September 11, 2015 | Posted in Discover These Doggies!!
In 1884, no one would have thought a little black and white terrier mix dog who was wandering the streets would become a cultural and advertising icon still remembered and appreciated today.
The dog – thought to be a mix of bull and fox terrier with perhaps a bit of Jack Russell, was rescued by a scenic designer named Mark Henry Barraud. The two lived at the Prince’s Theatre in Bristol, England, where Barraud worked, and the little pup earned his name Nipper because he had a habit of nipping at the heels of visitors as they were leaving.
They shared a deep bond but unfortunately, Mark Barraud passed away in 1887, and his brothers Philip and Francis were left to decide who would care for Nipper. Francis, a struggling artist who lived in Liverpool, decided to adopt Nipper and this one decision changed both their lives.
Francis Barraud had a wind-up Edison-Bell phonograph and often wound it up to listen to voice recordings. He was always amused when Nipper went over to the phonograph and sat listening with a quizzical look on his face. Rumor has it that among the recordings was one of Mark Barraud, Nipper’s original master.
Nipper lived a good life with the artist and passed away in 1895. He was buried back in Bristol, in a park near Kingston-upon-Thames under some magnolia trees, as Mark Barraud had requested. The image of the dog listening to the voice recordings stayed strong with Francis for years afterward. He decided to try to capture that fond image by painting Nipper sitting at the phonograph. When he finished in 1899, he titled it “Dog Looking at and Listening to a Phonograph” and filed a copyright, though he later decided the title should be “His Master’s Voice”. He wondered if an executive at Edison-Bell might be interested in seeing it. But that executive, James E. Hough, did not respond positively, saying “Dogs don’t listen to phonographs.”
This didn’t deter Francis, but he did think that maybe he could re-do the painting, replacing the black horn that was part of the listening device in the work he’d painted with a brass one. He wanted to borrow one for inspiration but rather than asking James Hough, Barraud took the painting with him and went to The Gramophone Company, a competitor. He spoke to manager William Barry Owen, who not only said he’d help loan the artist equipment to inspire another painting – he’d buy the next painting if Barraud would replace the entire recording device in the work with the Berliner disc gramophone that Owen’s company produced
When the work was completed, Barraud and Owen were both pleased. Barraud sold the work to The Gramophone Company for 100 pounds sterling. Barraud supposedly explained to Owen that he’d imagined Nipper sitting and listening to his former owner’s voice and the inspiration for a slogan was born. Barraud and Owen agreed that the new title for the painting would be “His Master’s Voice” and in 1900, The Gramophone Company jointly with Berliner took out a trademark on the saying.
Barraud would later say, “It is difficult to say how the idea came to me beyond the fact that to have my dog listening to the phonograph with an intelligent and rather puzzled expression and call it “His Master’s Voice” would make an excellent subject. We had a phonograph and I often noticed how puzzled he was to make out where the voice came from. It certainly as the happiest though I ever had!”
Over the years, Berliner merged with Victor and AMV records and then RCA. The slogan remained, a popular symbol of quality and excellence for what became the RCA Victor Talking Machine Company. Before his death in 1924, Francis Barraud had painted a total of 24 variations of the original painting for the gramophone/phonograph company, delighting each time in capturing Nipper on canvas.
Variations on Nipper were used in RCA advertising as recently as the 1990s, when a look-alike dog played the part of Nipper and a black-and-white puppy was labeled his puppy Chipper, when both did ads for the company.
Nipper’s legend lives on. Nipper items have sprouted up in all forms and are highly collectible. There are many tributes to the black-and-white dog all over the world. At his burial place, a Lloyd’s bank was built but a brass plaque proudly proclaims that the terrier mix lies beneath the building. A stained glass version of Nipper listening to the phonograph is on sparkling display in a window of the RCA building in New Jersey. A four-ton Nipper sits proudly atop an old RCA distribution building in Albany, New York. In Maryland, the Historical Society sports another Nipper above its building. Nipper was even featured in the Cyndi Lauper song “Time After Time”, in the form of a life-sized ornament.
And most touching of all, back in Bristol, England, near the old Prince’s Theatre (which is now part of the University of Bristol) a small statue of Nipper stands. In March, 2010, a small road nearby, which leads to his resting place, was re-named “Nipper Alley.”