Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist & Sexual Renegade
09:43 AM
sam steward tattoo.jpg
Samuel M. Steward, PhD was an English professor, a writer of esteemed literary works and gay porn. He was also "a furtive but exuberant erotic adventurer." [Put this on my own tombstone please].

Sam Steward was also "Phil Sparrow," a tattoo artist for 18 years who chronicled these years in a book that should be on every tattoo lover's shelves: "Bad Boys & Tough Tattoos: A Social History of the Tattoo with Gangs, Sailors, and Street-Corner Punks."

sam steward.jpgAs Sam notes in the intro, the book was autobiographical, a journal of his tattoo life with "no intention to retell old stories, to perpetuate myths or errors, to upgrade the 'art' of tattooing, nor to make more dense the fog of the mystique around it."

It does talk about the characters he tattooed, the politics between tattooers, and sex. Lots of it. He says, " one way or another, more than three quarters of the tattoos applied were put on because of some aspect of sexual motivation." No wonder sex researcher Dr. Alfred Kinsey took such an interest in it.

Now, a biography of Steward, "Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist & Sexual Renegade," will be released August 17th, which looks even deeper at the man's life as a "sex historian," with stories culled from 80 boxes of letters, drawings, sexual paraphernalia, even pubic hair from Rudolph Valentino (with whom he had an affair).

The book is by biographer Justin Spring, whom the NY Times says had "no idea what this sexual outlaw and little-known literary figure had left behind after his death in 1993" when Spring finally tracked down the executor of Steward's estate. The NY Times adds:

Ultimately Steward abandoned university life and entered the tattoo artist's demimonde full time, but his determination to indulge his sexual identity fully came with enormous physical, professional and psychological costs. In Mr. Spring's telling, the frustrations of living in this closeted era combined with his obsession drove Steward to alcoholism and prevented him from living up to the early promise he showed as a novelist. He suffered through long periods of dark depression, loneliness and self-destructive behavior. Dangerously violent characters and sex fascinated Steward, and his overtures and adventures frequently landed him in the hospital.

"He paid the price for being himself," Mr. Spring said, "but at least he got to be himself."

You can pre-order the Secret Historian on Amazon for $20.25 (saving $12). 

[Thanks to Chris and Matt for the links.]


Phil was a friend of Cliff Raven's back in the 1960's and a big influence on his work. What an amazing book this will be. We are launching a wine brand this fall with Cliff Raven's beautiful tattoo work, and to preserve his legacy, we're trying to bring more attention to his amazing art and career. Not much is written about Cliff but his imprint on the tattoo world and his influence on tattoo artists over the years has been immense. So nice to see this volume on Phil Sparrow. It is a must buy for artists and enthusiasts alike. Cheers, ~Barry

Please visit our Facebook page for Cliff Raven at:

I have a copy of Bad Boys and Tough Tattoos, and I found it one of the most interesting and probably one of the most unreliable books that I've ever read. Very much looking forward to reading the bio of Sparrow - anyone who wrote that book must be 100% pure character, and I'm sure that the bio will shed a lot of light on the story behind and the reality of Bad Boys.

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