Harry Lawson: Boston Tattooer

Before tattoo legend Harry Lawson (1872-1950) became a permanent fixture in Los Angeles, he plied needle-and-ink in cities throughout the country, including our beloved Boston. In 1914, Lawson joined veteran sideshow performer Frank Howard (1857-1925) at Howard’s deluxe tattoo studio and supply headquarters on Court Street in bustling Scollay Square. His stay there was brief, but memorable. 

Scroll down for a few pieces of rare ephemera related to Lawson's early career. 

 
 
 
 Frank Howard Business Card, ca. 1914. Courtesy of   www.LyleTuttle.com

Frank Howard Business Card, ca. 1914. Courtesy of www.LyleTuttle.com

 
 
 Harry Lawson's Arrest Notice, January 9, 1915

Harry Lawson's Arrest Notice, January 9, 1915

 
 Harry Lawson's Official Arrest Record (edited for readability), Suffolk County Crime Calendar, Jan. 10, 1915, The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Archives

Harry Lawson's Official Arrest Record (edited for readability), Suffolk County Crime Calendar, Jan. 10, 1915, The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Archives

 Summary of Harry Lawson's Court Case, 1915, The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Archives

Summary of Harry Lawson's Court Case, 1915, The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Archives

The above cabinet card by New York photographer William Ettlin offers a rare glimpse of Lawson shortly before his move to Boston. The large Head of Christ flanked by angels was applied by Philadelphia tattooer Harry “Buckie” Buchanan (1869-1939); Charlie Barrs donned a similar back piece by the same man (See Tattoo Archive). Evidently, some of the work —probably the racehorses— was completed by Bowery tattooer Lew Alberts during his short tenure in Pittsburgh. In March of 1905, Alberts reported to a local paper that he had left New York a few months earlier because the city had become overrun with competition. He soon set to work at a penny arcade on Grant Street, but hoped to open a large studio that would appeal to a more refined clientele. Within a few years, however, Alberts would return to New York.

 

*For an account of Lawson's Boston heist, see The Life & Times: Frank and Annie Howard (A Tattoo Archive Publication, researched by Carmen Nyssen).