The birthplace of modern tattooing sits at the intersection of Division Street, Chatham Square and The Bowery. In 1961 NYC banned tattooing and did not re-legalize until 1997.
In the early 1900’s work lived primarily at the shipping docks and construction sites. Each morning men would line up, standing on cartons and crates while bosses looked them over and made their selections on who would be given daily assignments. Those with black eyes would often be passed over out of concern they would be a problem and cause trouble.
During this era, it was common for tattoo parlors and barbershops shared share a location. Both businesses shared the customer base so it worked well.
Tattoo artists offered a service advertising to make “black eyes look natural” and would proudly promote this on business cards, large signs and in storefront windows.
This process involved the placing of a hot towel on the affected eye to reduce the swelling. Leeches would be applied as the next step as they would suck out the excess blood. Cosmetic makeup would conceal any discoloration that remained and men hopeful for a days work were given the peace of mind that their rowdy behavior wouldn’t prevent them from earning money.
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If you’re interested in learning more about tattoo history and seeing some of these landmark studio locations yourself, I highly recommend checking out Michelle Myle’s (of Dare Devil Tattoo in NYC) Tattoo History Walking Tour. She is the only tattooer in NYC who is also a licensed NYC tour guide. : https://www.airbnb.com/experiences/111311