Lew Alberts was born in Newark, New Jersey in the 1880s. Alberts was said to have been a wallpaper designer before his enlistment into the U.S. Navy. He learned to tattoo on his fellow shipmates during the Spanish American War. Tattoo legend has it that he was appalled by the quality of tattoo designs available to the public, so upon his return to the states he settled in the Chatham Square area of New York City where he began to redesign tattoo flash.
As with any influential character in tattooing there are many contrasting stories. Bert Grimm’s version of this story goes that Lew Alberts came through Portland, Oregon after he got out of the service and caught Charlie Western on a drunken spree. Alberts bought up all of Western’s flash, took it back to New York City and sold the designs as his own. The true story may never be known!
By this time Alberts was professionally known as “Lew the Jew.” He worked for several years with Charlie Wagner at Chatham Square and used Wagner’s supply business as an outlet for his flash. From Chatham Square, Alberts moved to 87 Sand Street in Brooklyn, but after WWI his competition became too much; what with Jack Red Cloud, Bill Donnelly and Jim Wilson all within a short distance of each other. Therefore, in the late 1920’s he moved his shop to his home in Newark and semi-retired.
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