William Grimshaw, Tattoo Artist
Operating in the Norfolk, Virginia Area in the 1940s and 1950s
William Grimshaw, Tattoo Artist
William Grimshaw was a tattoo artist who apparently operated in the Norfolk, Virginia area during the 1940s and 50s. Little is known of him, including which Grimshaw family line he descended from. According to Lyle Tuttle, Grimshaw was reported to be an English immigrant. Grimshaw’s work is well known in the “tattoo world”, and examples are found in several books on tattooing and on the Internet.
Thanks go to Lyle Tuttle for providing photos and other material that has added greatly to the “story” of William. Lyle also pointed out the error in the identification of William Grimshaw in the book by Jaguer (described further down on this webpage. Lyle is a leading expert in the world of tattooing; biographical material on him is provided below on this webpage.
Two pictures of William Grimshaw, both provided by Lyle Tuttle, are shown below. As Lyle has observed, it appears that the photos were taken in the same timeframe, although there are slight differences in William’s shorts in the two pictures. Note the extensive tattoo artwork everywhere from the neck down.
Lyle Tuttle has generously provided the following card from William Grimshaw’s tattooing practice on 210 King Street, Charleston, South Carolina. As shown further down on this webpage, William also had a practice in Norfolk, Virginia, but it is not known which practice preceded the other.
The purported photo of William shown below is from “The Tattoo: a Pictorial History” (Jaguer1, p. 15). Lyle Tuttle has indicated that this individual is actually Ted Hamilton and not William Grimshaw. Lyle provided the photos above that show the correct identity of William.
The following caption is from the description of the above photo. Note the erroneous date of William practicing in the 1880s.
As a tattoo artist, William produced many tattoo images, commonly referred to at “tattoo flash”. Such flash is described as follows on Wikipedia:
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Tattoo flash sets include a black and white stencil sheet, and may include a pre-colored sheet as well. A tattoo flash is a tattoo design printed or drawn on paper or cardboard, and may be regarded as a species of industrial design. It is typically displayed on the walls of tattoo parlors and in binders to give walk-in customers ideas for tattoos. Much if not most traditional tattoo flash was designed for rapid tattooing, and was either drawn by the individual artist for display and use in his own shop, or traded and sold among artists. Hand-drawn, local tattoo flash has largely been replaced by professional “flash artists” who produce prints of copyrighted flash and sell them at conventions or through the Internet. There is no standard size for tattoo flash, but it is commonly found on 11×14 inch prints. Tattoo flash may or may not come with an outline, also known as a stencil. This outline is typically printed on a separate sheet. This is convenient for the tattoo artist, who would otherwise have to draw the linework for themselves.
Most flash today is found on the Internet, which customers can print out and bring to their own artist to have tattooed. Although this method is becoming commonplace, it can be a form of copyright violation, inasmuch as artwork found in books, magazines, or on websites is the property of the original artist and not in the public domain. In most countries, the original copyright holder can take action against the tattoo artist, or the person who illegally supplied the tattoo flash. For this reason, many of the top tattoo flash sites are now offering legal downloads of individual designs. More recently, web 2.0 websites have been spotted offering royalty free tattoo designs contributed by tattoo artists around the world…
One of the best-know tattoo flash images produced by William Grimshaw was “Rock of Ages”, which is shown below from “The Tattooists”2 (Morse, p. 25). The image appears in Morse without any explanatory words.
The following images, from the “Tattoo Archive” on Cap Coleman and Charlie Barrs, indicates that William Grimshaw operated in Norfolk, VA in the 1940s and 1950s.
The following flash image was found on E-bay with the accompanying information. The flash was purchased and scanned; the resulting images are shown below the text.
Grimshaw flash: The Tattooists: Rock of Ages, eagle, rose, dancers, ship
18″ x 11 3/4″. This fine quality print is a close up of Grimshaw flash. Showing the creases and dings of time in the image. The symbols include an eagle with arrows in its talons, and a ribbon it’s mouth saying “E PLURIBUS UNUM”, two birds, , two women in exotic costumes. There are two roses, one with a banner saying “MOTHER”, the other with a fanciful butterfly woman peering into the folds of the petals. At the center bottom is a rock of ages image (woman with bible on a rock with a cross).
