Sailor tattoo refers to a type of tattoo traditionally favored by sailors and the traditions that accompany these tattoos. “Old school” tattoos were common among sailors, depicting images like swallows on either side of the chest, girls in sailor hats, and pairs of dice. Sailor Jerry’s work typified this style of tattooing during the early-mid twentieth century.
After falling out of style for several decades, these stylized tattoos are regaining popularity again among young people, both sailors, and non-sailors. They are particularly favored among tattoo artists themselves. This returning trend is also seen in the increasing popularity of traditional Sailor Jerry designs, nautical tattoos, and even clothing printed with stylized sailor tattoo images.
About Sailor Jerry, the sailor tattoo artist
Norman Collins, better known as Sailor Jerry, was a prolific tattoo artist for sailors. During the Second World War in Honolulu, Hawaii, the red-light district was ablaze with sailors and soldiers about to ship off, and in the center of this was Collins. His skill and prolific work helped make tattoos an art form in America rather than merely a permanent souvenir for drunken sailors.
The popularity of his tattoos resulted in publicity that nearly ruined Collins. Government scrutiny made him temporarily quit tattooing in the 1950s, after nearly 20 years in the profession. Collins despised tattoo artists who he felt sought the spotlight, like Lyle Tuttle of San Francisco, because they drew broader government attention to the tattooing business.