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December 11, 2012 12:26 PM   Subscribe

The Nautical Roots of the Modern Tattoo
posted by exogenous (21 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
I loved this part:
"They would get hinges on their elbows to keep them from having rheumatism and arthritis, and sometimes they would even get a little oil can tattooed above the hinge so that the hinges would stay lubricated."
Of all the nautical-inspired tattoos I've seen, I've never seen this one.

Also, the Sailor Jerry lady with flippers wrasslin' a swordfish. Marvelous.
posted by fiercecupcake at 12:43 PM on December 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


I don't want a tattoo, but I would kill for those haircuts.
posted by chavenet at 12:50 PM on December 11, 2012


As someone with a big ol' nautical chestpiece in honor of my submarine sailor grandpa, I really like this link.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:53 PM on December 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


When my father did his national service in the Royal Navy in the late 1940s, recruits were encouraged to get tattoos. It made identifying drowned corpses a great deal easier.
posted by Hogshead at 1:09 PM on December 11, 2012 [9 favorites]


This is really interesting. A lot of this history seems really obvious, but I never connected the dots. Thanks for posting it.
posted by DynamiteToast at 1:28 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Before my grandfather passed away I asked him about his tattoo. He explained that he received it while serving in the Philippines during WWII, after falling in love with a local woman who had a tattoo of a swallow. She ran off with another soldier, and he got the tattoo to always remember her. I thought this was horribly romantic, so as soon as I was old enough I went out and got the same tattoo.

Soon after getting married my husband warned me that his Filippina mother would not be happy about my tattoos. It was never a problem, but one day we all went swimming and she finally noticed. She was shocked and kept asking me why I would do that to my body. I told her the story of my grandfather, thinking it would endear her. Instead she just laughed and told me that back then in the Philippines the only women with tattoos were prostitutes.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 2:01 PM on December 11, 2012 [24 favorites]


fiercecupcake: hinge
posted by imaswinger at 2:34 PM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wish they'd gone further in the origin of "groggy." Of course it's derived from grog, the daily rum ration issued to Royal Navy sailors. The word comes from Adm. Edward Vernon, who introduced the drink aboard ship in 1740 and who was nicknamed Old Grog for the grogram cloth cloak he wore.

It should be noted that tattoos also helped identify mutineers (Bounty, Hermione), so they had their downsides for sailors.
posted by stargell at 2:39 PM on December 11, 2012


Awesome post! I love reading about the hisory of tattoos. There are so many styles and cultures that use this medium to produce such a fascinating art. I cant wait to get my next one! The hinge is so cool!
posted by SteelDancin at 3:25 PM on December 11, 2012


love the idea of a tattoo as the original instagram.
posted by sheala.draws at 3:31 PM on December 11, 2012


It should be noted that tattoos also helped identify mutineers (Bounty, Hermione), so they had their downsides for sailors.

Also, if Patrick O'Brian's fiction is accurate (more than likely than not), they could also get you pressed (drafted) into the navy.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 3:39 PM on December 11, 2012


back then in the Philippines the only women with tattoos were prostitutes

My mother almost thinks this, and she's American.
posted by dhartung at 3:49 PM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


My mother almost thinks this, and she's American.

Are we siblings?
posted by Forktine at 4:05 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Clicked hoping for olde tyme pics of hot sailors...not disappointed.

Liked the article too.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 5:19 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Enjoyed this! I wish the author delved more into the reason culture is so interested in nautical tattoos today, even if only speculation. I think there's more there than just cycles of fashion.
posted by iamkimiam at 5:25 PM on December 11, 2012


Related, from our old friend Herman Melville:
And this tattooing, had been the work of a departed prophet and seer of his island, who, by those hieroglyphic marks, had written out on his body a complete theory of the heavens and the earth, and a mystical treatise on the art of attaining truth; so that Queequeg in his own proper person was a riddle to unfold; a wondrous work in one volume; but whose mysteries not even himself could read, though his own live heart beat against them; and these mysteries were therefore destined in the end to moulder away with the living parchment whereon they were inscribed, and so be unsolved to the last.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:10 PM on December 11, 2012


There was a exhibition regarding just this subject about a year ago at the Columbia River Maritime Museum. Very interesting stuff, though the Sailor Jerry t-shirts cost forty dollars in the museum gift shop.
posted by Tube at 8:25 PM on December 11, 2012


Assuming that there is no other information to go upon I would be buried in either Burma, China or the Illuminati Burial Compound. I'd like to think it's a bit of each.
posted by Splunge at 8:41 PM on December 11, 2012


I hadn't known the part about European tattooing in the 1500s, before the naval exploration brought a stronger tattoo culture back. Does anyone know more about that?
posted by vibratory manner of working at 10:50 PM on December 11, 2012


Well, the tattoo is an ancient art, often used for tribal purposes amongst pre-Roman peoples in Europe.

There is scant recorded evidence for a continuous tradition of tattooing in Europe, but a number of datapoints such as King Harold II -- who was killed in the Norman Conquest and, his body half-naked and mutilated, only identified because of his tattoos. There is also some study of the pilgrim tattoo, which similarly served as a sort of indelible dogtag for those who didn't make home -- or at all.
posted by dhartung at 9:29 AM on December 12, 2012


Thanks! I'd known about pre-christian tattooing in Europe, but the other parts are new to me.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 11:53 PM on December 12, 2012


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