This is a poster vintage Grimshaw flash . It is the same image as the front and back inside cover of “The Tattooists” by Albert L. Morse published in 1977, and was printed the same time that the book was printed, so it is offset printing on semi-gloss heavy paper.
The poster has been in storage for many years and is still in new condition.
This particular image is from the collection of my late husband, Albert L. Morse. He is the author of the book “The Tattooists” which was published in 1977. The original flash is a part of the collection that he created when he was researching the book. Most of the flash and photos in this collection were purchased from tattooists who are interviewed in the book.
Location: Sausalito, CA
A total of 10 Images are included in this flash.
Another set of tattoo flash images by William is on page 55 of the book “Flash from the Past” (Paul Rogers Tattoo Research Center, 1994, p. 55) and is shown below. The image is described in the List of Illustrations (p. 104-105) as follows: “55 William Grimshaw, 1940s, 11 x 14″”
Yet another set of flash images by William Grimshaw appeared on E-bay in November 2008. It is described below, followed by two images of examples of the work.
1949 Grimshaw Flash made from old photo negative inherited directly from Owen Jensen.
11x 17 card stock paper book, 26 pages in black and white.
This book was made by Lee Roy Minugh’s son, Eric, he has made this book and has sold similar items on ebay since 2002. Thanks for you support.
This flash is further described on another website as follows:
27 black and white sheets of flash reproduced from the original photo negatives used to produce this flash in 1949. This flash has W. Grimshaw written on most of the sheets.
The tattoo flash art shown below appeared for sale on Ebay in December 2009 and was represented as original work by William Grimshaw. The seller was indicated to be “gowith” — no other information about the seller is known.
OFFERING THIS BOARD WITH 4 HAND SIGNED AND DRAWN SNAKE AND DRAGONS FLASH ART BY THE WELL KNOWN AND VERY SOUGHT AFTER W. GRIMSHAW. BOARD MEASURES 12″ X 16″. THE DRAGON ON LEFT MEASURES 6 1/2″ TALL AND THE ONE ON RIGHT IS ALSO 6 1/2″ TALL. ALL ARE SIGNED W. GRIMSHAW. CHECK OUT THE OTHER EARLY ORIGINAL FLASH ART I HAVE LISTED ON EBAY.
The flash shown below is from a website called “Bebe le Strange”. No additional information on the flash or the website is known.
william grimshaw, tattoo flash from the past — posted 28 Jul 2009
This website, found in December 2009, has the same pictures and two flashes that appear elsewhere on this webpage. Note that the website includes the erroneous identification of Ted Hamilton as William Grimshaw.
William Grimshaw pictured above with Smithy The Tattooed Doll was an artist based around the Norfolk area around the 40s and 50s. Having worked alongside and nearby other greats such as Cap Coleman and Charlie Barrs, they as with others brought the outlawed practice to the national audience that it has become today. Tattoo flash staples such as the Rock of Ages, shown below, was a signature piece for Grimshaw.
Rock of Ages
The following flash by William Grimshaw was found on Flikr in December 2009.
Information from the Tattoo Archive showing that William had his shops in Norfolk and Portsmouth is shown below followed by maps indicating the locations of those two cities in Virginia.
Lyle Tuttle is well known in the field of tattooing. Two articles on Lyle are shown below, one from Wikipedia and the other from Prick Magazine. Lyle’s website is at:
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Born: 1931, Ukiah, California, United States
Occupation: Tattoo artist
Lyle Tuttle is a well-known American tattoo artist and historian of the medium, who has been tattooing since 1949.
Biographical and Career Information
Tuttle was born in 1931 and grew up in Ukiah, California. At the age of fourteen he purchased his first tattoo for $3.50. In 1949, he began tattooing professionally. In 1954 he opened his own studio in San Francisco. This first shop was open for nearly 30 years. Tuttle tattooed Janis Joplin, Cher, Henry Fonda and several other notable musicians and celebrities of the time.
