Eddie Levin: Baltimore Sign Painter & Cartoonist

Researched and written by Derin Bray

Charlie, did big Ted Liberty come down there and set up shop? He’s out of Boston. I saw “Dad” [Liberty] a while back and he said Ted had gone to Baltimore.

Fred Day to “Tattoo Charlie” Geizer, Jan. 2, 1951

 
Trade Sign for Ted Liberty’s Tattoo Studio, painted by Eddie Levin, Baltimore, ca. 1950

Trade Sign for Ted Liberty’s Tattoo Studio, painted by Eddie Levin, Baltimore, ca. 1950

 

In 1950, veteran tattoo artist Edward “Ted” Liberty packed up his shop in Boston’s Scollay Square and made his way to Baltimore. His final destination was The Block, the notorious stretch of East Baltimore Street crowded with strip joints, dive bars, and shooting galleries. And like many other business owners in the city’s gritty entertainment district, he turned to local painter and cartoonist Eddie Levin for flashy show cards to decorate his new studio. Levin did not disappoint. He furnished Liberty with a bold and brightly-painted sign loaded with patriotic imagery and a banner that declared “Ted’s Tattoo Studio” was open for business.

 
Eddie Levin Baltimore Sign Painter Cartoon
 

Born in Lutsk, Russia in 1889, Edward “Eddie” Levin (real name Leifer) emigrated to the United States with his family in 1891. His father was a tailor, but Eddie and his younger brother Albert pursued careers as commercial artists. By 1910 the Levin brothers had landed jobs as card writers for a department store. It was the first of many gigs for Eddie. He would go on to paint for Baltimore Show Card Works, the Clover theater, and many other local businesses and sign companies.

 

The GayetyTheatre’s Impressario in Action, by Eddie Levin, Baltimore, 1957. Private Collection

 

In the late 1930s, he struck out on his own and opened a studio above the Playland penny arcade at 420 East Baltimore Street. Incidentally, Ted’s tattoo shop was located just a few steps away above Mardi-Gras Novelty Amusements, an arcade and lunch counter at no. 424. Those who knew Levin during this period remember him as a talented, but penniless artist. He lodged in the Armitstead Hotel.

 
Eddie Levin’s WWII Draft Card Showing his Studio Address at 420 E. Baltimore Street. *Note: Victor Herfel operated a photography studio at the same address.

Eddie Levin’s WWII Draft Card Showing his Studio Address at 420 E. Baltimore Street. *Note: Victor Herfel operated a photography studio at the same address.

Eddie Levin and Victor Herfel both had studios at 420 East Baltimore Street. Around 1953, Mardi-Gras Amusements at no. 424 became Polock Johnny’s; Ted Liberty tattooed upstairs.

Photo postcard of Victor Herfel (R), probably taken in a Baltimore arcade. Both he and Eddie Levin worked at 420 East Baltimore Street, home to Playland penny arcade. The man on the left is unidentified, but appears to be holding paint brushes.  Private Collection

Photo postcard of Victor Herfel (R), probably taken in a Baltimore arcade. Both he and Eddie Levin worked at 420 East Baltimore Street, home to Playland penny arcade. The man on the left is unidentified, but appears to be holding paint brushes. Private Collection

 

Levin painted thousands of show cards and signs over the course of his lengthy career, but he is best-known for his witty cartoons of dancers, gamblers, night club owners, and the other colorful characters who inhabited The Block during its heyday. These precise and often comical sketches offer a rare glimpse at life in one of Baltimore’s seediest neighborhoods.

While several examples of Eddie Levin’s work survive in public and private collections, the details of his life and career still remain a mystery. He died in 1968 and is buried in the Chizuk Amuno Congregation Arlington Cemetery in Baltimore. 

 

Eddie Levin Timeline

***If you have information about Eddie or know of other examples of his work, I would love to hear from you!***

1889 - Edward "Eddie” Louis Levin (real name Edward Leifer) was born in Lutsk, Russia

1891 - Edward’s father immigrates to the United States and establishes himself in Baltimore

1910 - Edward and his younger brother Abraham worked as card writers for a local department store

1911 - Listed as a cartoonist in the city directory

1917 - Card writer for Baltimore Show Card Works

1922 - Card writer for Acme Show Card Works at 412 East Baltimore Street

1926 - Manager of the Art-Ad Sign Co. at 325 North Eutaw Street

1936 - Sign painter for the Clover theater at 414 East Baltimore Street

1940 - Operated a painting studio above the Playland arcade (later Penny Land) at 424 East Baltimore Street

1968 - Edward Levin is Buried in Chizuk Amuno Congregation Arlington Cemetery in Baltimore.

 

Notes:

Full citations for this article are available upon request

  1. Letter from Newport, RI tattoo artist Fred Day to Baltimore tattoo artist Charlie Geizer, January 2, 1950. Private Collection

  2. Ted Liberty tattooed on The Block until 1953, when he moved to Canada.

  3. Asher Levin (Eddie’s father) immigrated to the United States in 1891. Presumably Eddie and his mother came to the United States in the same year, though immigration records for them have not yet been located.

  4. Mardi-Gras would later become Polock Johnny’s.

  5. For insights into Levin and other characters from The Block, see Jacques Kelly’s 1994 articles in The Baltimore Sun (click here and here)

 
Derin Bray