Tattooing A to Z #20: Bert Grimm
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Bert Grimm was born in a little town near Portland, Oregon, on February 8, 1900. He started hanging around tattoo shops when he was about 11 or 12 years old, and the shops of Sailor Gus, Sailor George and Charlie Western became his home away from home. Bert was given his first tattooing outfit in 1912 and for the next 70 plus years he was a fixture in the tattoo world.

Bert Grimm
Bert Grimm

Grimm became a tattoo legend by 1952. Early in his career, he spent a season with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show. Throughout the years he operated shops in Chicago, Honolulu, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Seattle, Los Angeles, Long Beach, St. Louis, Portland and Seaside Oregon, and China. Bert settled in St. Louis in the late 1920’s and maintained a tattoo shop for almost 30 years, working with some of the greatest in the business. He is probably best remembered for the shop that he operated at the Nu-Pike in Long Beach, CA from the 1950s to the late 60s. The Nu-Pike was a large amusement park that goes back to 1897 and was home for dozens of tattooists. It was in that area that Bert, already a famed tattooist from St. Louis, bought his Long Beach shop. He soon filled the windows with picturesque photos of the many people he had tattooed, and the walls were crowded with boldly executed design sheets. By 1956 he had opened five shops in the amusement park. He was a self promoter of the highest caliber, who used his popular little shop as a theater where he presented the tales and ballads of his colorful past.

Bert Grimm, Watercolour by Pepe
Bert Grimm, Watercolour by Pepe

About three quarters into the tattoo, Bert would pause, stick a toothpick in his mouth, pull on his suspenders, and announce: “And now for my famous ten minute speech…”, he would then tell of how he had started tattooing professionally in Chicago, early in 1916. During his career, he told his mesmerized customers, he had tattooed Bonnie and Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd, and many others of the underworld nobility who passed through St. Louis. All through his little monologue he kept repeating: “I am the greatest. I am the greatest. I am the greatest tattoo artist in the world”. Bert continued to present himself and weave his spell until people were coming hundreds of miles to Long Beach to get their work from the greatest. In 1970 Bert sold his shop in Long Beach to Bob Shaw, retired and moved up north, but he set up a small tattoo shop in his home. Bert Grimm’s World Famous Tattoo was historic. It was the oldest continuously operated tattoo parlor in the continental United States. Bert was inducted into the Tattoo Hall of Fame, then located at the Lyle Tuttle’s Tattoo Art Museum at 30 Seventh Street in San Francisco. Bert Grimm died on May 16, 1985, in Gearhart, Oregon. Many people believe he was the greatest tattoo artist in the world.

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