Old school tattoo designs are commonly associated with Norman Keith Collins (1911-1973), known best as Sailor Jerry. He was fascinated by the art and images found at sea and within Southeast Asia.
Sailor Jerry opened his tattoo parlor in Chinatown, Honolulu, and soon after, the place became the first of its kind to allow sailors to get together, drink, and get tattoos.
However, traditional old-school tattoos date much earlier than Sailor Jerry. Originating around 1890, old-school tattoo designs gained popularity during the 1920s, when more and more sailors started equating these tattoos with bravery and strength. The tattoos also depicted the person’s personality, and a single picture could describe the sailors’ arduous journeys.
These old-school tattoos are still in demand due to their bold appearance and use of bright hues of reds, yellows, and greens outlined by heavy blacks. The designs are inspired mainly by nautical images, but they also include animals, birds, objects, and flags. The purpose behind permanently getting your skin inked ranges from playing an ode to a loved one to showing your strength at sea or displaying your religious preference or patriotism.
Continue reading to discover the different old-school tattoo designs and their meanings.
1. Anchor Tattoo
Synonymous with strength and resilience, an anchor represents the ability to brave various storms. A popular design, the anchor, has been favored by sailors for decades. They had this particular design inked after they returned from their travels or even before it to wish them good luck. A banner with a name drawn across the anchor reminds the sailor of their loved ones and brings them comfort throughout the journey.
2. Ship Tattoo
When the ship is your home for months and years, you can’t help but grow fond of the place that keeps you safe from the dangerous waters. Ships symbolized the journey and a way of living for sailors, which is why it was one of the most common old-school tattoo designs.
Ships are also tattoos used to honor one’s father or another close relative who used to be a sailor or passed away at sea. Symbolizing the navigation of troubled waters on life’s journey, ships can be paired with anchors, octopuses, hourglasses, and other designs.
3. Eagle Tattoo
Servicemen and women choose the eagle to proudly display their patriotism, honor the country, or pay tribute to other soldiers and their battles. A bird mainly associated with freedom and power, the eagle looks even more striking when drawn in front of the US flag.
4. Cat Tattoo
Even though a black cat is known to be a bringer of bad luck, an old-school tattoo of a black cat supposedly wards off evil spirits and protects the tattooed person. A cat can be a symbol of mystery, intelligence, luck, and grace as well. Tattooing the image of your pet cat on your body is a great way to ensure your beloved pet stays with you forever.
5. Hourglass Tattoo
Watching the sand run out of the bulb of an hourglass reminds one of the fleeting nature of life, the importance of time, and the fact that it stops for no one. An hourglass is an excellent tattoo that can also be used to honor a loved one. For some, it is a reminder to live their life to the fullest.
6. Butterfly Tattoo
Chosen by both men and women, an old-school butterfly tattoo represents freedom and the start of a new chapter in one’s life. The brightly colored butterfly with a black outline also represents beauty. You can have a tiny one tattooed on your wrist or opt for a large design that will cover a major portion of your skin. Small or large, this bright, beautiful butterfly will surely get noticed and appreciated by everyone.
7. Lettering Tattoo
How best to deliver a message if not via lettering tattoos? Warn people to leave you alone, claim your love for your significant other, encourage yourself to get better at something, or wish luck by inking your own name on your skin.
Lettering tattoos can include anything from names, words, or quotes with the old-school design using multiple fonts but vibrant coloring and lining patterns. Letters tattooed across a banner or an animal’s ferocious face can deliver distinct messages.
8. Religious Tattoo
A tattoo of Jesus Christ is the most popular choice among religious old-school tattoo designs. The primary symbol of Christianity, the image of Christ depicts love, patience, and sacrifice. The tattooed image of Christ shows him with a halo on his head.
A heart or a flower often accompanies the image of Christ. Each religion has its sacred images that can be tattooed by its followers. The art on your body can represent your love for God and remind you to choose right over wrong.
Every tattoo whether new school or old is a personal statement of one’s circumstances. Even though old-school tattoos are still common, the preference nowadays is to customize designs, pin up tattoos and personalizing them to have unique meanings.
More Tattoo Ideas You’ll Like
- What is Body Art – Body art is defined as “the physical presence of the artist as an integral part of the work.” Body art can be expressed through piercings, tattoos, branding, body paintings, implants and many other types of personal expressions. Interested in learning more about body? Read our article on What is Body Art.
- Daisy Tattoo Ideas – Honestly, daisies are one of my all-time favorite flowers, they are just so bright, fun, and full of life. Daisy is a form of flower purely for the female kind and is one of the most versatile tattoos you can wear on your body. The tattoo is highly decorative and comes in different colors and sizes. You can even add a custom design to the tattoos depending on your preferences. With soft petals and humble appearance, it is almost impossible to ignore its fascinating design.
- Flower Tattoo Ideas – It’s no surprise that flower tattoos can be insanely beautiful, unique, and meaningful. Depending on the size and shape of the tattoo design, they can pretty much go anywhere on your body and look fantastic. While many flower tattoos are elegant and feminine, there are some pretty popular ones that are more masculine. A large black rose tattoo is hard to beat because they look so cool. But big, brightly colored blossoms are also incredible too. No matter what your style is, I’m sure you’ll find a flower tattoo that is calling your name.