Phil Sparrow

Rudy Inhelder


I first met Rudy in the early/mid 1990s through the UNIQUE classified ads. A self described ‘tattoo and piercing enthusiast’, Rudy and I exchanged letters and photographs over the years, sharing stories of our own tattoos and experiences. Our correspondence eventually fell off and, as is prone to happen, we lost touch with one another. I’m not sure what ever happened to him, though many of his letters are still in my collection.

Clipper Ship (center of chest) by Sailor Eddie Evans.
Dragons by Alan Oversby.

Rudy is briefly mentioned in an article by Gauntlet’s Jim Ward:

In 1996 Rudy sent me a photocopy of a profile on him from the NTA’s magazine- what follows is a transcript. He did not provide a month/year/issue number.

My interest in tattoos became activated as a youngster in 1954 when I read a critique about Hanns Ebenstein’s book “Pierced Hearts and True Love” in a local newspaper in my native Switzerland. I wrote to Hanns, who in return put me in contact with one of the most famous British artists, Rich Mingins in London. 1955 I was sent to London for further education and then met Rich in person. The same year, probably the first national convention to place in a pub in London, organized by Rich Mingins, , Les Skuse from Bristol and Jessie Knight from Aldershot. This was also the start of my photo collection.

In 1957 I emigrated to the United States and got really involved in tattooing. My first tattoos were done by sailor Eddie Evans in Camden, New Jersey and Paul Rogers who then work with him. Work by Phil Sparrow (Chicago), (then Crazy) Philadelphia Eddie Funk, Huck Spaulding (Albany, N.Y.) and Buddy Mott (Rhode Island) followed.

I then realized that very many people are interested in tattooing, but had difficulties meeting others of the same interest. Therefore, in 1963 some friends and I in New York decided to do something about it. We found it the “Tattoo Club of America “, probably the first American Tattoo club. I collected news items related tattooing and in January 1964 published the first periodical dedicated tattoos, the “Tattoo News”. As a supplement the “History of Tattooing” was added from time to time. Tattoo tidbits and instructive news items, very much in the vein of the column now written by Lal Hardy for “Tattoo international”, where the main attraction of the publication.

On 5 October, 1964 I organized probably the first tattoo convention in the U.S.A. – and if you hadn’t already guessed it, Elizabeth Weinziril was, of course, there. That was the time when a few young artist such a sailor Jerry Collins of Honolulu started to change the style of American tattoos. The beginnings were small and the magazine only mimeographed, but it was a start. Unfortunately my job became more and more demanding so that the December 1966 issue of “Tattoo News” was the last to appear. I had nothing to do with the later magazine which took over my title.

In 1970 the cutback in the defense industry in the USA for which I worked as a physicist, forced me to look around and I went to Munich, Germany to work for a German firm. In 1973 this firm sent me to England, where George Bone and Alan Oversby in London have mainly worked on me since. I have not missed a single convention of the TCCB be since its beginning and felt very honored when I was asked on several occasions to be on the jury of the beauty contests.

It is good to see that the Tattoo tradition continues, many more people get tattooed with better designs, more clubs are founded , more publications printed and more conventions held. It shall continue.

Samuel M. Steward’s SADOMASOCHISM

sadomasochism p1

The life of Samuel Steward has all of the makings of a feature length movie. A Professor of English at Loyola and De Paul Universities, a confidant of Gertrude Stein, the author of Bad Boys and tough tattoos and assorted pornography, a tattooist known for mentoring Ed Hardy and tattooing Hells Angels members and Occult filmmaker Kenneth Anger and a major contributor to Alfred Kinsey’s human sexuality studies Steward (who also went by the names Phil Sparrow and Phil Andros) lived a life worthy of the silver screen.

Or better yet, in comic form. Artist Eric Rivera has been illustrating stories from Sparrow’s Bad Boys & Tough Tattoos and from the sample pages I’ve seen it would be a killer full length adaptation. His style is a perfect match to the content. You can check out his work here: Eric Rivera.

If you’d like to read more about Steward’s life, Justin Spring’s Secret Historian is an amazing biography worth checking out.




More Ed Hardy

Thanks to a really helpful tech support person, I’m (almost 100% sure that I’m) able to capture video from VHS again. I was able to snag a few minutes of Ed Hardy (I’m on a Hardy kick at the moment) talking about why tattooing will never be franchised (it has been) and how it’s not like “adapting the lastest fashion designer’s clothing aesthetic”.

I’m not throwing Ed under the bus… just pointing out how times change.

This clip is from Stearn’s Tattoo Reality; I really hope Michael is still with us and would considered remastering and releasing his catalog digitally. He was able to capture a ‘point in time’ in modern tattoo culture that has proven to have a lasting impact on how tattoos are designed/executed and his stuff is always worth watching.

This clip also features Sam Steward (aka Phil Sparrow) showing his Amund  Deitzel chest piece to  Pinky Yun.



Phil Sparrow & Kenneth Anger

Phil Sparrow tattooing a Sailor

Sometimes things tie together so nicely; a few weeks ago I posted a photo of Occult filmmaker Kenneth Anger’s iconic LUCIFER tattoo; earlier tonight while reading the amazing biography of tattooist Phil Sparrow (aka Samuel Steward) I came across this passage:

“Shortly after being introduced, Anger came to the Anchor to have Steward tattoo the word Lucifer across his chest in large Old English letters, and to have a similar Lucifer emblazoned across the chest of his young companion, a musician named Bobby. Because Ed Hardy was at that point keen to meet Anger, Steward arranged an evening with him in the Haight, during which Hardy lit up a “couple of high-powered joints” and the three men got high.”

Bobby, of course, was Bobby Beausoleil- the on again/off again star and music composer of Anger’s Lucifer Rising.

Bobby Beausoleil with LUCIFER tattoo

Steward’s biography (Secret Historian) has been a revelation so far; aside from starting the careers of both Ed Hardy and Cliff Raven, ‘Sparrow’ was one of the largest single contributors to the Kinsey Institute and lived a life that would make the most adventurous blush. While tattooing only plays a small part in the book (written by Justin Spring) it’s been an incredibly captivating read so far.

Video: Excerpt from ‘Tattooing Reality’

Before the name DON ED HARDY became (regrettably) tied to overpriced clothing and media overexposure, it was synonymous with pushing the boundaries of the craft and art of tattooing.

From his relationship with Sailor Jerry Collins, his Tattoo Time series of books, his spotting and encouraging talent in an industry known for exclusion, Ed pushed tattooing out of “parlors” and into the mainstream.  If you’re wearing “custom” tattoos right now, you have Ed Hardy to thank for it.

This excerpt comes from a 1980s documentary called “Tattooing Reality” and features Ed and his mentor Phil Sparrow.