. Bragg definitely swing by Triangle Tattoo & Museum. There's so much to look at and so much to learn about tattooing and it's history.

    Shaking Hands With The Past
    Triangle Tattoo & Museum

    I always look forward to my visits to Triangle Tattoo & Museum in Ft. Bragg, on the northern California coast. Not only is it a beautiful drive (Ft. Bragg is about an hour west of the 101 at Willits), there's always a super-friendly welcome by the owners, Madame Chinchilla and Mr. g, and an unhurried, no-crowds, opportunity to poke through the beautifully displayed memorabilia and paraphernelia from tattooing's multi-faceted past.

    As G points out, "Our collection is not the biggest, it's not the most, it's not the best. With so many big collections, they're private. People guard them, hoard them and brag about them. What we pride ourselves on is being open to the public, being accessible to families and having a display area that is isolated from the tattooing action."

    Yes, there are a number of wonderful museums around the country, but this is definitely one of the most intimate. And, being in Ft. Bragg, there's always a cool, afternoon fog rolling in as you walk just a few doors to some wonderful restaurants. In other words, a visit to Triangle is a great day trip from San Francisco or southern Oregon. Hey, include a drive through the giant redwoods along the thirty-one-mile Avenue of the giants and you've got a terrific adventure the whole family can enjoy.

    The museum itself is a picnic for the eyes. It begins at the street-level door, climbs up both sides of the stairs to the second floor, and wraps itself around the hallways and display rooms of this colorful and spacious, old-school shop. There are wonderful exhibits enhanced by newspaper clippings, magazine pages, photographs and carefully typed labels all designed to educate and entertain the visitors.

    "We were really surprised to see how many people did not have a clue about tattoo history," says G. "They really think it started in the '60s with the bikers or WW2 with their uncle's tattoos. They don't realize it started at the beginning of civilization. That's why our museum is so important; it opens a lot of eyes."

    G and Chinchilla have, obviously, gone to great pains to make each visit to the museum an enlightening trip back in time. There's even a moving tribute to the late Capt. Don Leslie, complete with handbills and costumes the Captain wore while performing around the world. My favorite is a lace handkerchief presented to Capt. Don after an evening entertaining a small crowd of celebrities at the Brentwood, California home of none other than Miss Dinah Shore.

    The Triangel collection was the natural result of Chinchilla and G's early interest in tattoo collectibles. They were initially exposed to Lyle Tuttle's collection in San Francisco and Chuck Eldridge's Tattoo Archive in Berkeley.

    "It was the second or third week of my apprenticeship with Bert Rodriguez," says G. "I was taken to Lyle's and Chuckk's. After that, Chinchilla and I would go down and go through everything. We were fascinated. When we started, there were very few books, magazines or videos on tattoo history, so we were hungry for it. I had the chance to buy a couple of collections, early on, but I missed those opportunities because it was pretty lean back then. But, after we began to make a little money with tattooing, we began to invest in things that we could afford."

    From the start, the museum got a big boost from some of tattooing's most dedicted supporters. "We had a very modest collection," says G, "until we moved to our current shop on Main St. in Ft. Bragg, where we had more room. Henry Goldfield, Bert and some other old timers came up for our grand opening and gave us some gifts of flash and other collectibles. Now, our collectoin consists of one hundred to one hundred and fifty pieces."

    In the beginning, Triangle had been using the space for art gallery shows similar to the ones at La Luz de Jesus at the Soap Plant in Los Angeles. "Shortly after the earthquake hit San Francisco in 1989, Lyle closed his museum, and we felt there was a real need to start putting up more for the public to view. We had hosted a couple of shows, but we decided to knock that off and focus on tattoo history. That was back in 1986."

    The first collectibles that tempted G were part of Bert's collection. "When I started my apprenticeship, I stared at some Cap Coleman flash every day I went to work. Bert had very rare Cap Coleman flash, about four sheets of it. Our first donation was from Lyle Tuttle in 1986, some flash from his Milton Zeis collection. After that were some acetates I was given as a gift. I was given a whole shop-load of acetates that came from the Davey Jones collection."

