It reminded me of a lecture I went to last year at the V&A called 'Japanese Tattooing as an Upper-Class fad in the Late 19th Century' by Mark Lodder. I'd never thought about it before but back in the day it was a sign of wealth and a sign that you had traveled to be able to have been to Japan to get a tattoo, and people wanted the skilled Japanese Artist to do their peice. Because all tattoos where hand done they took a long time and where super expensive and therefore only available to rich people... once things became electric and the riff raff could get them it began to loose its kudos.
However it was a while before the tattooing craze caught on. That came a little later when Prince Bertie (later Edward VII) helped ignite the fashion for body art among the British upper classes. The playboy prince was first tattooed in 1862 in the Holy Land with the ‘Jerusalem Cross’ design. Sources suggest he didn’t stop at one and his sons, the Duke of Clarence and the Duke of York (later King George V), both kept up the family tradition while serving overseas in the Royal Navy. The trend spread throughout Europe’s royal houses.
Indeed between 1870 and 1890 larger intricate tattoos were very much the preserve of the upper classes – even women joined in. The New York Times in 1879 noted:
"… that in England it is regarded as a customary and proper thing to tattoo the youthful feminine leg. "
Members of the social elite gathered in drawing rooms to disrobe partially and show off their expensive and painfully acquired body art. Skilled artists were hard to find. Winston Churchill’s mother Jennie had a dainty snake etched strategically on her wrist; she could cover it up with a diamond bracelet. Rumour has it that her son followed suit with an anchor on his forearm. London salons charged a fortune, but for some money was no object – one Scottish baron had Constable’s Mrs Pelham tattooed on his chest at a cost of a staggering 24 guineas.
Makes me want to get more....