Sailor Jerry

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Sailor Jerry
Norman Keith Collins.jpg
Born Norman Keith Collins
January 14, 1911
Reno, Nevada
Died June 12, 1973 (aged 62)
Honolulu, Hawaii
Other names Norman K. Collins, Norman "Sailor Jerry" Collins, NKC, Sailor Jerry, SJ, $
Occupation Tattoo artist, Sailor

Norman Keith Collins (January 14, 1911 - June 12, 1973) was a prominent American tattoo artist, famous for his tattooing of sailors; he was also known as "Sailor Jerry".[1]


Collins was born on January 14, 1911 in Reno but grew up in Northern California. As a child he hopped freight trains across the country and learned tattooing from a man named "Big Mike" from Palmer, Alaska, originally using the hand-pricking method. In the late 1920s he met Tatts Thomas from Chicago who taught him how to use a tattoo machine. He practiced on drunks brought in from skid row.[2] He later sailed the Pacific Ocean before settling in Hawaii in the 1930s. He often wore plain white t-shirts that exposed his ink-sleeved arms.

At age 19, Collins enlisted in the United States Navy. During his subsequent travels at sea, he was exposed to the art and imagery of Southeast Asia. He remained a sailor for his entire life thereafter. Even during his career as a tattoo artist, he worked as a licensed skipper of a large three-masted schooner, on which he conducted tours of the Hawaiian islands.

In addition to sailing and tattooing, he played the saxophone in his own dance band and frequently hosted his own radio show on KTRG (AM) where he was known as "Old Ironsides".[1] He was a prolific writer and carried on in-depth communications with many pen-pals throughout the world.

Legacy of Sailor Jerry[edit]

Collins entrusted his artwork to his two protégés, Ed Hardy and Mike Malone, both of whom have become prominent figures in their own right. Hardy is known for his artistic sophistication and large-scale tattoos. Malone, who designed under the name "Rollo Banks", and was known for his conceptual boldness and distinctive designs, died in 2007.

Norman Collins is buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, a military cemetery located in Punchbowl Crater in Honolulu. His gravesite is 124/Section T.[1]

Sailor Jerry Ltd.[edit]

Sailor Jerry Spiced Navy Rum

In 1999, Hardy and Malone partnered with a small independent Philadelphia clothing company to establish Sailor Jerry Ltd., which owns Collins' letters, art, and flash, and produces clothing and an idiosyncratic collection of other items, such as ash trays, sneakers, playing cards, church keys and shot glasses. As an anti-sweatshop company, Sailor Jerry Ltd. produces nearly all its items in the United States and sells them from the company’s web site. The company also showcases rising talents with its "Artist Series", which it describes as a way to "keep Sailor Jerry’s legacy alive and kicking".

Sailor Jerry Ltd. produces a 92 proof spiced Navy rum featuring a quintessential Sailor Jerry hula girl on the label. As the bottle is emptied, additional Pin-up girls designed by Sailor Jerry are visible on the inner side of the label. The rum is distilled in the U.S. Virgin Islands. It takes its influence from Caribbean rum, which sailors would spice with flavors from the Far East and Asia to make it more enjoyable to drink. In 2010, the formula being sold in the United Kingdom was changed to include a less sweet taste.[3]

Sailor Jerry Tattoos[edit]

A line of Converse shoes depicting some of Sailor Jerry's original tattoo artwork.

Popular symbols used by Sailor Jerry include:

  • Bottles of booze
  • Snakes
  • Wild cats
  • The infamous "Aloha" monkey
  • Eagles, falcons and other birds of prey
  • Swallows
  • Motor heads and pistons
  • Nautical stars
  • Classically styled scroll banners
  • Knives, guns and other weapons
  • Dice
  • Anchors

Collins expanded the array of colors available by developing his own safe pigments. He created needle formations that embedded pigment with much less trauma to the skin, and he was one of the first to utilize single-use needles and to use an autoclave for sterilization.[4] His attention to detail was so precise that the depiction of rigging in his nautical tattoos was said to be perfectly accurate. 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. He regarded tattoos as the ultimate rebellion against "the Squares". He took the bold line style of tattooing and incorporated what he learned from his correspondences with the Japanese masters, known as Horis. He brought this style to the Sailor Jerry Tattoo parlor he opened on Hotel Street in Honolulu.

Sailor Jerry's last studio was in Honolulu's Chinatown, then the only place on the island where tattoo studios were located. He thrived in the hotbed of competition. His work was so widely copied, he took to printing "The Original Sailor Jerry" on his business cards.


  1. ^ a b c "Norman Keith Collins". Retrieved 2012-08-13. 
  2. ^ Margo DeMello (2007). Encyclopedia of Body Adornment. ABC-CLIO. pp. 74–. ISBN 978-0-313-33695-9. Retrieved 13 August 2012. 
  3. ^ "Sailor Jerry gets revamp". Retrieved 2012-08-13. 
  4. ^ Janey Levy (1 September 2008). Tattoos in Modern Society. The Rosen Publishing Group. pp. 47–. ISBN 978-1-4042-1829-1. Retrieved 13 August 2012. 

External links[edit]