The Legend of Nipper, the RCA Dog
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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