Born in South Africa in 1896 little is known about Van Dyn’s life, but what is known is suitably sensational and shocking. Other than being well know for having a highly decorated face in more conservative times Van Dyn was also known for being a regular at Speakers Corner in Hyde Park telling whoever would listen about his scandalous life. Tattooed by the great George Burchett in the 1930?s and rumoured to have worked for Al Capone as a gun runner, he worked on the Southampton Docks most of his life until his death in the 1980?s.
He made the newspapers in England on many occasions – most famously with the story of him selling his heavily tattooed head to anyone who cared to have it after his death. Tattoo artist’s Ben Gunn, Tattoo Jock, Cash Cooper and Jack Ringo all appeared in newspaper stories – telling of them buying Jacobus head – which they would receive after his passing (which of course they didn’t but worked as a great publicity trick for them).
This is what George Burchett had to say about him:
“The World’s Worst Man, my most plucky client, J. P. Van Dyn, who now works as a stevedore in the Southampton Docks is sixty three years of age. He claims to have been in every famous prison in the world, including Sing Sing, Devil’s Island. Very few of my clients, except professional fair-ground artist, would decide to ornament their faces in such an elaborate and distinct manner as Mr. Van Dyn. He sketched some of the designs himself.” (source)
Photographs by Howard Grey taken in 1959. More images can be seen here