Depending on who you ask, you might get different answers when trying to conjure up an idea about the man behind the name Sailor Jerry. Like many of us, he was multi-faceted, and his endeavors would create lasting impressions on the world still seen today.
From serving the United States of America to influencing tattoo artists and even affecting a wide range of other subcultures, the man behind the name that would come into the world as Norman Keith Collins would leave it as a legend in his own right. Pour a glass if you’ve got one because you may know the name, but now it’s time to better understand the legend of a Sailor who transcended military service, art, and havin’ a good time.
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Who Is Sailor Jerry?
Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins is a Veteran of the U.S. Navy, noted musician, legendary tattoo artist, and an all-around artisan. Back when he was 19 years old, Sailor Jerry enlisted and would end up becoming heavily inspired by his time at sea, the artwork of Asian artists, and military life that would all go on to influence his style of tattooing. Jerry spent much of his time in the Pacific between Hawaii and Southeast Asia, again, a leading inspiration for his signature style.
In addition to working as a tattoo artist, he served as a Skipper of a large three-masted schooner that he used to conduct tours of the Hawaiian islands. The Aloha State would become his home after he was discharged from the Navy in the 1930s. Sailor Jerry would have multiple locations in which he would perform tattoos in Honolulu, HI, before settling into his famous 1033 Smith Street location, near the heart of Chinatown and Downtown. This was the only area on the island known for tattooing at the time.
Sailor Jerry tattoos would increase in popularity, especially among the budding tattoo enthusiasts of the time as well as military members stationed in Hawaii. Being a Veteran himself, Jerry’s work during the WWII era in Hawaii gained a respectable following that continues today as a legendary following. He’s seen as one of the most influential tattoo artists in modern times.
Rum, Style, and Lasting Influence
Iconic tattoos of pin-up girls, weaponry, bottles of booze, vicious birds, dice, and Hawaiian-themed pieces are just a few of the common trends found in his work. This would continue into fashion, merchandising, and even the “Sailor Jerry Festival,” where fans join to celebrate his art and those who have come after him, including his great-niece Madison Thomas.
You’ll find pin-up fashion and other influences throughout the independently run festival, but one of the most famous examples of his style can be found on a bottle of Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum. The label of a Sailor Jerry Rum bottle features a pin-up girl with a ukulele adorned with a lei and a grass skirt. As you drink the bottle, additional pin-up girls are revealed throughout the inner portion of the label. The rum is spiced, as it was popular for Sailors operating in Southeast Asia at the time to add spices to Caribbean rums, further solidifying the nod to Jerry’s legacy.
Unfortunately, due to various image rights disputes, Sailor Jerry’s family does not receive profit from his creations following a recipe sale in 2010. The move would change the flavor from a more spiced style rum into the realms of vanilla and caramel. The naming rights have been a legal disagreement involving Sailor Jerry Ltd. for years.
Sailor Jerry and the USO
Resting in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific lie many brave souls, including Sailor Jerry and various other war heroes. His impact continues to reach millions of people through a variety of ways, including art and comradery, not to mention how his work directly helps military members and their families. Since 2016, Sailor Jerry Rum and the USO have been toasting the troops by partnering with Fleet Week New York. This is a great event that helps raise awareness and funds for military organizations for those who continue to sacrifice for America through their service.
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