Bold that Holds is our showcase of classic traditional tattoo motifs executed by some of our favorite artists in the industry. Be sure to check out some of our previous installments of the series about reapers, anchors, and phonographs.
Pigs and roosters make for some damn fine eating and badass body art (there’s no denying that), but they can’t swim to save their own godforsaken lives. So why did sailors get tattoos of them as good luck charms to stave off drowning? Being the traditional tattoo enthusiasts we are, we went sniffing like hogs on a truffle hunt to get to the root of this maritime mystery. It turns out that when your boat refuses to float, there’s nothing better to have around than a couple of wooden pens smattered in swine and chicken shit.
Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, body art became prevalent within the shipping industry, and certain images took on meanings that reflected the lives of the sailors who wore them. Images of anchors became synonymous with stability, illustrations of lighthouses stood as beacons of hope, and list goes on, which brings us to the most meaningful cargo of all — tattoos of pigs and roosters on seamen’s feet.
In the case of a shipwreck, there was really only one viable option when the lifeboats filled up: find the most buoyant object within arm’s reach, hold on for your fucking life, and hope a shark doesn’t bite off a leg. At best, you’d be able to scramble atop a broken plank or, if you’re really fortunate, a bulkier item like a passenger’s chest or the door to the captain’s chamber, but chances are you’d end up in a pigsty or chicken coop. The cages of these delicious animals prevented so many drownings (although exposure and the sharks got pretty much everybody if another ship didn’t come by soon) that the lore surrounding their protective properties lives on today in traditional tattoos.
Though most of the people who sport pig and rooster tattoos today probably haven’t set foot aboard a commercial vessel, that doesn’t mean they aren’t looking for good luck when the shit hits the fan. Having this pair of unlikely creatures on right below your ankles could be the single saving grace for anyone at risk of drowning, be it in paperwork, parenthood, or the Hudson river.
To see more unsinkable body art, voyage to the tattooists’ Instagrams. Should you want a pig and rooster tattooed on your feet, we strongly advise you have one of them make it so that you’ll probably (and we emphasize probably) never drown.