He has been tattooed on six continents, and has never knowingly tattooed a minor. He has become a legend and a teacher within the industry in the years he has been tattooing. He officially retired in 1990 but will still occasionally tattoo his signature on a friend or acquaintance. His fame within tattooing was somewhat controversial, as many tattooists of his day disliked his statements to the press and “shameless self-promotion”. When Tuttle was on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine in October 1970, Sailor Jerry put the picture inside his toilet.
Tuttle currently teaches accredited seminars in “Tattoo machine maintenance and machine building” at tattoo conventions around the United States.
When asked what made tattooing gain in popularity during his early career, he responded:
“Women’s liberation! One hundred percent women’s liberation! That put tattooing back on the map. With women getting a new found freedom, they could get tattooed if they so desired. It increased and opened the market by 50% of the population – hell of the human race! For three years, I tattooed almost nothing but women. Most women got tattooed for the entertainment value … circus side show attractions and so forth. Self-made freaks, that sort of stuff. The women made tattooing a softer and kinder art form.”
1 a b c Chuck Brank. “Lyle Tuttle: Forefather of modern tattooing (interview)”. Prick Magazine. Retrieved 2006-12-24.
2 a b Aaron Beck (May 13, 2006). “For tattoo master, every mark is special”. Columbus Dispatch.
3 Inked Magazine – My Work Speaks For Itself
4 Macleans – The end: Donald Paul Leslie, 1937-2007
Interview in Prick Magazine, date unknown…
Forefather of modern tattooing
by Chuck Brank
Late one evening, during the second day of the Atlanta Tattoo Arts Festival, and after a fair amount of $2 Bass beers, I had the privilege to sit down with a man who has seen the evolution of tattooing during the last half century – Lyle Tuttle. Although Tuttle no longer tattoos, he still attends the conventions, giving seminars on tattoo machines and maintenance and is considered a legend in the industry. While we sat down in the hotel restaurant, sipping coffee and smoking cigars, Tuttle gave us his views on the tattoo past and present. Among his many talents, he is a gifted story teller as you’ll hear for yourselves …
[LYLE] When the first convention happened in ’76 … let’s see (counting back) … I’d already been tattooing for over 25 years. I’ve been tattooing since 1949.
How many tattooers were around back then?
There was probably about one tattooer in every major city across the United States. There was about a half a dozen or so in New York City. Philadelphia had two or three. Anywhere there was a military base, there was a tattoo shop somewhere around it.
You were on that first wave of modern tattooers weren’t you?
No, not really, because I came in after World War II. During the war, with millions of servicemen and everything else, tattooing was booming. Then afterwards, there was a big lull. That’s when I started.
Tattoos have always been sort of connected with the warrior class. Tattooing is a way for people to bond and in the war, there was a lot of bonding going on … brothers in arms sort of stuff. Being connected to that warrior class goes back even before recorded history, The ancients discovered that tattooed warriors had better survival rates in battle than the ones without. Because a tattoo is a wound with some type of charcoal or color in it, it developed their antibodies and built up their immunities as far as flesh wounds went. This old tattoo artist named Curly Allan from Vancouver, Canada had a theory that tattoos could have started in battle. In the days when wood spears were sharpened by burning and friction, the sanding action made the tips charred with carbon residue. If a warrior was injured or poked with one of those weapons and survived, there would have been a permanent scar with black coloring. It would almost be like magic … getting stabbed and recovering with this black dot left marking your wound forever. Having such marks would symbolize a warrior’s bravery and survival skills and make them more intimidating.
You are covered with tattoos. When did it all begin?
I got my first tattoo when I was 14 years old in 1946. I was raised about a 120 miles north of San Francisco, in Ukiah. I still live in the house I was raised in as a matter of fact. I have been enthralled with San Francisco since I was eight, when the Golden Gate International Exposition happened on Treasure Island. I knew that with all the bright lights and tall buildings, something had to be brewing. In 1946, being 14 and all, I was able to take a Greyhound bus down to the big city. On that trip, I ran across an old tattoo shop. Duke was the tattoer that ran it. I found out that the only things a 14-year-old kid can do in the big city is get a shoe shine and drink Coca-Colas and that was about it. Well, I was getting a shoe shine and I looked back through this arcade type of place and there was this magic word that appeared … ‘tattooing.’ I’d seen servicemen with tattoos and to me it was symbolic of an adventure and that’s what I was on. It meant you’d been over the horizon. When I stepped into the shop, I was mesmerized! The guy looked a me and said ‘What in the hell do you want!’ I stumbled and mumbled and looked around and saw a heart on the wall with the word mother on it. It was $3.50. I could afford it so I was excited … that was a lot of money back then. I pointed and said ‘That one.’ Man, he had that thing on me so quick … I just couldn’t believe it.
