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The Story of Nipper the RCA/HMV Dog

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  • The Story of Nipper the RCA/HMV Dog

    Hi all

    David A. Owens on the My Liverpool site posted the following wonderful narrative and illustrations about Nipper the Dog and has given me permission to post it here. Many thanks, Dave. Enjoy.

    Francis James Barraud (Born June 16, 1856 in Liverpool, England) was an English painter and photographer. His most famous painting, "His Master's Voice," is one of the most well-known commercial logos in the world, having inspired the music industry trademark depicting a dog (Nipper) and phonograph, which is used by several corporations, including HMV, RCA, and JVC.

    The painting His Master's Voice originally showed the dog (who had in fact died some years previously) listening to a cylinder phonograph. This was a rare model, electrically driven and housed in a distinctive round-cornered case, known as the Edison Commercial Phonograph and produced by Edison's factory exclusively for the British market; Barraud probably derived the idea of purchasing this model from Hubert von Herkomer who kept a similar machine in his studio. Barraud afterwards replaced the phonograph with a disc machine on the suggestion of William Barry Owen of The Gramophone Company, who then bought the picture. It was used in advertising by the Gramophone Company and by its U.S. equivalent Victor and became one of the world's best known trade marks, although it did not appear on British record labels until 1909.

    Nipper was born in 1884 in Bristol, England, and died in September 1895. It has been claimed in various sources that he was a Jack Russell Terrier, a Fox Terrier or "part Bull Terrier". He was named Nipper because he would bite the backs of visitors' legs. Nipper originally lived with his owner, Mark Henry Barraud, in the Prince's Theatre where Barraud was a scenery designer. When Barraud died in 1887, his brothers Philip and Francis took care of the dog. Nipper himself died in 1895 and was buried in Kingston upon Thames in Clarence Street, in a small park surrounded by magnolia trees. As time progressed, the area was built upon, and a branch of Lloyds TSB now occupies the site. On the wall of the bank, just inside the entrance, a brass plaque commemorates the terrier that lies beneath the building.

    On 10 March 2010, a small road near to the dog's resting place in Kingston-upon-Thames was named Nipper Alley in commemoration of this resident.

    In 1898, three years after Nipper's death, Francis Barraud, his last owner and brother of his first owner, painted a picture of Nipper listening intently to a wind-up Edison-Bell cylinder phonograph. On February 11, 1899, Francis filed an application for copyright of his painting "Dog Looking At and Listening to a Phonograph". Thinking the Edison-Bell Company located in New Jersey, USA, might find it useful, he presented it to James E. Hough, who promptly said, "Dogs don't listen to phonographs". On May 31, 1899, Barraud went to the Maiden Lane offices of The Gramophone Company with the intention of borrowing a brass horn to replace the original black horn on the painting. Manager William Barry Owen suggested that if the artist replaced the machine with a Berliner disc gramophone, the Company would buy the painting. A modified form of the painting became the successful trademark of Victor and HMV records, HMV music stores, and RCA. The trademark itself was registered by Berliner on July 10, 1900.

    The slogan "His Master's Voice", along with the painting, was sold to The Gramophone Company for 100 pounds sterling - 50 pounds for the copyright and 50 pounds for the painting itself. Francis Barraud said : "It is difficult to say how the idea came to me beyond that fact that it suddenly occurred to me 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 was the happiest thought I ever had."

    In the oil painting once kept in the EMI board room in Hayes, Middlesex, Nipper and the gramophone were depicted on a polished surface with a curved front - supposedly it was his master's coffin with the dog listening to the recorded voice of his dead master at today's valuations the painting is worth in excess of £500,000

    The iconic image of a mixed fox/bull terrier, Nipper, looking into a phonograph became an international symbol of quality and excellence for the Victor Talking Machine Company. Nipper lives on through the brand names; he even appeared in ads on television with his "son", a puppy named Chipper who was added to the RCA family in 1991.

    Nipper continues to be the mascot of HMV stores in countries where the entertainment retailer has the rights to him. Both RCA Records and EMI have deemphasized Nipper in the global music market due to the fragmented ownership of the trademark.

    Victor Company of Japan (JVC) also uses a version of the dog and trumpet logo within Japan, which includes the "His Master's Voice" slogan. HMV is not allowed to use Nipper in Canada and Japan

    A small statue of Nipper can be seen perched above a doorway in the Merchant Venturers Building on the corner of Park Row and Woodland Road in Bristol; this building, part of the University of Bristol, stands near the site of the old Prince's Theatre.

    A life-size ornament of Nipper appears in the music video to Cyndi Lauper's song "Time After Time."

    Francis Barraud business card.

    At work in his studio.

    "His Master's Voice" (Nipper).

    Today the shop at 92 Bold Street looks as follows.

    One of Barraud's paintings "The Strolling Players" currently in the Walker Art Gallery collection in Liverpool.

    Of related interest, see "Flowers laid at statue of HMV mascot Nipper the dog after store’s collapse," by Ben Cusack at, January 16, 2013:

    "A solitary bouquet of flowers was laid at a statue of the iconic HMV dog Nipper.

    "The stone carving sits on the side of a commercial building in central Bristol which was once home to the terrier in the late 19th Century.

    "An anonymous card placed alongside the flowers contained a heartfelt message following the demise of the High Street music chain. . . ."
    Christopher T. George, Lyricist & Co-Author, "Jack the Musical" Hear sample song at

    Organizer, RipperCon #JacktheRipper-#True Crime Conferences, April 2016 and 2018.
    Hear RipperCon 2016 & 2018 talks at

  • #2
    Thanks for that, Chris. A very memorable label.


    • #3
      As a collector, seller and DJ of 78s who sees more Nippers in a day than most people see in a year, I congratulate you on this great post, Chris!

      Tour guides do it loudly in front of a crowd


      • #4
        Thank you, Robert and Philip. I have posted about Nipper before elsewhere but not with this depth of information and imagery, all courtesy of David A. Owens as stated. I thought this info would strike a chord here.

        Liverpool's Bold Street appears to have been a street of fashionable photographers in this era. As Debra Arif posted in two recent threads, both Mrs. Maybrick and Frederick Bailey Deeming were photographed by photographic studios further along the street: Medrington's Grand Studios and an adjacent studio owned by Joseph Bell, respectively.

        Best regards

        Christopher T. George, Lyricist & Co-Author, "Jack the Musical" Hear sample song at

        Organizer, RipperCon #JacktheRipper-#True Crime Conferences, April 2016 and 2018.
        Hear RipperCon 2016 & 2018 talks at


        • #5
          As you rightly say, he was born here in Bristol, and we are VERY proud of him! He has his own Blue Plaque on the site of the old Princes Theatre, his own statue and when it looked like HMV was going to the wall a few years ago flowers were laid! See