Sailor Jerry

Rudy Inhelder

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I first met Rudy in the early/mid 1990s through the UNIQUE classified ads. A self described ‘tattoo and piercing enthusiast’, Rudy and I exchanged letters and photographs over the years, sharing stories of our own tattoos and experiences. Our correspondence eventually fell off and, as is prone to happen, we lost touch with one another. I’m not sure what ever happened to him, though many of his letters are still in my collection.

Clipper Ship (center of chest) by Sailor Eddie Evans.
Dragons by Alan Oversby.

Rudy is briefly mentioned in an article by Gauntlet’s Jim Ward: http://runningthegauntlet-book.com/BME/jimward/20050715.html

In 1996 Rudy sent me a photocopy of a profile on him from the NTA’s magazine- what follows is a transcript. He did not provide a month/year/issue number.


My interest in tattoos became activated as a youngster in 1954 when I read a critique about Hanns Ebenstein’s book “Pierced Hearts and True Love” in a local newspaper in my native Switzerland. I wrote to Hanns, who in return put me in contact with one of the most famous British artists, Rich Mingins in London. 1955 I was sent to London for further education and then met Rich in person. The same year, probably the first national convention to place in a pub in London, organized by Rich Mingins, , Les Skuse from Bristol and Jessie Knight from Aldershot. This was also the start of my photo collection.

In 1957 I emigrated to the United States and got really involved in tattooing. My first tattoos were done by sailor Eddie Evans in Camden, New Jersey and Paul Rogers who then work with him. Work by Phil Sparrow (Chicago), (then Crazy) Philadelphia Eddie Funk, Huck Spaulding (Albany, N.Y.) and Buddy Mott (Rhode Island) followed.

I then realized that very many people are interested in tattooing, but had difficulties meeting others of the same interest. Therefore, in 1963 some friends and I in New York decided to do something about it. We found it the “Tattoo Club of America “, probably the first American Tattoo club. I collected news items related tattooing and in January 1964 published the first periodical dedicated tattoos, the “Tattoo News”. As a supplement the “History of Tattooing” was added from time to time. Tattoo tidbits and instructive news items, very much in the vein of the column now written by Lal Hardy for “Tattoo international”, where the main attraction of the publication.

On 5 October, 1964 I organized probably the first tattoo convention in the U.S.A. – and if you hadn’t already guessed it, Elizabeth Weinziril was, of course, there. That was the time when a few young artist such a sailor Jerry Collins of Honolulu started to change the style of American tattoos. The beginnings were small and the magazine only mimeographed, but it was a start. Unfortunately my job became more and more demanding so that the December 1966 issue of “Tattoo News” was the last to appear. I had nothing to do with the later magazine which took over my title.

In 1970 the cutback in the defense industry in the USA for which I worked as a physicist, forced me to look around and I went to Munich, Germany to work for a German firm. In 1973 this firm sent me to England, where George Bone and Alan Oversby in London have mainly worked on me since. I have not missed a single convention of the TCCB be since its beginning and felt very honored when I was asked on several occasions to be on the jury of the beauty contests.

It is good to see that the Tattoo tradition continues, many more people get tattooed with better designs, more clubs are founded , more publications printed and more conventions held. It shall continue.

Occult Vibrations Book Shelf: LOST LOVE

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Bob Collins

Things go in cycles.
Back in they glory days of the 1990s, before large publishing houses realized that there was money to be made by mass producing generic tattoo books, we had it good. The books that were available pretty much fell into three basic categories:

Independent Press.
Scholastic./Medical.
Art Books.

1579927_10203135474375783_1196755382_nWhile clearly for profit, these books were niche sellers, made for a specific demographic (though in the case of Scholastic or Medical texts, often a shared one) who generally had to seek them out. I spent almost every Saturday during those years driving to Ybor City to check out the new pickups at Cindy Wheeler’s Three Bird’s bookstore; a one-stop-shop for zines, cult authors and tattoo books. The majority of my Hardy Marks collection came from those visits; Rocks of Ages, Forever Yes, Pierced Hearts and True Love… the best of the tattoos books were put out by and for tattooed people.

Things changed. Things always change. Someone realized that books on tattoos- culled from stock photos with a hack-for-hire to churn out ‘expert’ text illustrating biomechanical, tribal or newschool tattoos for casual readers in middle America- were a guaranteed seller. You went from Permanent Curios to The TOTAL Tattoo Book! overnight.

For a while it was absolutely possible, with due diligence, to track down and purchase almost every commercially released tattoo book available, and what’s more,  most were good. Better than good really. Some transcended and became iconic. Then things went a little crazy, with books by authors or photographers you never heard of flooding retailer shelves, each more bland then the one before it. The soul was gone.

After the mass production/consumption phase, we were in a black hole. Hardy wasn’t releasing books with any regularity. The internet became a depository for a quick fix (after all- photos could be uploaded real time from conventions and shops the world over; no more waiting for the latest issue of Tattoo Revue or Hardy compilation to be released) and things got stale.

Lost Love preview.

Lost Love preview.

The cycle thankfully started to shift back in our favor a few years ago when tattooers began investigating the self publishing world, and thanks to online retail, were able to skip the middleman and find a global audience hungry for content. Dave Fox’s HAUNTED, Grime’s TWO YEAR AUTOPSY and a handful of others became instant classics and started a wave that we’re now fully enjoying.

