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50 years ago in Salford: The ‘dying art’ of famed tattooist Charlie ‘Cash’ Cooper

Tattoos were once the sole preserve of the sailor or the jailbird, as I recall being told many years ago.

However with the arrival of that dreaded species the ‘hipster’, getting inked is now fashionably de rigeur.

Looking back at the Salford City Reporter from August 1966 we came across this story of the well-known tattooist Charlie ‘Cash’ Cooper.

The 42-year-old owned a tattoo emporium on Trafford Road, Salford, close to the nearby docks and no doubt handy for passing trade with sailors and curious passers-by.

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His nickname reportedly came from a large shop sign in his window that read: “In God we Trust, all others pay Cash”.

Charlie Cash Cooper

Charlie could boast of having some 450 tattoos on his body and started his profession just after World War Two in a little booth off Piccadilly Circus in London.

He was ahead of his time, that’s for certain.

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Not only was he an ink artist long before it became fashionable, he also had a nipple ring – pretty rare in the mid-1960s when body piercing was even less common and more risqué than tattoos.

'Adventures as a Skin Artist' - Men in Danger, 1964

‘Adventures as a Skin Artist’ – Men in Danger, 1964

The media was scandalised by Cooper's tattooed women - 'Adventures as a Skin Artist', Men in Danger 1964

The media was scandalised by Cooper’s tattooed women – ‘Adventures as a Skin Artist’ – Men in Danger, 1964

Cooper got his first tattoo during his time in the Royal Navy when other sailors showed him how to create tattoos with low-tech homemade tools.

“In the Navy, they don’t have electric needles,” a 1964 article for Men In Danger explains.

“An ordinary needle, with a beer-cork handle, is used to stab out the designs.

“Various printing inks, including India ink, are pressed into the wounds, which may fester uncomfortably for several weeks before healing.”

According to this history site along with his pal Jack Zeek he had rented what were effectively two gas cupboards side by side down a set of concrete steps in a London arcade.

Cash Cooper, King of Tattoists - Ohio Tattoo Museum

Cash Cooper, King of Tattoists – Ohio Tattoo Museum

Jack and Charlie shared this working space, with no running water and no toilet, tattooing thousands of people in this small space.

Jack’s son Sean writes: “Tattoos then were generally small on the average punter and it was the norm to put out 25 tattoos in a day.

“They took good money for the day and were well known figures in haunts all around central London.

“Charlie was a well educated man, and using this he would regularly assume a foreign accent or made-up language and Jack, on the hoof, would have to become his interpreter.

“On one night out they met up with some American tourists. Charlie had a tie on and Jack an open neck shirt.

“The tourists refused to let them pay for any drinks all evening, and when Jack excused himself they commented on what an awful thing it was that had happened, that he had been reprieved from the death penalty at the last minute by the ‘Cut Along Dotted Line’ tattooed across his throat.

“Charlie loosened his tie and showed the wowed Americans the same tattoo!”

Charlie apparently moved on to Salford after winning no little fame and fortune in London.

He was featured in a number of ink mags and his character was the stuff of legend.

'Adventures as a Skin Artist' - Men in Danger, 1964

‘Adventures as a Skin Artist’ – Men in Danger, 1964

Here he fills in the Salford City Reporter on some of the tricks of his trade.

“You can get a couple of stars in your ear lobes for a few shillings, but a good sized pair of hearts with all the trimmings in three colours with lots of in-fills might cost you several pounds.

“I like the permanency of a tattoo, a painting is permanent in a way, but a tattoo is rather special.”

We learn that the walls of his Trafford Road studio are covered with tattoo designs including a Batman in red and blue, a blood dripping dagger, or for the more adventurous a two foot long vulture!

All were Charlie’s own designs of course.

Trafford Road was a bustling thoroughfare back in the 1960s - Salford Local History Library

Trafford Road was a bustling thoroughfare back in the 1960s – Salford Local History Library

Business thrived on Trafford Road in 1966 - Salford Local History Library

Business thrived on Trafford Road in 1966 – Salford Local History Library

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He said: “All you feel is a sort of burning sensation, when it’s over you feel good as though you’ve come through something, its impossible to describe the sensation” said one young customer in the shop.

Charlie did have a warning for any youngsters.

There was a notice in his shop window which said that anybody under 16 must have written permission from their parents.

This came about after a youngster had the words ‘Cut Here’ and a noose tattooed on his neck: unsurprisingly the boy’s parents weren’t too pleased with the end result.

It was interesting to read that Cooper had even invented his own patent implement for tattooing, a needle that eliminated pain, almost contrary to the point of tattoos in the early days.

Charles was struggling with one thing though, he had been experimenting for several years to find the proper lavender colour for his tattoos.

I’m not sure the colour lavender would go down to well with some of the burly sailors and dockers who frequented his shop though.

Sadly Cash Cooper’s tattoo emporium was swept away in the late 1970’s when Salford Docks closed and Trafford Road had all the shops demolished.

It would be interesting to see what the famed artist would make of the current vogue for tattooing with celebrity tattoists and sportsmen and women proudly displaying their ink.

Do you remember Cash Cooper? Did you even have a tattoos done by the great man? SalfordOnline.com would love to see them and hear your memories. Comment here or contact tonyflynn@salfordonline.com.

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SalfordOnline.com's Local History Editor and Senior Reporter.