The history of Sailor Jerry

[fa icon="calendar"] Apr 11, 2016 8:43:29 PM / by Maximilian Wensbo

The History of Sailor Jerry



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.The history of sailor Jerry continues when Jerry at the age of 19, 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. 

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.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.

the history of sailor jerry

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.


Ed Hardy and Sailor Jerry

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.

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.

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.

I hope that the history of sailor Jerry inspire more artists and people getting tattoos to know the foundation of where the tattoos they are getting originally come from. As we continue to work on this blog feel free to take a look at some other posts that we have added here.


DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY:   E-Book on "Best tattoo styles for your sleeve" 


Topics: History of

Maximilian Wensbo

Written by Maximilian Wensbo