’59 Bel-Air wrapped for Sailor Jerry Rum, in the French Quarter.
Norman Keith Collins (January 14, 1911 – June 12, 1973) was a prominent American tattoo artist, known very well for his tattooing of sailors; he was also known as “Sailor Jerry”.
Collins was born on January 14, 1911 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. Practicing on drifters, he later sailed the Pacific Ocean before settling in Hawaii. A big brute with a dirty mouth, he often wore plain white T-shirts that exposed his ink-sleeved arms. Mike Malone, who took over Sailor Jerry’s shop after he died, described Jerry as “a class-A pirate”.
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. He remained a sailor for his entire life thereafter. Even 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.
Sailing and tattooing were only two of his professional endeavours. He played saxophone in his own dance band and for years frequently hosted his own radio show on KTRG (AM). He was a prolific writer and carried on in-depth communications with many pen-pals throughout the world.
Legacy of Sailor Jerry
Collins entrusted his artwork to his two protégés, Ed Hardy and Mike Malone, both of whom have become prominent figures in their own right. Hardy, who turned down an MFT scholarship to Yale in order to pursue tattooing, is known for his artistic sophistication and large-scale tattoos. Malone, who designed under the name “Rollo Banks”, and was known for his conceptual boldness and distinctive designs, died in 2007.
Norman Collins is buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, a military cemetery located in Punchbowl Crater in Honolulu. His grave site is 124/Section T.
In 1999, Hardy and Malone partnered with a small independent Philadelphia clothing company 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, church keys and shot glasses. As an anti-sweatshop company, Sailor Jerry Ltd. produces nearly all its items in the United States. Items are sold on the company’s web site or from the Sailor Jerry Store at 116 S. 13th Street in Philadelphia, which frequently plays host to performances by independent musicians. 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.