is the name of the little terrier
dog immortalised in the trade mark of HMV
– His Master’s Voice
; also known as the RCA dog
Nipper was born in Bristol, England, in 1884 and went to live with Mark Barraud, a scenery painter at the Princes Theatre. Nipper went everywhere with his master and would even go on stage with him at the end of a successful performance to revel in the applause.
Mark died at the age of 39, when Nipper was 3, and Nipper went to live with Mark’s brother Francis. It just so happened that Francis had a cylinder phonograph, and Nipper used to amuse everyone by putting his ear to the horn, listening with intent at the voice emerging from it, looking for all the world as if he was wondering where the voice was coming from.
Nipper lived with Francis for 4 years, then went back to live with Mark’s family, then residing in Kingston-on-Thames, until his death in 1895.
Meanwhile Francis had become a fairly successful artist and in 1898 he decided to paint the scene of Nipper listening to the phonograph, although this had to be done by memory because Nipper was long dead. He called the painting Dog Looking and Listening to a Phonograph and offered to sell it to The Edison Bell Company. He was turned down because, “Dogs don’t listen to phonographs”!
Francis then offered it to the newly formed English Gramophone Company Ltd., who agreed to purchase it if Francis altered the actual phonograph to look like one of theirs. Francis agreed, the company bought the painting and the copyright for £100. In July 1900 the Nipper painting was launched as part of the advertising campaign and was subsequently adopted as the company’s trademark. Francis was commissioned to paint another 24 replicas of the painting and spent the rest of his life doing so.
By 1907 the Gramophone Company was becoming hugely successful and it was decided to change the company name to His Master’s Voice. Copyrights to the name and label were sold in America and Japan.
The Nipper logo made its way onto record labels, needle tins, pins, mugs and other novelties, and are now highly sought after collectibles. In America there has been a succession of real Nipper dogs acting as the RCA mascot, the current one having been saved from death row, and earning a salary which is donated to an animal charity. The original Nipper lies buried under what is now a car park in Kingston-on-Thames and is commemorated by a plaque.