THE LEGEND OF SAILOR JERRY | TATTOO MASTER NORMAN COLLINS

 

sailor jerry tattoos

If you don’t know who Sailor Jerry is– you don’t know tattoos. Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins (1911-1973) is considered the foremost American tattoo artist of his time, and defined the craft in two eras– BSJ and ASJ (before and after Sailor Jerry). Arguably, he did more for the ancient art of tattoo than most any other single person.

sailor jerry tattoos anchor

At age 19, Sailor Jerry enlisted in the US Navy. It was during his travels at sea that he was exposed to the art and imagery of Southeast Asia. Artistically, his influence stems from his union of the roguish attitude of the American sailor with the mysticism and technical prowess of the Far East. He maintained a close correspondence with Japanese tattoo masters during his career.

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Sailor Jerry regarded tattoos as the ultimate rebellion against “the Squares”. His legendary sense of humor is oft reflected in his work– but he was never one to compromise his professionalism or take his craft and responsibilities lightly.

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Sailor Jerry’s first studio was in Honolulu’s Chinatown, then the only place on the island where tattoo studios were located. His work was so widely copied, he had to print “The Original Sailor Jerry” on his business cards. There’s a guy up in Canada that goes by the same name, but don’t be fooled– although he’s good in his own right, he ain’t the original Sailor Jerry.

sailor jerry tattoo

Sailor Jerry remained a sailor his entire life. Even during his career as a tattoo artist, he worked as licensed skipper of a large three-masted schooner, on which he conducted tours of the Hawaiian islands. Sailing and tattooing were his only two professional endeavors.

sailor jerry tattoos bottle

Sailor Jerry went out of his way to mentor those tattoo artists whose talents and attitude he respected, among them tattoo legends Don Ed Hardy and Mike Malone, to whom he entrusted his legacy of flash designs. He also railed against flashy tattoo artists such as Lyle Tuttle, and what he called “hippie tattoo” culture.

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From his 20s to his late 50s, he stopped tattooing entirely as a part of a disagreement with the IRS. Believe it or not, Sailor Jerry only tattooed for approximately 12 years.

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In 1999, Ed Hardy and Mike Malone partnered with an independent Philadelphia company to establish Sailor Jerry Ltd., which produces rum, clothing and other goods. Some say that Ed Hardy sold his old mentor, Sailor Jerry, up the river– taking much credit for Jerry’s style and pocketing the dough. Sailor Jerry (and Von Dutch alike)  may be rolling in his grave.

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Originally there were few colors available to tattoo artists– Sailor Jerry expanded the array by developing his own safe pigments. He also created needle formations that embedded pigment with much less trauma to the skin, and was one of the first to utilize single-use needles and hospital-quality sterilization.

norman collins sailor jerry tattoos

Tattooing legend Norman Collins AKA Sailor Jerry

sailor jerry tattoos norman collins photo

Tattooing legend Norman Collins AKA Sailor Jerry

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The Curious Case of Captain Mike.

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3224004932_167011a908_bLook, let’s just be honest here.  We all know who the real star of Benjamin Button was– Captain Mike.  Jared Harris is the reason that I will remember this film at all.  He totally stole the movie right from under that pretty boy Brad Pitt.  Poor guy is going through a divorce right now from British actress Emilia Fox.  They say he’s dark and troubled waters– the sensitive, difficult type.  Yeah, and?  The guy’s Irish, and an actor.  Did you know he’s the son of the late, great Irish actor Richard Harris?  That definitely explains where he gets his acting chops.  Whatever they say about the guy– he is OK in my book.  Long live Captain Mike. Continue reading

ROGUES, SAILORS & ANCIENT MARINERS A HISTORICAL VIEW OF NAUTICAL TATTOOS

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In the early 19th century, as more and more sailors returned from distant lands, tattooing had become highly popular in the British Navy. It spread even to the British admiralty, which has for a long time included certain royals who obtained rank. Field Marshal Earl Roberts is rumored to have expressed the opinion that “every officer in the British army should be tattooed with his regimental crest.” It not only boosted morale among the ranks, but it proved useful when identifying casualties. The Prince of Wales was tattooed with a Jerusalem Cross after visiting the Holy Land in 1862. Then, his sons, the Duke of Clarence and the Duke of York (later King George V) were tattooed by the Japanese master tattooist, Hori Chiyo.

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Tattoo you.

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Although much of maritime tattooing took place on board ship, sailor to sailor– the craze spawned an industry of tattoo parlors in port cities in Britain and the United States, and indeed, around the world. Many of the proprietors of early tattoo shops were sailors who had come ashore. Famed British tattoo artist George Burchett learned his craft with an early stint in the service. By the end of the 19th century, it was estimated that ninety percent of British and American sailors had tattoos, according to some sources.

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The anchor remains the favorite tattoo of sailors, and is still one of the most popular designs worldwide– usually placed on the upper arm, just like Popeye.  Tattoos of a sailor’s ship were like a badge of honor that proudly displayed his feelings of patriotism and comradery.  Roosters tattooed on the foot were a common motif in the early days– they acted as charms to protect against drowning.  And of course, Images of naked women were a major hit too– that is until the brass issued their ‘obscene’ warning.  After that, naval applicants could have their hopes dashed by showing up with too much ‘skin’ on their skin. Tattoo artists did a booming business covering the scantily-clad hula girls with grass skirts.

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