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The Legend of Nipper, the RCA Dog

Francis Bauraud at work on a "His Master's Voice painting". Another finished work at his feet.

THE IMAGE OF THE adorable little pup sitting next to a phonograph with his head cocked to the side is etched into all of our minds. Born in Bristol, England in 1884, the inquisitive little puppy named Nipper has become an icon for the music industry.

A mutt mix of Bull Terrier and Fox Terrier, Nipper was raised by Mark Barraud. Nipping on the backs of peoples’ legs, the way many puppies do, is how this dog earned his name. When Nipper’s owner died in 1887, the dog was taken to Liverpool, England to live with Mark’s younger brother, Francis, a struggling painter.

Original image of 'Dog looking at and listening to a phonograph'.

At his new home, Nipper discovered the cylinder phonograph with which Francis liked to record and play back speech. Francis noticed how Nipper would sit, head cocked, and appear quite puzzled wondering where the sounds were coming from.

This scene must have been committed to memory for it wasn’t until three years after Nipper’s death in September of 1895, that Francis Barraud decided to paint the classic image of Nipper next to the phonograph.

Early HMV record label showing Nipper.

Early HMV record label showing Nipper.

In 1898, Francis completed the painting and called it ‘Dog looking at and listening to a Phonograph.’ Later he renamed the piece ‘His Masters’ Voice.’

After several unsuccessful attempts to publish this painting at places such as the Royal Academy and printed magazines, he then went to the next place on his list, The Edison Bell Company. This was the largest manufacturer of the cylinder phonograph that Nipper loved to listen to.

Again, Francis Barraud was turned down with the recurring statement, “Dogs don’t listen to phonographs”. There were even false rumors that the original painting was Nipper sitting on the coffin of his dead master, listening to a recording of his voice.

Something for a Little Nipper? RCA Victor Club member badge.

Something for a Little Nipper? RCA Victor Club member badge.

Francis was determined not to give up. In 1889, with the advice to change the color of the horn from black to gold, Francis asked a newly-formed gramophone company to borrow a brass horn to use as his model.

Right after the painting was modified, the manager of The Strand Magazine, Barry Owen, asked Francis to consider re-painting the work for use by a new phonograph company, The Gramophone Company of London, in their sales campaign.

Francis Barraud agreed, sold the piece to Barry Owen and in January 1900, Nipper made his first public appearance on sales literature. Later that year he appeared on some promotional items.

Nipper is now selling gramophone needles with his image on the tin.

Nipper is now selling gramophone needles with his image on the tin.

Also that year Emile Berliner, inventor of the gramophone, bought the rights to have the copyright for his product in America. In 1910 the painting and title His Master’s Voice (HMV) was finally trademarked.

This image of Nipper and the gramophone eventually became the official trademark of RCA Records.

In 1916 Nipper became a part of American Architectural history when four 15-foot tall stained glass circular windows featuring a likeness of Nipper were installed into the RCA building in Camden, New Jersey.

For the rest of his life, Francis Barraud spent his time painting 24 replicas of his original as commissioned by The Gramophone Company. Barraud died in 1924, leaving other artists producing the replicated pieces until the end of the decade.

Pass the salt? RCA Victor 'His Master's Voice' salt and pepper shaker

Pass the salt? RCA Victor 'His Master's Voice' salt and pepper shaker.

Although both the dog and master were gone, Nipper and Francis’ work would live on forever.

‘His Master’s Voice’ trademark is still instantly recognized today and is in the top 10 of ‘Famous Brands of the 20th Century’. Nipper is a constant reminder of inquisitiveness and innocence.

Nowadays you can find all sorts of Nipper memorabilia such as ceramic statues of Nipper and his gramophone, cast iron banks and record player holders, salt and pepper shakers, mugs and postcards. There are even price guides for all of the Nipper and RCA memorabilia out there.

Without a doubt Nipper has not only become the famous symbol of RCA, but also an enduring symbol to the world, of the beginnings of sound recording and music.

Not bad work for a mutt!

There is loads of genuine Nipper memorabilia for fans and collectors here.

No related posts.

Posted by Edman on Sep 14 2010. Filed under Featured Dogs, Iconic Dogs. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

16 Comments for “The Legend of Nipper, the RCA Dog”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by dogcocom, dogcocom. dogcocom said: RT @DogCoCom The Legend of Nipper, the RCA Dog | dogco.com – Hero Brand! http://bit.ly/bSFMiB [...]

  2. looking for a nipper aprox 37″ , any where you can think of to buy one? let me know

    • I have an original 37 inch satue. Can get you picure if you lik

    • I happen to have an original 42″Nipped I would sell. He was given to me by my grandfather who had a furniture store in the early forties. My great grandfather was the original owner and Nipped Sat with the phonograph in the window. Let me know if you are still interested. Thank you.

  3. I have a paper mache 37″ Nipper that I’m interested in selling.

    Have you found one yet?

  4. Good morning
    First: Thanks for you strong work.
    Second: Congratulations for very oryginal issues especialy in the article http://dogco.com/the-legend-of-nipper-the-rca-dog/. Fantastic to see this text that gets the influential ideas.
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  5. connie and chuck

    we have a real live nipper……………. any dog photogragher interested … black ears and all…………. connie3101111@gmail.com

  6. [...] Nipper was a real dog born in 1884 in Bristol, England. He died in September 1895. [...]

  7. Anna Badalamenti

    Just the other day I found out about Nipper when my Skipper a jack russel terrier was sitting on the patio with his head cocked listening to all of us talking inside when I said he reminded me of the RCA dog. Decided to goggle for research on Nipper, was surprised to see that it was a jack russel terrier ( the biting on the back legs of guests was a dead give away)

  8. I have an original 37″ vintage paper mâché Nipper that I would like to sell. It is in great confition. It is of much higher quality than the cheap plastic ones that are much more common. The Nipper that I own was given to my grandfather by an employee of RCA because my grandfather was one of his best customers. I hat to sell this beautiful dog, but I need the money. I will be taking the highest offer I receive by May 1, 2014.

  9. [...] Voice”, the logo of the Victor Recording Company and later RCA Victor, which shows the dog “Nipper” looking into the horn of a grammophone. You’ll see it at the end of this 60-second TV [...]

  10. John Sciacchitano

    I have a plastic 36″ RCA Nipper dog. All the ones that I’ve seen on line have either black or brown ears and collars. Mine are green. Anyone know about this type and how much is it worth?

  11. Hi I have a nipper made from solid cast iron. its approximately 13 1/2 inch tall. and has been painted 2/3 times can see this as the paint has chipped away. Would like any info on age and price as I can’t find any on the Internet. Thankyou

Leave a Reply to marc donnenfeld

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  • Christopher Mollard: Hi, Are you interested in selling it? I’d love to see pictures if so! I’m a huge fan
  • Christopher Mollard: Hi do you still have them available? I have been looking everywhere for an original!
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  • Karen: I have a very old Lucy Dawson In a very old style frame I got it from my dads room when he passed away and I...
  • will: Hi I have a nipper made from solid cast iron. its approximately 13 1/2 inch tall. and has been painted 2/3...