Skip to main content

Collectors alway follows a strange path in their pur- suit of rare items. Research and correspondence are important, but most of all, just plain luck seems to be the key factor in most acquisitions to a collection.

Recently, while researching a Coleman statue that had sold at auction, I accidentally came across an auction site that featured rare tattoo items soon to be auctioned off. I contacted the auction house, applied and qualified to bid. Then I waited patiently for the date of the auction to arrive.

Now, as excited as I was, I was also sure that many other of my fellow tattoo collectors out there were aware of “my secret.” I was indeed waiting and preparing for a bid- ding battle.


The first lot was a Percy Waters tattooed lady poster that instantly soared to a price twice as high as I had expected. Next, luck was on my side as I scored some rare 1920s flash. Now it was time for the final lot, a rare turn-of-the-century tat- too litho. Fortunately, luck was again on my side with the litho selling much lower than I expected. Lower than expected is always a great feeling! Score, one of the earliest pieces I’d seen was now added to my collection.


The lithograph is a late 1800s poster advertising the tattooed couple, Frank and Emma DeBurgh. The DeBurghs were tattooed by Samuel O’Reilly in New York City during the last part of the 1800s.


O’Reilly patented the first electric tattoo machine in 1891, so I assume a lot of the DeBurghs’ tattoos were done by hand. Both husband and wife were covered in religious motifs. Emma’s back depicted the Last Supper, while Frank’s back was a rendition of the crucifixion. They both also had the other’s name and the sentiments proclaiming their love tattooed on their torsos.


They were first exhibited in Berlin, Germany, in 1891, and they toured throughout Europe, amazing crowds. This litho was advertising an appearance of the DeBurghs at the Alcazar D’Ete in Paris, a concert hall that was opened in 1860 on the famous Champs Elysees and closed in 1914.


I love history. It is hard to believe that a lithograph depicting a couple tattooed by Samuel O’Reilly has survived all these years and is now in my collection. Yeah….LUCK!

See ya in the funny papers. And remember to keep your hat on so I’ll know ya.