Tattoo Treasures with Dana Brunson
A BILL, AND I DON’T MEAN A FIN
By Dana Brunson
Once in a while, collecting seems to hit a dead end. You assume the treasures of the past have all been found and you will have to be satisfied with small bits and pieces that come your way. Not this time!
I’m driving home from the Old School Convention in St. Louis in November 2008, reflecting on the big score of vintage flash that my friend Mike Skiver had just let me see. He had traded for over one hundred sheets of vintage flash by Bert Grimm and others. I’m thinking, Well, if it couldn’t be me that hit the pot of gold, I’m glad it was Mike, as he loves the vintage stuff as much as I do.
Just then my cell phone rings and it’s my friends Nancy and Norby. They are at an antique show in Ohio that I usually attend but, because of the convention, I missed it. Norby is a great friend of mine and an invaluable connection for vintage vehicles, cars and motorcycles. In fact, he is very knowledgeable regarding antiques in general. He has no tattoos, even though he has been a friend of mine for years and really knows nothing about tattoos. But he’s always said, “Someday I’m going to find some old tattoo stuff for you.” Back to the phone call: Norby is excited and tells me about a “tattooed swordfish bill” owned by one of his vendors. A tattooed what? Norby explains that it’s worth lots of money and very cool, but I’m still confused about what he’s talking about.
Norby explains that he has a gut feeling about the item. He keeps describing it and, after a few minutes, I make the decision to give him the go-ahead to purchase it for me, sight unseen. Spending a lot of money to purchase something, especially when you haven’t even seen it, can be an agonizing decision. So, during the rest of my drive home, the excitement diminishes and a knot grows in my stomach. I also have to endure teasing from my wife and son, who come up with a entire scenario about it being a souvenir from Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville Restaurant. Collecting is not always successful and can often lead to buyer’s remorse, but that’s all part of the game. Definitely not for the weak of heart. The more I think about what this thing is, the creepier I feel, so I decide to stop at Norby’s on the way home and claim my prize, my family still teasing and taunting me all the way.
The last laugh is mine. This is one of the coolest tattoo collectables I have ever encountered. The prize is a 1905, hand-painted, tattooed swordfish bill with turn-of-the-century images better than my wildest dreams. Whew! I quickly track the item to an antique firearms auction in Illinois, to a dealer of Spanish American war items in Alaska. He informs me that he has no further information except to say he thinks it’s great. He is right. Now my collection has a crown jewel.
See ya in the funny papers, and keep your hat on so I’ll know ya.