The Meaning of Old School Tattoos
Tattoos date back for thousands of years and were found on mummies and well preserved bodies from the stone age. Although the term “old school” does not refer to these ancient tattoos from thousands of years ago, “traditional” or “old school” tattoo designs became popular in the 1920's.
What Is Old School Tattoo Design?
Old school tattoos are usually big, bold designs with heavy blue/black outlines, filled with solid colors and either patriotic, military symbols, war designs, or designs of birds (swallows, sparrows, eagles), pinup girls, ships, snakes, anchors, hearts, daggers, guns, nautical stars, dice, roses, cherries, native American designs, mermaids, Harley Davidson or biker designs, and banners.
Back in the old days tattoo equipment was rather primitive and the ink used was not as advanced as the materials we have today. Instead of “tattoo artists” with an art school diploma there were drunk sailors and prisoners getting the job done, but don't get me wrong, some of these guys surely stood out with their talent for what we call traditional or old school tattoo design today.
Sailor Jerry – The Father of Old School Tattoo Design
One of these undoubtedly talented tattoo artists in those days was Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins, the father of old school or traditional tattoo design. Sailor Jerry joined the US Navy at an early age and picked up the art of tattooing during his journeys through the Polynesian islands, where tribal tattoos were very common among the people living on islands like Samoa, Tahiti, or Hawaii, where he later settled down to open a tattoo parlor, which was more of a party place for drunk sailors than anything else. This is from where Sailor Jerry's old school tattoo designs started their journey around the world.
Sailor Jerry's protégées Mike Malone (“Rollo Banks”) and Ed Hardy carried on with the tradition of old school tattoo designs and became prominent figures in the tattoo scene. “Ed Hardy” even became a fashion label printing old school tattoo designs on T-shirts, hats, and more, which helped the old school or traditional tattoo design become even more popular one more time in the new millennium, even among people who did not have tattoos and were not connected to the tattoo scene in any way.
Here are some of the most popular old school tattoo designs and their meanings:
The anchor tattoo and it's meaning are another icon of the old school “Sailor Jerry” tattoo hype and stand for stability, security, the sea, safety, and strong foundation. Of course the meaning of the old school anchor tattoo is also related to the Navy, sailors, or people who work on ships ... more
Cherries, or the cherry tattoo, are one of the most popular old school tattoo designs and have certainly re-surfaced in the past decades especially among people in the rockabilly scene ... more The meaning of the cherry tattoo is as obvious and clear as the cherries pure red lusty color.
A dagger tattoo symbolizes justice, war, death, or serious confrontation. The dagger or knife appears in many military tattoo designs, military seals or crests, and is full of meaning ... more
The meaning of the dice tattoo goes back thousands of years, where dice and dice games were very popular among Asian cultures as well as many cultures around the world. On western style dice the dots are positioned on the outside of each side, where on Asian dice the dots are positioned near the center of the side of the dice ... more
The eagle tattoo is one of the most popular old school tattoo designs and very potent in meaning. Since old school tattoo design was created for sailors in the Navy, most designs are patriotic in nature, just like the eagle tattoo ... more
One of the most popular old school, or traditional, tattoo designs is the heart with a banner reading the word “MOM”. The meaning of this tattoo design is pretty self-explanatory. Another very popular old school designs is the heart with a dagger through it, in some cases there is a banner with a name on it as well. This symbolizes a lost love ... more
Mermaids are fantasy creatures who are known to lure sailors into wrecking their ships on the rocks with their beauty. The meaning of a mermaid tattoo is potent female energy and the danger it sends out to lure men (sailors) into losing everything because of the beauty of the mermaid ... more
The nautical star is normally rendered as a five-point star with light and dark shading. The nautical star tattoo design represents the traditional old school sailor mentality, since the nautical star is found on a compass rose, map, or other nautical instruments ... more
Typical patriotic old school tattoo designs include the eagle, US flag, military crests, flag wrapped around a cross, and so on. Their specific meaning may vary, but in general all these tattoo designs represent patriotism and the believe in the United States and it’s constitution ... more
Patriotic tattoos are typical old school tattoos designs and their meaning usually relates to WWI and WWII, military symbols, US flag (or other flags), guns, eagles, ships, or other military seals from the navy or the army ... more
The rose tattoo is another old school, or traditional tattoo designs which has gained in popularity among the tattoo community over the decades, and just like the heart tattoo is often seen in combination with a dagger, skulls, swallow, or a banner that reads “MOM”, “MOTHER”, or any other name on it ... more
Ship tattoos were very common among American sailors in the early 20th century. Sailors would usually get a picture of the ship they called home during the stay in the Navy tattooed on their body ... more
The snake tattoo is a very popular tattoo design everywhere around the world and can be found in several ancient cultures as well. Old stories and legends around the world tell about snakes, even the bible has a snake playing a major role in it’s story about the creation of the world ... more
The sparrow is another typical old school tattoo design, but is not as common as the swallow tattoo. The sparrow is one of the few birds known to mate for life, therefore you may have noticed one sparrow tattoo rarely by itself ... more
Swallows, or birds in general, symbolize good luck to a sailor. When out in the open waters a bird is an indicator for nearby land, and the swallow is known to return home from any journey ... more This old school tattoo design was and still is worn by many sailors around the world.
Pin up girl tattoos are typical old school tattoo design, but do not have a specific meaning, unless you give it a specific meaning that is ... more
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