Sailor Jerry Collins – An American Tattoo Icon

Sailor Jerry Collins featured image
Published on May 10, 2023

Featured image credit:

Sailor Jerry Collins - a name that reverberates through the corridors of tattoo history as one of the true American icons.

But do you know the depth of his influence and the enduring legacy he's left behind in the world of body art? Have you ever wondered how this sailor turned tattoo artist changed the course of tattoo culture forever? 


If you are unfamiliar with Sailor Jerry , you are unfamiliar with tattoos. Norman "Sailor Jerry" Collins (1911–1973) is regarded as the greatest American tattoo artist of all time.

He popularized the BSJ and ASJ tattoo styles (before and after Sailor Jerry). He may have contributed more to the history of tattooing than almost any other individual.

Sailor Jerry joined the US Navy at the age of 19. He first came into contact with Southeast Asian art and images while on his naval voyages.

His combination of the swashbuckling American sailor's attitude with the mysticism and technical skill of the Far East has a profound artistic impact. Throughout his career, he kept up a tight relationship with Japanese tattoo artists.

legend of sailor jerry


Sailor Jerry believed that getting a tattoo was the apex of defiance against "the Squares."

His work frequently reflects his famed sense of humor, yet he was never one to compromise his professionalism or treat his work and obligations lightly.

The first Sailor Jerry tattoo shop was established in Honolulu's Chinatown, which at the time was the only area on the island where they could be found.

He had to print "The Original Sailor Jerry" on his business cards because his work was so frequently plagiarized. Don't be deceived by the fact that there is a man in Canada who goes by the same name; while he is talented in his own right, he is not the original Sailor Jerry.

Jerry the Sailor lived a life of service. He worked as a licensed skipper of a sizable three-masted schooner while also pursuing a profession as a tattoo artist, using the vessel to lead tours of the Hawaiian islands. His only two occupations were tattooing and sailing.

Among the tattoo icons Don Ed Hardy and Mike Malone, to whom he committed his legacy of flash designs, Sailor Jerry went above and beyond to mentor those tattoo artists whose abilities and attitude he valued. He also criticized the "hippie tattoo" movement and flamboyant tattoo artists like Lyle Tuttle.

He completely ceased tattooing between his 20s and late 50s due to a dispute with the IRS. Sailor Jerry only had tattoos for a short period of time—around 12 years.

Sailor Jerry Ltd., which makes rum, clothes, and other products, was founded in 1999 by Ed Hardy and Mike Malone in collaboration with a separate Philadelphia business.

Some claim that Ed Hardy took much of the credit for Sailor Jerry's fashion and pocketed the money while selling his old mentor Sailor Jerry short. Von Dutch and Sailor Jerry might be laughing in their graves right now.


Sailor Jerry Day


With a limited-edition tattoo flash sheet competition, Sailor Jerry Day honors Norman "Sailor Jerry" Collins, the inventor of traditional tattoos.

Sailor Jerry has commissioned five well-known traditional tattoo artists from all over the world to create their own renditions of their favorite Sailor Jerry flash in an effort to uphold his history of traditional tattoo expertise.

A limited edition Norman Collins tattoo flash sheet has been produced in honor of Collins by Henning Jorgensen (Royal Tattoo, Denmark), Andrea Giulimondi (Riverside Tattoo, UK), Rosie Evans (Five Points, NYC & Marlett Tattoo, LA), Phil De Angulo (Memorial Brooklyn Tattoo, USA), and Marcus Yuen (59 Tattoo, Hong Kong).

Prints of this unique collaborative flash sheet were given away as prizes in several international social media contests that were run on Sailor Jerry's channel as well as popular tattoo-related Instagram accounts.

In addition, three of the tattoo artists—Andrea Giulimondi, the creator of the renowned Riverside Tattoo in London; Phil DeAngulo, a tattoo artist and proprietor of Memorial Brooklyn Tattoo; and bi-coastal tattoo artist Rosie Evans of Five Points in New York City and Marlett Tattoo in Los Angeles—will each give 12 limited-edition flash sheet prints to their fans in addition to a palm-sized Sailor Jerry tattoo.

If you're looking for more information on tattoos, be sure to check out our list of articles below!

Ryan S. Mills
Latest posts by Ryan S. Mills (see all)