Frank L Kelly travel trunk

Tattoo history almost forgotten.

The Frank L Kelly travel trunk was discovered in January 2013 by Dano Collins. It had been in the possession of Michigan tattooer Mark White for over 20 years after he had tattooed Kelly's grandkids in exchange for the trunk. The only info Mark had was the name Frank L Kelly, an unknown tattooer that had slipped through the cracks of tattoo history.


After the museum obtained the trunk we began the painstaking task of removing the items from the trunk. Some of the stuff was so old and brittle that it literally disintegrated on touch. Luckily not all of the contents were so fragile.


The trunk contained an amazing peek into the past and contained the following items:

* Two 100% original Charlie Wagner machines with stamped Wagner tubes

* A Wagner switchboard for connecting machines to a battery power supply

* One straight pin stencil cutter

* One ink mixing bowl

* Six milk glass jars containing dried powder pigments: Black, brown, red and green

* Four 1910 era D. Nations tattoo supply fliers with hand traced designs on the back of each

* One celluloid stencil of a girl wearing a bonnet

* 27 individual flash cuts from the legendary turn of the century tattooer Amund Dietzel, one that appears to have been used as a palette on the reverse side

* Over 130 individual lacquered design cuts believed to be from D Nations supply

* 18 full flash sheets believed to be by Frank L Kelly

* 2 flash sheets by an unknown artist

* Over 60 various line drawings possibly by Amund Dietzel, George Burchett and Christian Warlich

* And 1 eagle and snake painting signed on the back by FRANK L KELLY!


The last item confirmed the name associated with the trunk, so our investigation began!


The first thing we found was one of Frank Kelly's business cards in Henk Schiffmacher's book "Encyclopedia Of Tattooing" listing Kelly in Racine, Wisconsin. This explained all of the Amund Dietzel stuff in the trunk, as Amund was from Milwaukee.


Then with the help of tattoo historian Carmen Foguer Nyssen (a relative of legendary tattooer Bert Grimm) we discovered that Frank Kelly was born in 1892. He was a lesser known artist that only tattooed for a couple of years in Racine where he befriended Amund Dietzel and Bert Grimm. Bert spoke of meeting Kelly around 1920. Kelly painted circus sideshow banners for some time and then moved to Chicago where he passed away in 1955.


The following photos are the incredible items from the Frank L Kelly trunk.