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Sailor Jerry’s Tattoo Shop

Sailor Jerrys Secrets As Told By Lance Mclain

Sailor Jerry’s Original Tattoo Shop in Honolulu

Inked interviews Lance McLain: The guy that took Sailor Jerrys seat.

Are you Sailor Jerry?


Well okay, Ed Hardy sent me down here. I got work from him and he said to show you the work.

You met Ed Hardy while you were still in the navy?Lance: I met Hardy when I was in San Diego. He had a lot of cool Japanese style designs in his window that stood out. It was rare in those days to come across somebody that was doing Asian style tattooing because in the early 70s a lot of the shops still did the eagle or panther military type tattoo. Ya know, hearts and roses. Traditional stuff. Ed was doing these really neat Asian looking dragons and tigers.

So you walked into his shop. a pretty easy guy to talk to and right away he got all excited about tattooing and Japanese style tattoos. I was thinking wow this guy has real great enthusiasmthe type that wears off on you. It was infectious. I got a dragon from him that went from the arm onto the chest and a koi fish on the other arm. He was really trying to get the tattoo public interested in that style.

Were you messing around?I was just dragging my anchor. I wasnt working in an efficient manner or conducting myself efficiently. I hadnt realized the value of that yet. Actually, as far as Mike being a fairly big man, he was fast, he could do a very good job of tattooing without wasting a lot of time. He knew the value of efficiency.

What did you guys drink?Anything with a green bottle.

Sailor Jerrys Legacy Lives On In Oahu

Sailor Jerry is considered among the early elite of electric tattooing in America. Norman Sailor Jerry Collins fathered the bright and bold, now old-school style of tattoo. Jerry was a rough, unapologetic patriot who was popular for tattooing American sailors during WWII.

After perfecting his craft in Japanwhere he adopted the moniker Hori SmokuJerry set up his tattoo shop in Oahu during the early 1930s. For over forty years, Jerry carved his legacy in ink and blood at 1033 Smith Street in Honolulus Chinatown red light district.

The grittier side of the Hawaiian Islands, Jerry called the location home until his death in 1973.

The legacy of Sailor Jerrys shop continued for 25 years under the guidance of his friend Mike Malone.

During the 2000s, the historic tattoo landmark was closed. The building was desecrated by many failed businesses, and had even been disguised as a candy shop, used for illegal activity.

In recent years, the shop received a restoration to its former glory by late California tattoo artist Chris Danley. Now dubbed Old Ironside Tattoo, the shops current artist, Harisumi, is passing on the legacy of its namesake. And I simply had to be part of it.

Treading the streets of Chinatown, I breathed in the stale spirit of taboo. Around the corner from the old gentlemans club stood the sacred grounds of 1033 Smith Street. I was finally there.

Stewed Screwed And Tattooed

Good work aint cheap, and cheap work aint good.

After numerous years in service to the USA, Sailor Jerry set up his tattoo shop in Honolulus Chinatown and began working as a tattoo artist full time.

At the height of World War II, thousands of men on shore leave visited Collins Hotel Street tattoo shop looking to lighten their wallets with whiskey, women, and wild entertainment. Sailor Jerry tattoos left their permanent business card on a mountain of sailors, soldiers, tourists and revelers who passed through Honolulu Chinatown before moving on to home cities and ports elsewhere, with some barely remembering the circumstances behind their tatt.

As leading tattoo culture chronicler Clinton Sanders put it in his 1989 book Customizing the Skin: the tattoo continues to be seen as an indication of the bearers voluntary alienation from mainstream norms and social networks.

Sailor Jerry was better at depicting this ethos than anyone, during the era he worked in, and now in the mainstream accepted era of body art where Norman Collins is rightfully treated like a Renaissance master.

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More Than A Tattoo Artist

During his career as a tattoo artist, Sailor Jerrys work also included conducting tours of the Hawaiian Island and Pearl Harbor as the licensed skipper of a three masted schooner.

Radio listeners adjusting to newly minted television era would remember Sailor Jerry by the moniker Old Ironsides he used in his late-night radio talk show, while he also studied various elements of electronics.

