Born in 1925 and raised as an orphan, Ole Hansen was a Danish tattooist who worked in the middle of the twentieth century. Ole is best known as “Tattoo-Ole”, the “King’s Tattooer” and the “Tattooer’s King”, referring to the work he did on His Majesty Frederick IX, King of Denmark. Ole went to sea at the tender age of 14 and started tattooing 4 years later. During World War II he fought in Europe and North Africa, tattooing all the while from a portable outfit.

In 1947 when he bought Tattoo Jack’s shop, Ole moved into one of the oldest tattoo shops in the world, the already famous Nyhavn 17 in Copenhagen. Denmark, and Nyhavn in particular, was the headquarters for tattooing in Scandinavia for nearly 100 years, from the 1890s to 1975. Aside from a few “sailor shops” that popped up in Sweden in the ’40s, where tattoos were done in a back-room, there was no tattooing in Sweden or Norway. In 1951, a LIFE magazine article featured a shirtless King Frederik IX showing off his physique and his extensive collection of tattoos, which included the handiwork of Tattoo Ole. With the king proudly displaying his ink to an international audience, tattooing in Denmark had hit the big time.

Ole Hansen, Watercolour by Pepe
Ole Hansen, Watercolour by Pepe

The first to establish a real tattoo shop in Nyhavn was Hans J. Hansen – better known as “Tusch-Hans“, or “Ink-Hans” in English. In the late 1940s came “Tattoo Jack“, who became so well known for his tattoos – particularly his portraits of women – that the Swedes, who accounted for around half the customer base at the time, all asked for him by name. When facing a prison sentence on drug charges, he was forced to sell the shop to Tattoo Ole, who would come to be viewed as Denmark’s most famous tattoo artist ever. He quickly developed a reputation for his tattoos of sail ships. He also blended his own colors – his red was particularly famous – and assembled his own tattoo machines, which had many unusual features including, sealed coils, short tube, finger-tip on and off switch and plug-type electrical connector.

Ole Hansen spent 40 years at the Nyhavn shop and became a well-respected and beloved artist. He died in 1988.