The Fun Archaeology



Bernard L. Kobel

Bernard Kobel made it his life’s work to photograph the “underbelly” of society. Just as Toulouse-Lautrec found himself drawn to the French cabarets, Kobel found inspiration and obsession on the other side of the tracks. He had interest in a variety of things: architecture, human oddities, tattooing, bondage, circus freak shows as well as the early and burly female wrestlers. Kobel is remembered most for his sideshow and tattoo images, with the more collectible being photographs from the latter. Although the tattoo portraits are low on the glamour end, Kobel preserved a great deal of tattoo history in his collection and really left a wonderful legacy of imagery from another era and a less-traveled side of life. The Bernard Lyle Kobel Collection numbers just over 2,000 images - some are great and some not so great as the quality of his printing varies wildly. Kobel published ten catalogs in which he offered reprints of the photographs. His tattoo series (1,325 images) was offered through a mail-order catalog called Highly Tattooed Men & Women of Yesterday and Today. He sold his photos by placing tiny advertisements in the men's magazines and when orders came in, he printed the images and mailed them out. The advertised prices were usually around 5-10 cents. He ran his mail-order business through his photography studios (Clearwater, Florida and Frankfort, Indiana) where he paid the rent by doing more traditional portraiture jobs. He filled mail-orders for fans from the 1920s to the 1950s. A small sub-culture developed around Kobel and these photos were eventually traded in the same way as coins or stamps. Bernard Lyle Kobel published 10 catalogs in which he offered for sale reprints of photographs. The catalogs contained descriptive text only.

Complete section of Bernard L. Kobel bosom oddities

11 vintage photomontage on gelatin silver paper in a wrapping paper. Circa 1940. Each picture 13x18 cm.This serie of pictures represent girls that have some breast anomaly. One girl display a two nipple breast when an other one show four breasts. Most certainly photomontages that Mister Kobel achieved in his photo laboratory from press picture that he would priorly reproduce with his camera.

Freaks and transgenders

-13 silver gelatine vintage prints of freak celebrities 9 x 13 cm légende dactylographiée et collée. Bernard L. Kobel, circa 1940. Eugene « Slates », Slim Jim, George Stall the giant fingernails, the crawfish boy, Baby Irene…- 45 silver gelatine vintage prints of freak celebrities. Each 13 x 18 cm. Bernard L. Kobel, circa 1940. - 8 silver gelatine vintage prints of the so called section « human sexual paradox hermaphrodite » representing transgender character or hermaphrodite deformity. each picture 13 x 18 cm. Bernard L. Kobel, circa 1940.

Grave stones

Complete section of the grave stones section in the collection of Bernard L. Kobel. 148 silver gelatine vintage prints each picture 13 x 18 cm and 8 pages of typescript numbering and briefly describing each photo. signed and date by Kobel himself. This collection of photographs features old American gravestones with inscriptions that might be described as graphic or curious, often in a mildly prurient way (spouses murdered for infidelity, children killed in boiling cider, a woman killed "by the baptist church", and so on. The inscriptions are numbered and described in a 8-page typescript, and a handwritten note at the bottom of the last typewritten page adds- "Frankfort, Ind- Jan. 23/49. Dear Sir- This comprises text on remaining photos now being sent at this time. I'll also send in with them other freaks of the circus. These are different photos than on the mimeograph list although some are same people at various times(.) Sincerely B.L. Kobel Box 105".