For the Record: Prof. James S. Fraser

Courtesy of Tattoo Archive: Sometimes all it takes is just one image to set you off on a historical voyage. A few months ago, Mr. Grez from King Avenue Tattoo e-mailed me looking for help in identifying an old-time tattooist. Mr. Grez had a beautifully painted sheet of flash with a Homeward Bound image signed by Jim Fraser. Mr. Grez wanted to know if this Jim Fraser was the tattooist better known as James Fraser or Prof. J.S. Fraser. They are one and the same person…

Prof. Fraser tattooed on both coasts of the United States. Business cards in the Archive’s collection show him working in Boston near Scollay Square at #148 Court Street and in at least in two locations in Los Angeles, at #408 and #433 South Main Street. Both the Scollay Square and South Main Street locations were famous for their tattooing. Tattoo shops lined these streets, along with burlesque shows, movie theaters, arcades, flop houses and the like.

Tattooists from the 1920s were often outspoken against the use of stencils in the process of tattooing. Being confident of their drawing skills, these tattooists often belittled others in their profession that used stencils; but none were more adamant about this than Prof. Fraser.

Sometimes known as “Freehand Fraser, his early business cards warned people about “amateurs and so-called professors” that used stencils and tracings. The irony of this is seen on Fraser’s business card from his Boston days offering supplies, including machines, ink, needles, designs and stencils! On this same business card Fraser offered $100.00 for any design that he could not duplicate on the skin.

Later years found James Fraser in Los Angeles at #530 Court Street. From his business card it appears that he was out of the tattoo business as the card read “artist and designer to the trade.” What trade he was referring to was not mentioned.


  1. Homeward Bound flash “drawn freehand by Jim Fraser”, Mr. Grez Collection.
  2. Profs. Fraser and Brown’s business card from their #408 South Main Street location. The tattooist Brown listed on this card was probably Edwin E. Brown.
  3. Prof. James Fraser’s, “artist and designer to the trade” business card. From this card it appears that Fraser as now out of the tattoo business. This card appears to be from the 1950s.
  4. Prof. Fraser’s business card from #433 South Main Street location.
  5. A flower doodle that was on the back of Fraser’s Homeward Bound sheet, Mr. Grez Collection.
  6. Bernard Kobel photograph #1075. Kobel’s caption read, “Another nice backpiece on a man showing the ‘Rock of Ages’ scene with a young woman clinging to the cross as the angry sea lashes at her and a ship sinks in the near distance. This was put on by Jim Fraser who claimed it was the world’s largest free-hand work at that time.”

Tattoo Archive © 2009

This installment of For the Record was featured in Tattoo Artist Magazine issue #17.

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One thought on “For the Record: Prof. James S. Fraser

  1. Do you happen to have any additional info on Edwin E. Brown? He is my great grandfather and I have come to the conclusion that Earl Brown and Edwin E. Brown tend to get mixed up. Edwin really has no known notary in the tattooing world, however, in the early 1900’s, he was the only one listed as selling tattoo machines and supplies in Billboard. The family story goes that he invented the first electrical tattoo machine, but didn’t patent it. I know the tattoo archive site mentions Edwin teaching Owen Jensen how to do flash. I have seen flash available from Earl Brown, and I have seen work by Edwin Brown and there is a difference in their styles, but they are all being listed as Earl’s work. Would be interested in hearing what you know!

    Thanks so much!

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