Norman Collins died from a heart attack while motorcycle riding on June 12, 1972 and is buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii.

His wife Louise still lives in Honolulu and remains protective of the real Sailor Jerry and his place at the forefront of tattoo history. In 2018 Louise filed court papers against William Grant & Sons regarding the use of her husbands image rights.

Sailor Jerry will forever be an icon of tattoo the first person placed on any Mt Rushmore of ink. Nobody has had a greater influence on the art, application and business of tattooing, or in developing 20th century skin art into a widely recognized creative medium. Without the groundbreaking work of Norman Collins and his contemporaries, American tattooing would look much different, and so would our skin.

For more awesome American Traditional tattoo galleries please click on the links below.

Who Was Sailor Jerry The Godfather Of American Tattoing

Old school

Norman Sailor Jerry Collins is a name synonymous with American tattooing. Hell, there are many out there who consider him the Godfather of American traditional styleand for all intents and purposes, theyre right. But Sailor Jerrys story goes far deeper than most imagine. He wasnt just some guy who decided tattooing was his calling. Aside from being a pioneer in one of the most traditional and widely revered styles of tattooing in the world today, he was so, so much more.

Two weeks ago, we met up with the team from Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum at Harley-Davidsons 115th Anniversary Party in Milwaukee to learn about Norman Sailor Jerry Collins and what, exactly, made him the man the world remembers.

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Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry

Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry: The Life and Times of Norman Keith Collins is a well-made documentary exploring the roots of American Traditional tattooing, using the life of Sailor Jerry as its focal point.

The 2008 film gathered critical acclaim for its honest portrayal of American inks tattoo legend, with interviews featuring traditional tattoo luminaries such as Hardy, Malone, Lyle Tuttle, Eddie Funk and others.

Collins was not a fan of publicity and rarely gave interviews, however Hori Smoku director Erich Weiss did an excellent job compiling the film through smart deployment of archive footage, photographs, his brash letter writing and occasional interviews with Collins.

Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry: The Life and Times of Norman Keith Collins is a story told much differently to contemporary reality and competitive tattoo television.

The History Of Sailor Jerry

The one name that instantly crops up in our mind when we talk about tattoo artistry is, the great Sailor Jerry.

Born as Norman Keith Collins on January 14, 1911, Jerry was an eminent figure in the world of tattoo artists.

The fact that he was extensively involved with tattooing sailors resulted in Collins earning the moniker Sailor Jerry. You simply know it when a legend is born, and the life of Sailor Jerry was far from ordinary.

A roughneck with a keen eye for detail, Sailor Jerry spent his life growing up in the beautiful foothills of California maneuvering around the gangster streets of Chicago and sailing across the enigmatic expanse of the China Sea up to Asia, before finally settling down his roots in the beautiful islands of Hawaii.

It is then that through his modest tattoo studio in Chinatown, Honolulu, Sailor Jerry breathed life into his exotic American folk designs and redefined the art of tattooing forever.

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The Legend That Redefined The Tattoo Artistry

Through his inherent zeal and passion for leading an existence of his own accord, Sailor Jerry defied all norms and left the comforts of his home as a teenager to bypass his American Dream, traveling by train hopping and hitch hiking.

While a majority of the youth in his time took the step driven by necessity and hardships, for Sailor Jerry, it was in pursuit of his dreams that were far bigger than his life at home.

Traveling by freight trains, camping along the way and using his free time in learning the craft of tattooing was life for young Sailor Jerry until he eventually landed in Chicago.

After serving his time in the US Navy, Sailor Jerry migrated to Honolulu, the place that changed his life forever. In the wake of the World War 2, a major chunk of the American men who were now serving in the military was led into the shady world of tattoo parlors, brothels and bars in neighborhoods such as the Honolulu Hotel Street where Sailor Jerry first showcased his flair for bold and novel tattoo ideas.

The World War 2 served as an equalizer for men of different strata of the society, who while on shore leave lined up for drinks and women in the murkiest of city areas and got themselves tattooed as well.