    One of my all-time favorites is Triangle's Thomas Edison machine. "Mine too," says G. But the most recent is a Charlie Wagner that came from the accountant for one of the circuses in the Midwest. "The thing that was really nice about that one -- and the same goes for all my prize machines -- is that they have not been monkeyed with by modern tattoo artists. They're set up the way they were eighty years ago. They're not touched. It's really valuable to see how people set up their machines back then. The spring tensions haven't been changed. They haven't put capacitors on them. With a lot of old machines, people in the '80s and recently try to make these old machines work. They want to tattoo with these old machines, so they really screw them up. They screw all the settings up. They change things, they lose hardware off them, binding posts. The real prize about the machines is that they've never been touched."

    "Another really rare one is the Johnny Two-Thumbs machine. That's a very rare machine from Hong Kong. They used a doorbell frame and there's a whole lineage of those. I believe there are only four or five of them in the world."

    Visiting the museum is really important in the way it takes us back to our roots and connects us with the realities of the past. It also inspires us to start collecting. I asked G how he would go about it.

    "If someone wants to get into collecting, the first thing I'd suggest is that they read some history books on tattooing, so they have an idea of the value and importance of the key players in tattoo history. If they are going to collect, they should at least know who did what and what their contributions was to the tattoo industry today. And they should have an appreciation not to hoard. The Internet has made it very easy to grab these things. Some people are buying things up and reselling them. Then thoose people resell them again and so on and so on. It's an investment game. It's getting crazy. For example, I've seen reproductions. People get too excited about much of the flash and printed material on eBay. It really takes an expert to determine what's good and what isn't. The best way is to start slowly and expand one's knowledge of tattooing. They can invest in a few books for a hundred dollars that will educate them as to what's important what isn't. And, above all, visit other collections and especially Chuck Eldridge's www.tattooarchive.com website, so when they see the real deal, they can recognize it."

    Although most of the exhibits are behind glass, I was interested in how they keep everything safe. "Several of the exhibits in the museum, of course, are reproductions, so we are able to put the originals away for safekeeping, out of harm's way, fire, theft or ultraviolet. And if they do find something valuable, they should really protect it," says G. "These things were often already trashed, thrown away and destroyed, so there's a very limited selection."

    Thanks to the dedication of tattoo artists and collectors like G and Chinchilla, we can visit our glorious past whenever we wish, seven days a week, noon till six pm. All ages are welcome and admission is free.

    --- Bob Baxter

    I attached some photos I snapped out of the magazine article. Sorry for the shitty shots...

    Thomas Edison electric stencil machine from 1876. It was later converted, in an attempt to tattoo by a man named Simeion Crieder, Chicago, IL, 1922.
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    Tattoo Machines from around the world
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    Captain Don exhibit
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    Hand drawn stencils from the legendary George Burchett shop, circa early 1940s.
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    Two stencil cutters. The one with the fine needle is a Percy Waters from a 1928 tattoo set. The other is from Fred Marquand circa 1910
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    Single coil stencil appliance that was patented in 1865 and adapted for tattooing.
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    Pristine Charlie Wagner machine from the 1920s.
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    Cindy Ray single coil machine from Australia, early 1960s
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    Random flash from 1800s - 1950s
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    Two sheets of Captain Jack flash from 1920s
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    Large-scale machine signed by Lyle Tuttle and Jack Rudy
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    Percy Waters circuit board for three machines and a color machine circa 1928
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    Burmese Buddhist tattoo design book and instruments, 1800s
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    Old Japanese instruments donated by Horitoshi I and Nakano (Horitoshi III)
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    Top left to right - Flash from Tattoo Ole and Tattoo Ole's business card
    Bottomr left to right - Inside look at a Johnny-2-Thumbs machine 1940s, Doorbell machine and hand pokers from Jerry Swallow's shop 1950s and and old time doorbell assembly very commonly converted into tattoo machines.
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    Artoria Gibbons 1930s
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  2. Buttons

    Buttons OT Supporter

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    Last edited: Aug 19, 2008
  3. eelliiss

    eelliiss Active Member

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    Another super good read.
     
  4. Buttons

    Buttons OT Supporter

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    It's unbelievable how much machines have changed yet still stayed the same. Coils and materials have gotten better but the actual dynamics and physics of the machine have stayed the same since the early 1900s.
     
  5. ERabbit

    ERabbit OT Supporter

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    very interesting stuff, have either of you guys seen "ancient ink" or any of the other tattoo related shows on national geographic?
     
  6. Buttons

    Buttons OT Supporter

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    I think I've seen it. I've seen a bunch of documentary type tattoo shows.
     

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