That night going home on the bus, I remember it was dark and I’d taken off the bandage, but I couldn’t really see my new tattoo. I could feel it, it hurt, but I couldn’t see it. So I’d hold it up whenever we went through a town and when the street lights would go past, I could catch glimpses of it. I got home, I didn’t hide it from my parents, but I kept it concealed. About ten days after I got it, and it was healed, I showed my mother. She said, “You got that when you went to San Francisco didn’t you?” She didn’t really make a big deal about it. It was a heart with mother written in it, so it would be hard for any mother to admonish their child for that. My parents were conservative Iowa farmers, living in California, but they really allowed me to have my own head. I wasn’t really punished for anything in my life. A short time later, I got to go back to San Fran to pick up my aunt. I shot up Market Street until I got to a tattoo shop. There was a little bear tattoo for two dollars and I got it on my wrist. I still have it to this day. It’s been circled and colored in, but it’s still there.
I have a few tattoos that I call my drunken Yokahama tattoos. I’ve gotten my fair share of those let me tell ya! Spontaneous tattoos – not these tattoos where you think about it and discuss ideas with your tattooer, then it takes weeks to draw, you’ve got to make an appointment … and so on. Where’s the adventure in that? That’s why I opened my first shop next to a bus station. I tattooed there for twenty nine years.
What was the name of that shop?
Lyle Tuttle Tattoos. Nowadays, there’s all these elaborate names and such, but this is a personalized business. Everybody knows my name. Not my shop’s name. I’m a total product of good timing. I was the right guy at the right place and the right time.
What brought tattooing out of the lull that you said you started in?
Women’s liberation! One hundred percent women’s liberation! That put tattooing back on the map. With women getting a new found freedom, they could get tattooed if they so desired. It increased and opened the market by 50% of the population – hell of the human race! For three years, I tattooed almost nothing but women. Most women got tattooed for the entertainment value … circus side show attractions and so forth. Self-made freaks, that sort of stuff. The women made tattooing a softer and kinder art form. Then the black people started getting tattooed. That was the other big shot in the arm for the tattooing industry, actually. The printed word has done more for this industry than anything. What your doing right now as a matter of fact. I was on the cover of Rolling Stone. The Wall Street Journal did a front page story on me, in the personality profile section in 1971. Soon after that, this one girl called me up that was so ecstatic. She said she came from an uptight stockbroker type family, and ended up marrying a stockbroker, but always wanted a tattoo. Her father was totally against the idea. Then one day out of the blue, her dad called her up and said “Why don’t you get a tattoo honey?” He had read about tattoos in the goddamned Wall Street Journal and that made it okay! The printed word lingers on. TV is fleeting. You see it and it’s gone. Magazines started coming out and people started spreading them out. More people became aware of the art form that it was becoming. With tattooing becoming more acceptable, it brought a better grade of artists into the picture. That’s still the case – it just keeps getting better and better. How can a guy that’s devoted more than fifty years of his life to this industry not enjoy where it’s at now. I’m proud to be part of it’s history. I proud of what it has become and look forward to see where it goes from here. Tattoos are everywhere now, Hell, we’ve even got a goddamned free tattoo magazine now! Look at these things laying all over the place (pointing out all the PRICKs scattered about).
As a forefather of modern tattooing, you’ve seen the industry through all its highs and lows. What’s you’re take on the progression of tattooing and the state of the industry now?
