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A SERIES OF MUSINGS, aka #FUNFRIDAYFACTS
Bartender appreciation day
04 december 2020
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In an ironic turn of events, it’s today. Of all days. December 4 is International Bartender Appreciation Day.
Bartender Appreciation Day originated in America and is linked to the Sailor Jerry brand and company. The aim of the day is to spread recognition of the work of barkeeps around the world. As part of the event’s history, a petition was sent to the British government asking for Bartender Appreciation Day to be a recognised holiday in the UK and to be a day off for all bartenders.
It may have been withdrawn since, as heaven knows they’ve had enough days off in 2020 to last many careers.
I thought I’d look at the fascinating person whose name (or brand – the importance of their separation will become evident) has inspired the day.
The original Sailor Jerry was born Norman Keith Collins in 1911. His nickname was given to him, as many are, by his father. When aged around 10 years of age, a similarity was noticed between Norman and a particularly cantankerous mule, Jerry, that was owned by the family. His Dad took to calling his boy “Jerry” and the name stuck. He was plain old “Jerry” for the remainder of his childhood.
As many young men did in early 20th Century America, he left home young and struck out to make his way in the world. He lived a nomadic life up to his early twenties, moving across the States, before settling (briefly) in Illinois.
Upon his arrival in Chicago, he met with his muse, tattooist Gib Thomas, who taught him how to operate early, rudimentary “ink” machines.
He joined the US Navy in the late 1920s and saw plenty of service, particularly in the Orient. He gained his moniker, “Sailor”, during this time. In the early 1930s when he’d completed his stint, he settled in Hawaii. He became a renowned tattoo artist and 1942 saw him open his own parlour in the then notorious Hotel Street district of Honolulu.
After WW2, despite his compatriots’, perhaps natural, collective mistrust of all things Japanese, Collins corresponded and collaborated with and learned from Japanese tattoo artists to perfect his art.
In the 1950s, Collins closed his shop in protest due to his belief that he was under “watch” by the US Government.
Some years later, he re-established his business in Smith Street, Honolulu, where, for the next dozen years or so, tattooists from around the world came to learn from an acknowledged master. He is still widely recognised as a pioneer in modern tattoo and body art.
Many parts of his life remain clouded. It’s known that he was married more than once. That’s it. He was married more than once. One of his (we don’t know how many) wives still lives in Hawaii, as do his children and grandchildren. He’s buried in a military cemetery, “The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific”, in Honolulu.
As with many pioneers, his legacy seems to be a litany of commercial and personal arguments over image and brand rights. There is a company that promotes his art and images, producing “no sweat shop” items of clothing and other memorabilia. There is a festival held annually in his honour, with concerts and other events celebrating his art and his contribution to popular culture.
William Grant and Sons now produces and markets a “Sailor Jerry” rum, which is the subject of a long running row between one of his (we don’t know how many) wives, Louise, and the drinks giant.
She maintains that Collins did not drink and would not have approved of his name being attached to an alcoholic beverage brand.
It appears, though, that the rum was first produced by the company formed to celebrate Collins’ life and art. Grant’s purchased the brand in the late 2000s.
Sadly, none of his family members profit from his art or any products that have been created subsequently.
Anyhow, I’m off to appreciate the hell out of my local barstaff. If I must partake in a substantial meal to do so, so be it.
It is International Bartender Appreciation day, after all.
Have a great weekend, everyone.