His Early Life Through A Keyhole

Sailor Jerry’s Tattoo shop in Honolulu

Born in Reno, Collins was brought up in North California. His interest in tattooing was noticeable from a tender age when he learned the primitive ‘hand pricking’ tattooing method from an Alaskan man named Big Mike.

At the early age of 9, Collins learned the use of a proper tattoo machine from Tatts Thomas of Chicago. For regular practice, his clients mainly included the homeless drunkards brought into the city from Skid Row, who let him tattoo them in exchange for a few cents or cheap wine.

Once an adult, the hunger to learn more and spread out his wings brought Collins sailing across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii.

After getting enlisted in the United States Navy at the age of 19, Collins developed a strong fascination for the Eastern art and philosophy, nuances of which are largely conspicuous in his artwork.

After settling down in Hawaii, Collins took up a job as a skipper for conducting sea tours of the islands and worked as a tattoo artist on the side. Apart from tattooing, Collins was also quite passionate about playing the saxophone in a private dance band where he was known as Old Ironsides.

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Influence On Traditional Tattooing

Sailor Jerry Mural, Downtown Honolulu, Hawaii. Image: Eric Fischer CC BY 2.0

Norman Collins inspires new tattoo artists every day mostly through the influence of his original flash tattoo sheets. There are not many Western tattoo shops missing a page or two of his flash displayed on a wall or in a binder.

Also, the adherence of many artists to the simple tenets of American Traditional style keeps Sailor Jerrys legendary aura undimmed as the 50th Anniversary of his passing approaches. Each new generation of ink slingers, body art historians, and tattoo enthusiasts know of Sailor Jerry, his exploits with ink and gun, and the impact his tattooing made on the world of squares.

Fellow tattoo industry legends Don Ed Hardy, Lyle Tuttle, Zeke Owen and Mike Malone all took great value from Sailor Jerrys mastery of the craft, art, and business of tattoo.

Malone himself a titan of the Honolulu tattoo scene and protégé of Collins -took over the Smith Street tattoo studio after Sailor Jerrys passing in 1973, renaming it South China Sea Tattoo.

Early Life And Introduction To Ink

You must understand the feeling of originating as opposed to imitating.

Norman Sailor Jerry Collins was born in 1911 in Reno, Nevada. After moving around Northern California as a youngster, as soon as he was of an age Collins opted for wanderlust, crisscrossing the country by freight train a popular method of getting around for many different types of people in the post Wild West USA.

Collins met tattooist Gib Tatts Thomas in Chicago during the late 1920s. Meeting Tatts ignited his interest in tattoo. Tatts taught the teen Collins the basics of tattooing and how to use a tattoo machine. Collins practiced on drunks and the homeless trading ink for booze or coin and rumor has it, on cadavers in the mortuaries of Chicago.

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What Do Sailor Jerry Tattoos Mean

Original sailor jerry tattoos. Sailor tattoos refer to a type of tattoo traditionally favored by sailors and the traditions that accompany these tattoos. Jerry had three protégés Mike Malone Don Ed Hardy and Zeke Owen whom he was very. Rocor CC BY-NC 20 Bold simplicity is the keynote to good design Contemporary society takes tattoos as art for granted think of exhibitions featuring flash art such as Jerrys or elements of past tattoo culture and their use in modern life.

Why not take a gander at the best ones below. Still in original condition carrying carbon from the last usenever cleaned or altered. With that said lets navigate through the meanings of sailor tattoos.

This will give you many. By the 1920s he was sailing the Great Lakes traveling the United States and tattooing on the side. IMPORTANT NOTICE Norman Sailor Jerry Collins is the father of the old-school tattoo and we make old-school rum but our site doesnt work on old-school web browsers blame the tech geeks.

If you are looking to expand beyond Sailor Jerry I would recommend Vintage Tattoo Flash which is some of Jonathan Shaws collection and The Bowery Book which is flash from the Bowery although its all just line flash no shading. Forearm Best Sailor Tattoos. In conclusion the best place to find sailor Jerry Tattoos is to look to old school tattoos.

