From it’s maritime beginnings in the mid 19th Century to it’s pop-culture resurgence in the 1990s, traditional tattoo flash has emerged as an important form of American folk art. Based on a standardized repertory of iconography and themes, traditional tattoo flash was typically designed as display materials much like a catalog, from which customers were encouraged to choose a design for their tattoos. Originally adapted from the lexicon of carnival and circus sign painters, “flash” emerged as a lucrative business tool aimed at maximizing sales, efficiency and customer turnover. The greater the selection of designs, the more likely a customer would find a design that suited them.
Artists also found a commercial market for their designs as other artists and shops began trading and selling flash, accompanying line sheet and acetate stencils. Over time as tattoo designs were copied, modified and embellished to create personalized variants, the modern iconography of Western traditional Tattoo Flash was born.
This site was created with the sole purpose of collecting, archiving, and sharing the art of classic tattoo flash with others who love it’s rich history and ascetics. While “Sailor Jerry” Collins and Don Ed Hardy have become the most recognizable names in tattoo history, partly due to the recent commercialization of their art and popularity of their respective brands, there are countless other artists who collectively helped forge the modern legacy of tattoo art. This collection of flash features art from both recognized tattooers like Owen Jensen, August “Cap” Coleman, and Leonard “Stoney” St. Clair, as well as unsigned works unattributed to any known artist.
I hope you enjoy this constantly growing collection of tattoo history!