This powerful dragon design was popularized by (and most likely originated from) the legendary Cap Coleman in Norfolk, Virginia. It is a stylized combination of elements from classic Chinese dragons and traditional American tattooing. To our knowledge, this is the earliest existing representation of the iconic Coleman dragon; the painting itself has held up well—both physically and artistically—for close to a century.
Coleman, considered by many to be the father of American tattooing, painted this design in his now-famous style. The image has come to be praised as one of the most representative and recognizable early 20th century tattoo designs. To this day, it holds a special place in the genre’s visual vocabulary alongside time-honored standards like panthers, eagles, daggers, skulls, military insignia, roses, religious ephemera, and pinups.
The Coleman Dragon has proven its timelessness by being replicated again and again while rarely (if ever) straying from Cap’s original color scheme and layout. Having no doubt been passed down through the tattoo generations from Coleman to the infamous Huck Spaulding and Paul Rogers partnership, this design has made its way onto countless contemporary flash sheets and many widely known and well-documented tattoos – chief among them the powerful and striking backpiece by Spaulding on renowned New York tattoo legend Thom DeVita (as shown above).
Due to its enduring strength and effect on the viewer, the Coleman Dragon will continue to play an important role in the American tattoo lexicon for generations to come. The original form of this image, seen here, should be displayed proudly in any shop and serve as a reminder of the power, beauty, and simplicity of early American tattooing and masters like Cap Coleman.