Take a look at the true history behind traditional tattoos and how tattoo artists like Norman Sailor Jerry Collins built their reputation.

Pig And Rooster Tattoos

Pin by Adrianna Marczak on Tattoos

The superstition behind this tattoo has to do with the wooden cages where roosters and pigs were kept in on ships. When ships wrecked, the lightweight wooden frames became personal flotation devices, giving them a surprising survival rate. A sailor hoping for good luck would get a rooster tattoo on top of the right foot and a pig tattoo on top of the left.

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Sailor Jerrys Tattooing Style

Sailor Jerry Flash Art Image: Rocor CC BY-NC 2.0

Bold simplicity is the keynote to good design.

Contemporary society takes tattoos as art for granted think of exhibitions featuring flash art such as Jerrys or elements of past tattoo culture and their use in modern life. During the entirety of the Sailor Jerrys Tattoo era, tattooing was considered a craft at best, and a grubby one at that.

Collins concepts were central to meshing tattooist and artist, taking work out of back alleys and dive bars, and pulling off the difficult feat of making a Jerry tattoo both artistic counterculture and a commercially thriving business choice.

His flash art, and the symbols tied to his images, are now seen as coded hieroglyphs for ink enthusiasts looking to get body art in traditional style or use it as a baseline concept for more outlandish ideas.

Collins understood his influence and the commercial appeal of his material particularly the beautiful array of hand drawn flash sheets, which drew heavily on his naval experiences, exposure to Japanese culture and willingness to constantly tinker, learn, and incorporate new thematic elements.

His focus on tattoo designs blending elements of established American tattooing with the artistic finesse and creativity of the Japanese tattoo masters helped Sailor Jerry stand out, become more sought after each time he turned on the power to his tattoo gun.

The Legacy Of Sailor Jerry

His instructions to his wife had been very clear: If anything happened to him, she was to sell the shop to Mike Malone, Zeke Owen, or Ed Hardy. If they dont want it, she should burn it to the ground.

Ed was still in Japan studying under Hori Oguri, Zeke already owned a shop in San Diego and wanted to stay put, so it fell to Mike. He purchased the shop and renamed it China Sea as an homage to Sailor Jerry. Mike tattooed there for more than 25 years.

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Moving Out Of The Limelight

In stubborn protest, he gave up tattooing for nearly a decade and instead took to working in the local shipyards, as well as skippering tour boats through Pearl Harbour. Secretly, Jerry continued to tattoo those that knew to look for him, and would often have to sneak up the back staircase to his apartment after a long day of work to avoid tattoo seekers looking to get some Sailor Jerry ink.

But Jerry could never stay away from tattoos. They were his siren call. In 1960, he was lured back to tattooing full-time and opened a shop at 1033 Smith Street in Honolulu with a California tattoo artist named Bob Palm. Unfortunately, the partnership wouldnt last. Hawaii was a very different place in that time and Bob, a homosexual, was escorted off of the island by the military for immoral allegations.

Hawaii And World War Ii

Tattoo flash Speed Painting – Sailor Jerry

Once settled into his new home in Hawaii, Jerry looked to begin tattooing once more. He found that the local Chinatown area was a perfect place to set up shop, as sailors that were coming and going from the local port were deposited right at the entrance to the areas bars and burlesque clubs. Jerry would practice his craft in the Chinatown arcades or travel to the local sugar cane plantations or military barracks where he would set up his tattoo machine on the large front porches and string his flash over the railings, attracting the soldiers and field hands with his increasingly detailed and varied designs.

The peaceful days of travelling tattoos wouldnt last. In 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour and incited World War II. Deeply troubled and angered by the vicious attack on his beloved Navy and new island home, Jerry attempted to show his fierce patriotism by re-enlisting in the Navy to fight the Japanese, but he failed the medical exam due to a poor heart. Not to be deterred, Jerry joined up with the Merchant Marines and spent World War II navigating hostile waters to deliver supplies to a variety of Navy and Army bases.

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