For my money, the best and brightest in this new generation of tattoo publishing has to be Yellow Beak Press. Started by tattoo collectors Scott Boyer and Kayla Grosneth, YBP burst onto the scene with 2012’s mammoth undertaking ‘Tattooing as you like it: The Legacy of Milton Zeis.” The book was an instant success; Boyer and Grosneth not only researching the life and times of Milt but also gathering 95 of the world’s top tattooers to reinterpret classic Zeis designs.

They followed it up with my personal favorite Yellow Beak offering, 2013’s ‘Born Weird’, a companion book to the art show of the same name with 29 amazing tattooers contributing disturbing, vile, prurient tattoo flash for a no holes barred adult audience. It remains my most recommended tattoo book that was released in 2013 though I admit given it’s lower than lowbrow designs it has a hard time ingratiating itself to casual readers.

1477700_10202668090211471_567420024_nFor 2014 they’ve taken another look into the past with ‘Lost Love’,  collecting (some for the first time) classic tattoo flash by  icons like Cap Coleman, Sailor Jerry Collins, Stoney St. Clair, Percy Water,Owen Jensen, Bob Shaw,  Zeis Studios and more. The pages lovingly highlight the roots of European/American tattoo designs that we all but take for granted today; dice, cards, snakes, panthers, Girl heads, Skunks and Ducks, Hotstuffs and Horses… 260 pages packed with designs that are as “ancient as time, as modern as tomorrow.” Scott and Kayla present the flash sheets along with archival photos, newspaper clippings and ephemera that influenced what went on to be classic designs and very little in the way of text. These images speak for themselves and will undoubtable influence a whole new generation of artists.

With more and more publishing being done digitally and Kindle and iBook editions starting to take market share, it’s nice to see a small publishing house stick to tradition and release honest to goodness print books, particularly when it comes to tattoo culture. With their third book they’ve proven themselves to be committed to properly documenting the best of tattooing’s past, as well as the brightest of it’s future. 

You can purchase Lost Love directly from Yellow Beak Press.

LOST LOVE: Coming 2014

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Do you folks remember that time that Yellow Beak Press put out two of the best tattoo books in recent memory?
2012 saw the release of the mammoth tome chronicling the life and times of Milton Zeis; tracing his roots, reprinting classic supply ads and featuring Zeis supply original flash sheets side by side with repaints by 95 of the world’s best tattooers while 2013 gave us Born Weird- a collection of truly trashy, offensive, subversive and downright hilarious 11×14 sheets supplied by a host of demented souls who should be sorry for what they unleashed onto the world.

Scott of Yellow Beak has announced 2014’s project: LOST LOVE, a 9×12 book featuring classic flash, stencils, sketches and photos from Cap Coleman, Paul Rogers, Sailor Jerry, Stoney St Clair, Duke Kaufman and many more.  Folow the book’s progress instagram @lostlovebook

Yellow Beak has set a high standard for tattoo publications, and I’m very excited to see what comes next!

The late, great Mike Brown

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November 2011 saw the passing of tattooer Mike Brown.
I remember seeing Signatures of the Soul for the first time (where this clip originated) and being blown away by that big ol’ frog on his back (which I think Rollo did) but I never really saw much of his tattooing until the mid 2000s.

The clip also features a young Jack Rudy.

Mike lived a hard life, but also lived tattooing. Bob Baxter interviewed him in 2005- what follows is a short excerpt; click the link at the end to read the full interview.

(about Mike Malone)
MB: I met him in Honolulu. I moved there in ’73 and just started hanging out in tattoo shops. Back then, white people were definitely in the minority, so we hit it off pretty good. You know, one white guy to another. This was Sailor Jerry’s shop. Yeah, we became good friends and then I started from the ground up. My first job was doing the floors. I used to mop and wax and get the floors real clean. Then I became the shop gofer. That was my whole life. I worked during the days in a cardboard box factory. That was my profession, during the day, and I hung out at the shop at night. It was the old-style apprenticeship, the way it should be done today, which nobody seems to even do. The fucking kids are just spoiled today―I can’t believe it―thanks to Huck Spaulding selling everything to everybody in the damn world. Anyway, Malone just started showing me things. I don’t think he had any idea that I was going to become a tattoo artist. I helped him; I made shaders for him. We’d make 20 set-ups every two weeks. He’d make 20 shaders and 20 liners, because military paydays were every two weeks. And we’d use the needles over again. Back then, you used them again. We’d clean ’em. We sterilized everything.

The full interview is worth reading, and can be found So Long and Fare Thee Well.

Update:
Mr. Grosso from Vice (responsible for the outstanding TATTOO AGE series) got in touch to share with us the interview he and the Vice team did with Mike in Hawaii in January of 2011. I never had the pleasure of meeting Mike, but he reminds me of the old guys I met when I was coming into tattoo culture; guys who packed more living into the years they had been given than most people twice their age.

Folk Art from the 50th State.
Rest in Peace, Mike.

101

Norman Keith Collins, better known as ‘Sailor Jerry’, was born on January 14th 1911.
Today would have been his 101st birthday. His legacy to the tattoo community is as big as his personality was said to have been.

The following video, shot for the Hori Smoku video, features Zeke Owen talking about Jerry’s reaction to fancy clothing.