I love the irony—that modern technology helps me in my quest to collect the past. Recently, my son informed me that one of my old friends had posted on the Internet that he was selling some of his vintage tattoo items. In this day of competitive collecting, I instantly messaged him and struck a deal within fifteen minutes. I was only minutes ahead of other collectors who were frantically messaging him.
Similar to antique shows, Internet collecting requires a lot of luck and good connections. Sometimes, these connections are years in the making. Sometimes, you score on eBay, and sometimes you score due to a good tip and the ability to instantly contact someone who is thousands of miles away. The item that I purchased was literally a time capsule—a Milton Zeis tattoo kit in perfect condition that had been untouched since 1959.
Milton Zeis was a major supplier and tattoo artist from Rockford, Illinois. Zeis made many improvements in tattooing including color flash and the modern clip cord machines. He also created thousands of tattoo designs with the help of the best artists of the day, including Bill “Jonesy” Jones. In 1951, Zeis created a home study course to learn to tattoo, selling complete kits to interested students.
Anything and everything Zeis is very collectable by tattooists today, and this was the mother lode. The kit is a collector’s dream, complete with its original carrying case. The case and its contents appear to have been purchased in 1959 and only are only slightly used. Everything inside is mint—three boxed machines, one with the rare Zeis sticker; the complete correspondence course; flash; color pigments; a rheostat, and everything down to cotton balls and gelatin capsules (used to put the ink in); and even letters to the student from Milton. It is truly amazing that this was still all together since 1959. This is as complete as it comes.
I had heard of Zeis since the beginning of my tattooing when I approached my first old-timer about an apprenticeship. He told me to check out the Zeis School of Tattooing. Fortunately for me, I found a proper apprenticeship with my mentor, D.C. Paul, in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Dave Paul had attended the first tattoo convention in 1956 with Zeis, in Sandusky, Ohio. Funny how things come back around! Milton Zeis was a colorful character, artist, tattooist, supplier, and—later in his life—a clown...Thank you Uncle Milty! See ya in the funny papers. Keep your hat on so I’ll know ya…Dana