What are American Traditional Tattoos?

A lot of people do not appreciate the significance of Traditional American design. Many individuals, who are not familiar with this genre, tend to picture this style as cartoonish or even childish. Far from it, traditional designs are one of the most popular genres available. This article will help you overcome this stereotype, and introduce you to its rich history to become better well informed about the rich colorful heritage that this genre offers.

The pioneer of this genre was the legendary Sailor Jerry. Born in America, Jerry got exposure to tattoos at the age of 13. When he was 18, he got conscripted into the navy as a sailor during the Second World War. After he was discharged after the war, he started up shop in Hawaii’s Chinatown. He passed away somewhere in the 1970s.

During his active years, tattoos were not yet grouped into genres like what you have today. The only two groups of the period were Western and Eastern styles. Hence, Sailor Jerry pioneered the Traditional American style. His trademark style revolved around themes of the navy and seafaring – a nod to his sailing days.

American Traditional is easily recognized by its bold outlines and use of bold and bright colors – mainly with red, blue, green, yellow and black. Even today, Sailor Jerry’s designs are still a popular choice of tattoo fans over the world.

As Sailor Jerry was involved with fighting the Japanese Imperial Army during the war, he was particularly adverse to Japanese culture and even tattoos. Interestingly, he travelled all the way to Japan, in order to learn the skills and styles of Japanese tattoos, in order to improve on them to create greater and better tattoos that even the Japanese would envy and shake their heads in disbelief. When he eventually returned to the US, he improvised a lot of what he saw, thus creating a new style of Japanese tattoo that became extremely popular both in the US and abroad. As a result, Sailor Jerry’s Japanese style tattoos became extremely popular and were regarded as even better than authentic Japanese tattoos in the 1950s to 1970s.

Sailor Jerry was not a diarist and never liked to be photographed. Therefore, what is left of his legacy today is only of a few pictures left of him with his friends.

During his lifetime, Sailor Jerry used only seven tattoo machines throughout his life, though no one knows where it went. It was said that museums had been trying in vain to purchase these dry tattoo machines for millions, however, none was ever found. In 2010, at an auction, “transfer papers” used by Sailor Jerry for transferring stencils onto customer’s skins were auctioned off with a start bid of USD$500 per piece.

Sailor Jerry dedicated his whole life to his only love, tattooing. He never married nor had any children. After he passed away, it was only known that he left his collection of drawings to his only relative, his nephew.

During the 90s, an investor bought over all the remaining Sailor Jerry’s sketches and its intellectual rights from his nephew. The investor formed the Sailor Jerry brand name and established an empire selling merchandises from high-street fashion to jewellery and even alcoholic beverages. The brand is now worth millions of dollars with boutiques all over America and the UK. Unbeknownst to his nephew, the entire estate was worth more than the few thousand he sold his uncle’s estate for. Perhaps he never had any interests in the tattoo culture and the significance of the Sailor Jerry name in the industry.

For more information about the legendary Sailor Jerry, visit his website at: http://www.sailorjerry.com/