For the Record: The Zeis Studio Flash
Courtesy of Tattoo Archive: The Zeis Studio, Milton Zeis’ supply business was set up to provide a full line of supplies for the tattooist. Many of Zeis’ ideas were taken from suppliers that preceded him in the business, especially Percy Waters. In addition, the Zeis Studio offered a home study course on tattooing which was just an expanded version of what Waters had offered decades earlier. However, to Zeis’ credit, he also offered many items that broke new ground in the tattoo supply business. The Zeis Studio was one of the first major supplier to offer machines that were set up for clip cords; the first to offer color production flash, blue line flash and a shading guide for the beginner tattooists…
In the past, suppliers had offered hand-colored flash for sale. Zeis flash was off-set printed in five colors and described in the Zeis Studio flyer as Set #E, where it included ten 10″ x 15″ size sheets for $20.00. Acetate stencils for this set was $30.00.
Throughout the years Zeis would hire other tattooists to draw flash that he produced and sold through his supply business. Bill Grimshaw, Ralph Johnstone, Bill Jones, Doc King and Tom Pellettiere were but a few of these tattoo artists. Like suppliers before him, Zeis offered acetate or paper stencils for the numerous designs that he sold.
The Zeis Studio Catalog #14 offered forty-seven subject sheets of flash in two different sizes, 8 1⁄2″ x 11″ at $1.50 each and 11″ x 14″ at $2.00 each. These designs included everything from black panthers, roosters and pigs, sailing ships, pretty girl heads, friendship- clasping hands, spicy girls and religious designs. Zeis noted, “Some artists order the 11″ x 14″ size for their flash and the 8 1⁄2″ x 11″ size for cutting stencils.” This was probably an old carnie scam to sell the larger designs off the wall and then tattoo the customer with the slightly smaller version.
As with most suppliers of this era, the Zeis Studio offered a “pork chop” sheet of designs. This sheet was oversized (22″ x 28″) and included one design from each of the above mentioned subject sheets. For a short time only, Catalog #14 offered this sheet for $3.00, normally it was $8.00. Milton Zeis stated that “the Lil’ Stinky design will more than pay for this design sheet the first day.” The “pork chop” sheet got its name from the fact that these designs were the best moneymakers and would keep the tattooist eating pork chops, not chicken.
Tattoo suppliers are always looking for ways to get new designs to their customers cheaply. Percy Waters used the century-old cyanotype process to produce blueprint flash, which entailed producing the tattoo designs as white lines on Prussian blue paper. Waters offered dozens of these 18″ x 24″ sheets at the price of $14.00 for forty sheets. Milton Zeis updated this process with the cheapest method of his era called the diazo print that produced the tattoo image as blue lines on white paper. He then sold ten 10″ x 15″ sheet for $7.50.
- The Zeis Studio produced at least 10 different sheets of this color flash.
- Color production flash from The Zeis Studio, 1940s.
- Promotional flyer featuring Zeis’ Bakelite frame machine. Note the snippet of his color flash stapled to this flyer, 1950s.
- That moneymaking Lil’ Stinky design by Zeis, sometimes better known as Flower from Bambi cartoons by Disney, 1940s.
- An example of Zeis’ blue line flash, 1940s. 6 An example of Zeis’ shading guide, 1950s. 7 Chest piece design from The Zeis Studio, 1940s.
This installment of For the Record was featured in Tattoo Artist Magazine issue #18.