101 Most Influential People in Tattoo (No. 13)—C.W. Eldridge
When I was hired by Larry Flynt to edit Skin&Ink magazine, back in 1967, Chuck Eldridge was one of the first people I contacted. Wanting to do the best job possible, I was told that, in order to gain support from the tattoo industry’s “old guard,” I had to pass muster with C.W. “Chuck” Eldridge. Chuck, at the time, worked out of a shop in Berkeley, California, called Tattoo Archive (he’s now in Winston-Salem, North Carolina). Eldridge was thought by many to be the leading historian in the business.
Chuck was very cordial to me on the phone, but made a condition regarding his support: He told me that I had to do away with those full-page tattoo supplier advertisements that appeared on SKIN&INK’S back-outside cover. At that time, the ads featured dreaded “starter kits,” the all-in-one collections of mediocre tattoo equipment any kid with his mom’s credit card could purchase for rock-bottom prices. Jack Rudy once told me that, “Even if all my tattoo equipment were destroyed in a fire, I would never get a starter kit. It’s junk.” The main drawback, besides the inferior products, was the lack of an autoclave sterilizing device. Anyone could buy these kits and not have a clue about what Zeke Owen referred to as “the Sterile Chain of Events.” The fact is, an autoclave costs a couple grand, and working without one is a disaster waiting to happen.
So there I was, working less than seventy-two hours for one of the major publishers in the world, and I had to march into Flynt’s twelfth-floor Beverly Hills office and tell him I couldn’t be the editor unless he banished supplier ads from his magazine. There I was, offering to trash my job as editor, all on the say-so of a complete stranger, Chuck Eldridge.
Well, it worked, because Flynt understood and said, “If that’s what it takes, let’s do it.” I found out later that this decision cost LFP (Larry Flynt Publications) over sixty grand a year. Next thing I know, Eldridge signed on with his regular “Living History” column, while I incurred the wrath of the old-school tattoo suppliers all over the U.S. I especially remember the hour-long harangue left on my telephone answering machine by one especially angry supplier (the one who bought the back-pages on most of the tattoo publications). He called me (and my mother) names I had never heard before.
Skipping ahead: Chuck became a regular and we continued to fight the good fight. I even enlisted industry heavyweights like Henk “Hanky Panky” Schiffmacher and Jack Rudy (who bought full-page ads declaring our message). After a couple years or so, Chuck told me that, “Your greatest accomplishment is that there are no starter kit ads on the back of any tattoo magazines anymore.” And he was right.
Chuck diligently worked as a columnist and feature writer until, several years later, we began accepting supplier ads (under the condition that they featured no starter kits). It was either that or not having enough money to publish. Eldridge told me, under those conditions, he couldn’t continue. I guess I admire his view on the issue, but it was uncomfortable to see him go.
I continue to refer people to Chuck, whenever a question arises that requires a solid knowledge of tattoo history. In fact, based on our last phone conversation, Chuck’s Winston-Salem shop and museum is “doing quite well,” and even has a second artist to handle walk-ins. Along with running a shop, curating the Paul Rogers Tattoo Research Center, tattooing authentic old-school tattoos and offering for sale his Tattoo Archive books and collectibles at various conventions, C.W. continues to win the industry’s respect for and understanding of the amazing world of tattoo.