Tattoo: British Tattoo Art Revealed
National Maritime Museum Cornwall, Falmouth 17 March–7 January 2018
One in five of Britain’s adult population is estimated to have a tattoo, a figure that rises to one in three among young adults. But tattoos have not always been as popular nor as widespread as they are today. So where and why did myths and preconceptions of tattooing begin and how have methods of tattooing changed?
These questions and more are addressed in a new exhibition at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall that looks at the fascinating history of British tattooing. Sir Joseph Banks, the naturalist on Captain Cook’s first Pacific voyage in 1768, wrote the first European account of tattooing, in which he describes seeing a young girl being tattooed in Tahiti. The word ‘tattaw’ itself was first used in the 1769 published account of Cook’s first voyage.
Four hundred original artworks, photos and historical artefacts will be on show, including a brass instrument once used for ‘ branding’ the letter ‘D’ on army deserters, as well as early tattooing equipment. Included is an original model of Edison’s patent electric preparatory pen from around 1877, which provided the basic technology for early tattoo machines in the US and Britain. More squeamish visitors may wish to avert their gaze from one exhibit: two tattooed eyes on preserved (hairy) human skin (pictured above right).
ABOVE: A pair of tattooed eyes on preserved human skin from the 19th century BELOW: A travelling tattoo banner from the c1920s