It’s only fitting that our inaugural blog post should honor the Liberty family of Boston tattoo artists. For more than fifty years, at least one Liberty family member—and often several—tattooed in Boston’s gritty Scollay Square, the city’s entertainment district. Edward “Dad” Liberty opened his first shop in the neighborhood sometime before 1920, and maintained a presence there for over 30 years. His sons Frank, Lefty and Ted also took up the tattoo trade, setting up studios within steps of each other in the Square, where they worked for decades. The statewide ban on tattooing drove the last Liberty out of Boston in 1962.
We have a special, slightly off-color bit of Liberty memorabilia to share with you. This treat comes courtesy of the eldest of “Dad” Liberty’s three sons, Francis William, or Frank (1904-1956), who in the 1930s opened for business in the basement of 16 Cambridge St. in Scollay Square. Over his 30-plus years of tattooing, Frank went by the handles “Professor” and “Captain,” and—perhaps as a thin disguise—occasionally called himself “Bill”.
While at 16 Cambridge St., Frank slipped this novelty business card to customers. You can imagine the chuckles when its hidden message was revealed.
These cards were not handed out by prostitutes, as is sometimes asserted. Instead, they were a clever marketing tool, drawing tattoo trade with a bit of shared, bawdy male humor. Nor was Frank the ingenious creator of this gag. Identical and similar versions appear on trade cards for other businesses. We’ve traced Frank’s first use of this novelty to a very intriguing Boston address!
In our next blog post, we’ll take you upstairs over the Tasty, where Libertys tattooed amidst the aromas of coffee and griddled hamburger patties . . . and where Lefty Liberty documented the demise of Boston tattooing in a few wrenching, scrawled words. Don’t miss it!