Captain Costentenus is often regarded as the first tattooed
man to be exhibited in the United States. That, however, is
not true. The first tattooed man is believed to have been
James F. O’Connel. Evidence indicates that O’Connel appeared
at Barnum’s American Museum in 1842 and Constentenus didn’t
appear until the 1870’s. O’Connel was also the first
tattooed man to write and publish his embellished origin, as
an extra source of income, under the title ‘The
Life and Adventures of James F. O’Connel, The Tattooed Man’.
Constentenus was not the first, he was by far the most
remarkable tattooed man of the 1800’s. In fact, he was
likely the most heavily tattooed man in the world during
that century. Even today, the magnitude of his tattoo
coverage remains rather remarkable. The Captain was the
first man to display a full body tattoo with his face,
scalp, genitals and finger webbing all tattooed. The only
part of his body not tattooed were the soles of his feet.
The designs were
Burmese in origin, blue and red in color and depicted mostly
animals native to Burma and eastern mythology.
Little is known
of Constentenus, rumor has it that he was born in Albania in
1836, and it is believed that he tattooed himself for the
sole purpose of exhibition. Exactly who did the work is
unknown. His origin story involves the same ‘kidnapped and
forcibly tattooed by island natives’ story that was par for
the tales told by his European contemporaries and it was, of
course, completely false. The same story alleged that
Captain Costentenus was actually an Albanian prince.
The person, or
persons, who actually did the tattoo work were masters of
their craft as the quality of his tattoos were the most
elaborate ever exhibited at that point. As a result,
Constentenus enthralled doctors and skin specialists and he
was even extensively studied by the University of Vienna on
Constentenus was exhibited by Great Farini and P. T. Barnum
and he proved to be a very successful attraction. He
eventually commanded a weekly base salary of $1000, which he
further augmented with sales of his mostly fictional
At the time of
his death he was a wealthy man. According to legend he
willed half of his fortune to the Greek Church of London.
The other half of his fortune he divided amongst his fellow
showmen and peers.
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