Detroit, ca. 1925

Percy Waters Side Wheeler Tattoo Machine

Made by tattoo artist and supplier Percy Waters (1888-1952), Detroit, Michigan, ca. 1925. Nickel-plated bronze or brass. Stamped "Percy Waters" on front of frame, "Detroit" on back of frame, "W" on inside of frame and "Waters" on armature bar.

Everette Eli Alexander (1903-1978), a career Army man, ordered these machines and pamphlets from Detroit tattoo master and mail-order tattoo supply empresario Percy Waters in 1925.

Influenced by the US military's strong tattoo culture, Alexander began corresponding with tattoo suppliers as a young enlisted man. In August of 1925, while stationed at Fort Ontario in Oswego, New York, Alexander received several envelopes of catalogs, circulars and other trade paper from Percy Waters's supply house. He later purchased several of Waters's nickel-plated "Side Wheeler" machines, probably named for its front-facing binding posts, reminiscent of the large wheel of a steamboat.

When or how often Alexander used the machines is unknown, but it is certain that they were put back to work in the early 1930s, shortly after Alexander's 1932 marriage to Louise Woynowskie (1914-2015), an outgoing, adventurous woman who could shoot, ride, and generally whip her weight in tigers. To supplement their income, Louise taught herself to tattoo—even inking a small practice tattoo on her own leg—and began tattooing soldiers on the bases where the couple was stationed. Throughout her life, Louise relished telling this story and showing her tattoo. Louise died in 2015 at the age of 100.
Overall length: 7 in. ( x 17.8 cm.)

  • Condition: Condition reports are available upon request. The absence of a condition report does not imply an object is free of imperfections. Bidders are encouraged to inspect items in person or through a knowledgeable representative. If you have questions about condition, please contact Bray & Co. before placing your bid.

Accepted Forms of Payment:

American Express, COD (cash on delivery), Discover, MasterCard, Money Order / Cashiers Check, Personal Check, Visa, Wire Transfer


Bray & Co. offers in-house packing and shipping for most small items. Buyers are required to pay for all packing, shipping and insurance charges. Overseas duty charges are also the responsibility of the successful bidder. Be aware that for larger and/or valuable items, shipping costs can be substantial and will likely require third-party shippers. If you have questions about shipping, please contact us at [email protected] or (603) 427-8281.

Items can be picked up in person by appointment only at our gallery at 55 Green Street in Portsmouth, NH. Please contact us at least 24 hours in advance of pickup. *All first-time buyers that wish to pick items up in person must pay with cash.

September 24, 2023 12:00 PM EDT
Portsmouth, NH, US

Bray & Co. Auctions

You agree to pay a buyer's premium of up to 25% and any applicable taxes and shipping.

View full terms and conditions

Bid Increments
From: To: Increments:
$0 $499 $25
$500 $999 $50
$1,000 $1,999 $100
$2,000 $4,999 $250
$5,000 $9,999 $500
$10,000 $19,999 $1,000
$20,000 $49,999 $2,500
$50,000 $99,999 $5,000
$100,000 + $10,000