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eagles, anchors & flags

A Century of tattooing in Boston, 1862-1962


Eagles, Anchors & Flags is a groundbreaking book and exhibit documenting the rich history of tattooing in Boston from the time of the Civil War until 1962.  With biographies of over forty Boston tattoo artists and tattooed performers, as well as previously unpublished flash, photographs and ephemera from collections on both sides of the Atlantic, Eagles stands as a landmark contribution to the study of American tattoo history and culture.  We anticipate publication in 2018, with an accompanying exhibit to be announced. - Documenting Boston Tattoo History!

Tattooing in Boston

Boston’s gritty Scollay Square, a mecca of dime museums, burlesque theaters and gambling halls, was the city’s center for electric tattooing from the late 1880s until 1962, when Massachusetts banned the trade and razed the neighborhood.  During those eight decades, Boston’s tattoo artists—hungry, enterprising, and multi-skilled—passed through the city on bicoastal junkets, commuted to Scollay Square from their homes in adjacent communities, or spent their lives and careers in tiny shops over the lunch counters and pool halls there.  Many cobbled a living as day laborers, sign painters, truck drivers and factory hands, moonlighting in the city with their needles and ink.  Some spent summers on the carnival circuit, tattooing the locals and, in fringed satin trunks, displaying their own prodigiously tattooed bodies.  The odd venture into vaudeville, selling anything from handmade novelties to exotic animals, or engaging in petty crime eased the dry times—or simply enlivened the dull ones.

These hardscrabble lives also reveal important crosscurrents of influence between Scollay Square and other major tattoo centers—from London and Vancouver to New York City, Norfolk and Los Angeles.  Eagles, Anchors & Flags will be the first work of tattoo history to trace these worldwide cultural and artistic connections. -- Documenting Boston Tattoo History!

The Authors

Derin Bray is an Art & Antique dealer, curator and historian based in the Boston area. He has published widely on the early folk art of New England, and is a leading collector of historic sideshow and tattoo material. His award-winning books include Bucket Town: Woodenware & Wooden Toys of Hingham, Massachusetts (2014) and Harbor & Home: Furniture of Southeastern Massachusetts (2009). He is a graduate of Yale University, and holds an MA from the University of Delaware's Winterthur Program in Early American Culture.

Margaret Hodges is the author, under the pen name M.F. Bloxam, of The Night Battles (2008).  She has collaborated with Derin Bray on several projects, including Bucket Town.  She holds a BA in Theater and Writing from Carroll College, and an MA in Anthropology and Museum Studies from San Francisco State University.

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(203) 606-8380 for Derin Bray