Sailor Jerry

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Sailor Jerry
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BornNorman Keith Collins
January 14, 1911
Reno, Nevada
DiedJune 12, 1973(1973-06-12) (aged 62)
Honolulu, Hawaii
Other namesNorman K. Collins, Norman "Sailor Jerry" Collins, NKC, Sailor Jerry, SJ, $
OccupationTattoo artist, sailor, Musician
Spouse(s)Carrie Edwards (wife)

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]

An annual event now takes place in Hawaii called the "Sailor Jerry Festival" and aims to honor Collins's global influence, his many achievements, and his local ties.


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.[citation needed]

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. 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.[citation needed]

In addition to sailing and tattooing, he played the saxophone in his own dance band and frequently hosted his own radio show, where he was known as "Old Ironsides".[1][3][4][5]

Collins is buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, a military cemetery located in Punchbowl Crater in Honolulu.[1]


His influence on the art of modern tattooing is undeniable and a documentary movie called Hori Smoku gives information on the details. He wanted at least one of three proteges/friends – Ed Hardy, Mike Malone, or Zeke Owens – to take over his shop (or else burn it) when he died.[6]

An annual event now takes place in Hawaii called the "Sailor Jerry Festival" to honor Collins's legacy and Chinatown roots on Oahu. The locally and independently produced event includes live music, DJ's, cabaret performances, movie screenings, a pin-up fashion show – where models wear outfits designed from Sailor Jerry flash, neighborhood tours, and tattoos available at two area shops, including Sailor Jerry's last location.[7]


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

Collins expanded the array of colors available by developing his own pigments. He created needle formations that embedded pigment with much less trauma to the skin and was one of the first artists to utilize single-use needles and to use an autoclave for sterilization.[8]

Sailor Jerry's last studio was at 1033 Smith Street in Honolulu's Chinatown, then the only place on the island where tattoo studios were located.

Popular symbols used by Sailor Jerry include:

  • Bottles of booze
  • Snakes
  • Wildcats
  • 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
  • Hawaii themes
  • Pin-up girls

Sailor Jerry Ltd.[edit]

Sailor Jerry Spiced Navy Rum

In 1999, Hardy and Malone partnered with Steven Grasse and his Philadelphia based creative agency, Quaker City Mercantile (at the time known as "Gyro Worldwide"),[9][10] 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, churchkeys 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.[11]


Sailor Jerry was married more than once and his widow Louise still resides in Hawaii, as do several of his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Outside of donations, the family does not profit from his creations or the things that have come from them since, and there is a disagreement as to the name rights.[12]


  1. ^ a b c "Norman Keith Collins". Tattoo Archive. 2015. Archived from the original on November 5, 2011. Retrieved October 10, 2015.
  2. ^ DeMello, Margo (2007). Encyclopedia of Body Adornment. ABC-CLIO. p. 74. ISBN 978-0-313-33695-9. Retrieved August 13, 2012.
  3. ^ "Radio Stations in Honolulu, Hawaii".
  4. ^ "KTRG-FM 94.1 MHz Radio Station Information".
  5. ^ Old Ironside Tattoo, 1033 Smith St, Honolulu, HI 96817
  6. ^ "Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry – Synopsis". Archived from the original on September 28, 2015. Retrieved October 10, 2015.
  7. ^ "The Sailor Jerry Festival". 2015. Archived from the original on June 13, 2015. Retrieved October 10, 2015.
  8. ^ Levy, Janey (September 1, 2008). Tattoos in Modern Society. The Rosen Publishing Group. p. 47. ISBN 978-1-4042-1829-1. Retrieved August 13, 2012.
  9. ^ "Meet Steven Grasse: History in a Bottle".
  10. ^ "The Adman's Whiskey Lab".
  11. ^ Hook, Sonya (March 4, 2010). "Sailor Jerry gets revamp". Morning Advertiser. Retrieved October 10, 2015.
  12. ^ Michael Corcoran (October 31, 2014). "STEWED, SCREWED AND TATTOOED: The Selling of Sailor Jerry". ARTS+LABOR.

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