Sailor Jerry, born Norman Keith Collins in 1911, was an iconic American tattoo artist whose influential style framed the traditional American tattoo. Because of the connection between the blossoming tattoo industry and sailors, Collins became known as Sailor Jerry for his work tattooing sailors.
His style shaped the art of tattooing in America and helped popularize the art form. Additionally, his innovations within the trade made him both recognizable and infamous as an artist.
Some of the most common tattoos that are seen today are Sailor Jerry tattoos. They are classic or traditional and are rooted in the life of sailors at the turn of the century. Collins himself served in the United States Navy and tattooed countless USN sailors, leading to his decision to devote his life to creating some amazing pieces of skin art.
The images have little detail but bold, bright colors and incredible significance. Many styles have these attributes, but once you see one of the many Sailor Jerry tattoos out there, you will always recognize them. In fact, even some designs that are not necessarily Sailor Jerry tats do have some of those same attributes simply because Mr. Collins has influenced so many tattoo artists around the globe. There’s a good chance that you have seen at least a couple of Sailor Jerry-inspired tattoos in your lifetime even if you didn’t know what a Sailor Jerry tattoo was.
Even though the images themselves hold their own meanings, those made by Jerry or anyone who studied under him have always had at least a little bit of rebelliousness to them. That’s because those original tattoos made by Sailor Jerry were always known for having an equal amount of humor and edge since they were so different than the vast majority of other tattoo designs that were out in the world.
Images such as the bordered nautical star (also known as the compass rose as it is found on compasses) are authentic to Sailor Jerry. The star is a representation of the North Star and a symbol of homecoming. The nautical star tattoo can have any combination of colors, but the colors usually alternate from dark to light around the five points of the star.
This is still an extremely popular tattoo design today because it looks great and has meanings that many people want in their tattoos. In a lot of cases, people get this Sailor Jerry tattoo to show that they are looking towards the future with every decision that they make.
The pin-up girl is yet another classic Sailor Jerry tattoo that has stood the test of time. These tattoos show that whoever owns one has a sexual side, regardless of how they seem during the day. Sailor Jerry had quite a few different pin-up girl styles, including a hula girl, a classic American dancer, and country girls in daisy dukes. They have a nice blend of cartoony mixed with realism that people have been attracted to for decades.
There are hundreds of great bird tattoo designs out there, but swallows were the bird of choice for Sailor Jerry since they were always seen as great nautical symbols. Since sailors coming home would always know they were close when they saw these birds, they thought of them as good luck charms. People today get them for the same reasons, and they often want them in the same style as those old Sailor Jerry tattoos.
It probably won’t surprise you to find out that Sailor Jerry loved designing unique ships and anchors for his clients. Both represented freedom, stability, and many other great things, so sailors jumped at the chance to get one or both of the designs. His ships in particular were well-loved all over the world, which is why you’ll see that many artists today still use Sailor Jerry’s style when making them.
Many of the most popular Sailor Jerry tattoos are significant to sailors and symbolize different merits that have been achieved at sea. They might get an anchor or a bald eagle after they’ve come home the first time and then they’ll add in more Sailor Jerry tattoo designs on future returns.
You have to remember that these Sailor Jerry tattoos are much more than skin drawings to the sailors who get them; they are hugely meaningful and they wear these images on their skin with a lot of pride. These are not the types of tattoos that owners regret getting because their meanings are as important to the sailors as the images themselves.
The prowling or roaring tiger is a common symbol for an experienced sailor and can represent time spent in far Eastern waters. These tigers almost always have their mouths open and are roaring, but they also have a sort of peaceful look to them. As with so many other Sailor Jerry tattoo designs, once you see one of his tigers, you will always remember it because it really doesn’t look like any other tiger designs out there today.
Sharks and octopi are also common Sailor Jerry tattoo images of sea life, but also the pig. The pig is connected to an old superstition that God would see the image of a drowning sailor and rescue them as the pig cannot swim. It is much less common but highly connected to old sailing superstitions. If you want to get a Sailor Jerry that isn’t too common anymore, then this is definitely the one to get. Plus, the meaning is pretty cool, and you can add to it by using any other pig tattoo meaning.
The Sailor Jerry tattoo images often serve as charms that bring good luck and favorable weather for sailing. You can choose from quite a list of great good luck charm tattoos these days, but plenty of people still opt to get a Sailor Jerry tattoo because it has worked for so many people before them. Plus, being a sailor and getting a Sailor Jerry tattoo is kind of a tradition that people do not want to break.
After Sailor Jerry moved to Hawaii, another iconic image was created in the “aloha” monkey. The image consists of a monkey bent over with the word aloha written across its behind. Although a little obscene, it is a popular traditional Sailor Jerry tattoo. The story goes that a monkey once made a mess of Sailor Jerry’s tattoo shop, so he came up with the classic image. There isn’t much meaning to it, but it’s definitely a great option for those who are looking to get a hilarious Sailor Jerry tattoo.
If you plan on getting a Sailor Jerry tattoo, you should know where you want it to be placed before you commit to a design. Many of Sailor Jerry’s old designs were placed on forearms, shoulders, ankles, and feet, but in reality, they can go anywhere. Just be sure that you choose a design that has lines that work with that part of your body.
If you end up wanting to get a Sailor Jerry tattoo, be sure to look around in your area for an artist who has done these types of designs in the past. Don’t worry, there are plenty of them out there. In fact, you will usually know as soon as you walk into a tattoo shop if they do Sailor Jerry tattoos because they will proudly display some of his iconic images on their walls.
The perfect candidates for Sailor Jerry tattoos are those who love the style and any meanings that come along with these images. It’s a style that will probably always be loved because the tattoos are bright, lively, and very meaningful to their owners.
While it’s true that many of these tattoos were meant to go on sailors back in the day, that is not necessarily the case now, though sailors do still get Sailor Jerry tattoos. If the meanings work for you and you love the style, then by all means get one of these cool tattoos.