Review: Flash from the Bowery

Schiffer Publishing makes some really awesome tattoo books. One of those books is Flash From the Bowery, which they brought out just a couple of years ago. This book is an amazing glimpse at some of the work that was being done in the early twentieth century, straight from Cliff White, who put the book together.

The flash contained in this book was taken from acetates found in Samuel O’Reilly’s Black Eye Barbershop in the Bowery. They’re not confirmed to be by O’Reilly, or even from Charlie Wagner (who purchased the shop after he died) or any of the tattooers who graced Black Eye Barbershop. In fact, since flash was taken from so many places at the time, no one really knows exactly who did each design. Bill Jones, or Jonesy, who was Charlie Wagner’s friend, transferred the acetate stencils to paper by hand. Considering there is 193 pages of flash in this book, you can imagine how long that must have taken.

The whole book is pretty much unedited, as far as I can see. There are still pencil rubbings and notes on the pages next to the designs, where Jonesy may have remembered certain things about the design or possibly who did them. This, along with the sheer size of the book and feel of the paper, really makes it feel like you have a piece of history in your hand rather than a copy in a book.

Most of these designs are things that you still see today, which I think is pretty cool- it shows how great these classic themes and motifs are, knowing that they work so well people still want them. I think that it’s great to be able to see these designs so early on, seeing exactly where they came from. For some of these designs, you can probably name about ten tattooers who’ve done their own version, and probably whose you like best. This is where it’s all from, and it’s important to bear this in mind. I feel like some people forget this- some tattooers think they’re the next big thing but they’re tattooing designs that are 100 years old, and not really being as humble as they should be towards that!

Overall, I think that Cliff White and Schiffer Publishing have done an absolutely amazing job with this book. It feels like a great quality book, and it even comes in its own box so you can’t mess up the pages (looking at you, messy painters!). I’d recommend this to anyone, and I hope you’ll buy it here so you can see for yourself how great it is!


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