Tattooing has many facets, it’s like a diamond. You can’t see the facets from one view. You have to see it from all different angles. There is no formula to it. People get tattooed for different reasons. For some people, it’s a mild rebellion. There is the peer pressure element. The word ‘chickenshit’ has probably caused more people to get tattooed than any other reason. For some, it’s a form of finding their lost tribal ancestry, so sometimes there is a cultural wave that causes a boom. Tattooing has changed radically over the years. Sterilization is much more important now. Anytime an industry blossoms, it gets a higher profile and scrutiny so everybody has to change with the times. I mean, we used to work with sponge and buckets a long time ago. There just wasn’t as many diseases floating around back then. That’s a whole other side of the industry.
What’s your feeling about the clinical side? Do you think it’s a bit overkill compared to the sponge and bucket days?
We just had to convert. There was never any great tattoo disease epidemic or anything. There are no diseases that have been created by tattoo artists. I’ve truthfully never actually seen an infected tattoo from a professional tattooer. I’ve seen infected tattoos. Hell I’ve had a few on me that got infected. One was right in a pull spot on my arm. The scab got heavy and one day I was working on my old Model A Ford before the tattoo healed and dragged the goddamned thing across the bumper and scratched the scab off. That one got infected, but it was my fault not the tattooer. It eventually healed. Then when I got tattooed in Samoa, I got a really bad infection. I hate the tropics and I hate the bugs in the tropics. People who live in the tropics have learned to tolerate bugs, especially in the primitive cultures. I saw one Samoan guy let this fly crawl on his face and take a goddamned drink out of his eye for Christ’s sake! That’s how used to insects they are. So when the tattooer was working on me, they wouldn’t brush away the damn flies. I mean I saw pictures after it was over and the goddamn flies were all over my open wounds – drinking out of the incisions like hogs in a trough. Two days later, I had this infection start happening. I hopped on a plane, flew over to America, and got a shot of penicillin in the ass and everything turned out okay. But it was those goddamned flies, not the tattooer, that gave me the infection!
The people in the tattoo industry should be proud of themselves. They have really pulled themselves up from the boot straps. They learned all the proper procedures and safety standards on their own. We taught ourselves everything we know. Doctors go to medical school to learn about sterilization and such. We had to do it on our own. We are self-educated and I feel that the industry should be self-regulated. Tattooers love their profession so much that they do overkill on the sterilization aspect.
Are you still tattooing?
No, I haven’t tattooed in about 15 years. Being a tattooer was an enchanted profession for me. It ruined my education though. I didn’t finish high school because I had tattoo static in my head.
Any famous names you’ve tattooed?
Janis Joplin, Peter Fonda, Cher …
You did the one on her ass?
Yeah, and now I hear that she’s getting the goddamned thing taken off. That’s one insane wom … wait I’ll stop there (laughter). I don’t have any axes to grind. I’m a gentleman, don’t you know. Janis Joplin was another wild one. She was a great copy writer. Madison Avenue couldn’t have said it better – ‘People who get tattooed like to fuck a lot!’ She was great. When the rock ‘n’ rollers started getting into the tattoo scene, I tattooed Joan Biaz, the Allman Brothers and all their roadies.
What are your thoughts on the future of tattooing?
Well, the human race has been doubling and tripling at an astronomical rate since the dawn of recorded history. The rate of human population growth has steadily increased to the point that it only takes a fraction of the time it once took to double the population. Think about all that new skin and think about all that new skin that is just turning eighteen. The possibilities for tattooing are limitless and there is more skin getting made everyday.
1Jaguer, Jeff, 1990, The Tattoo – a Pictorial History: Hampshire, England, Milestone Publications
2Morse, Albert L, 1977, The Tattooists: San Francisco, Albert L Morse
3Paul Rogers Tattoo Research Center, 1994, Flash from the Past – Classic American Tattoo Designs, 1890-1965: Honolulu, Hardy Marks Publications, 107 p. (William Grimshaw on p. 55.)
Webpage initially posted October 2008. Completed November 2008. Updated December 2009 with addition of tattoo flash from Ebay, “Bebe le Strange”, “Drinkin’ and Dronin'”, and Flikr. Updated and corrected April 2010 with information and photos from Lyle Tuttle that includes correct photos of William Grimshaw.