Sailor Jerry spent most of his life at sea, tattooing Navy cadets with naval-themed tattoos, owning and operating three-masted schooner vessels and hosting his own radio program called Old Ironsides.
This collection comprises three brass tattoo machines from Chicago Tattoo Supply House’s pioneering inventory: TATTS-engraved machine and Jensen liner from pioneering tattoo supply house; modified Bill Moore machines.
Early Life and Education
Norman Collins (commonly known by his nickname “Sailor Jerry”) was born January 14, 1911 in Reno, Nevada. As a teenager he left his family home and traveled throughout North California on freight trains before meeting Big Mike from Alaska who taught him stick and poke tattooing techniques as well as later meeting Gib Thomas who showed him how to use an automatic tattoo machine.
Thomas and Collins would exchange letters over time. One item found in Great Lakes Tattoo’s collection is one of Thomas’ stamping machines from his Chicago shop on State Street; when Chicago changed the tattoo age limit from 21 to 20, most shops closed; Thomas was unaffected.
Tatts Thomas began his photography career by taking portraits of people that often made the news and magazine covers, often going viral online. Tatts thomas is an expert at capturing details in his images.
Norman Collins was born in Reno Nevada on January 14th 1911 and given the moniker of Jerry by his father. From the age of 14, he began travelling across America via hitchhiking and train hopping while also hand poking tattoos using whatever tools were at hand.
Gib “Tatts” Thomas provided his initial formal instruction in tattooing and practicing on corpses at the city morgue.
Thomas spends much of his free time spending time with his wife and two daughters, as well as exploring new ideas and techniques in tattoo work. His designs draw upon traditional folk art philosophies such as social function, utilitarianism and empowerment for inspiration.
In the 1920s, Collins met Gib “Tatts” Thomas, an experienced tattooist who taught him how to use a machine. Collins practiced his new trade on drunks and bums alike in exchange for cheap drinks or coins; even tattooing corpses in morgues!
Tatts used these machines in Chicago and Milwaukee. The nickel-plated machine is from Chicago Tattoo Supply House while both brass machines (one engraved with TATTS) had been modified Bill Moore tattoo machines modified further by Tatts themselves. Over time they eventually made their way to Great Lakes Tattoo.
Thomas has amassed an immense fan base thanks to his YouTube channel where he shares lifestyle videos. Additionally, Thomas can be found across popular social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok.
He acts for both taxpayers and the Commissioner in their tax matters, often appearing before the High Court to defend franking credits and charitable trusts, or representing high net-worth individuals with income tax and residency matters.
Gib ‘Tatts’ Thomas was born around 1900 in New Orleans and left home early to seek his own way in life. Eventually he found himself in Chicago where he trained under Ralph Johnstone, a tattooist/side show banner painter known as being tough as nails and highly respected among carnival employees.