Nipper, The ‘Listening’ Dog

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We’re all familiar with “His Master’s Voice,” the iconic image of a dog listening to a recording of his human speaking on a variety of different playback devices.

But that dog has a story, and it’s an interesting one. Have you ever wondered what the story was?

Nipper Barraud

“His Master’s Voice” by Francis Barraud, featuring Nipper. Image in the Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Nipper (1884-1895) was a Jack Russell Terrier mix that belonged to painter Francis Barraud. His name came from his habit of “nipping” people on the backs of their legs. But Nipper wasn’t a bad dog. He just needed a job!

And he found one!

You might be familiar with the image used until very recently by the record and electronics company RCA. But a lot of companies used different versions of the image. It was the concept that Barraud sold to different companies — and it was brilliant.

Nipper as an Advertising Icon

The first company Barraud tried was Edison. Barraud had painted Nipper listening to an Edison-Bell cylinder phonograph. Edison’s representative passed, saying “Dogs don’t listen to phonographs.”

Nipper as the face of the British Gramophone Company (1910). Image: Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The next year, The Gramophone Company told Barraud that if he painted Nipper listening to a Berliner Disc Gramophone, that they would buy the painting. Barraud agreed, and Nipper became the face of the Victor and HMV record labels (which were later bought by RCA). Barraud received around $150 for the painting plus the licensing of the phrase “His Master’s Voice.”

In 1991 (nearly 100 years after the death of the original Nipper), RCA gave Nipper a “son,” Chipper, who also appeared in the ads.

Nipper’s Legacy

Statue of Nipper as the HMV trademarke. Image: CC SA 3.0 by Robert Powell, via Wikimedia Commons

Today, Nipper continues on as the mascot for HMV stores, RCA Records, EMI, and JVC (the Victor Company of Japan).

There is a statue of Nipper in Bristol. It’s above the doorway of the Mercant Venturer’s Building at the University of Bristol, near where the old Prince’s Theatre used to be.

A small road in Kingston Upon Thames was named Nipper Alley in 2010, in honor of Nipper, who was buried there.

And the city of Albany, New York recently held a “street exhibit” of colorful Nipper statues by various artists, placed all around the city.

Now that’s a lot of legacy for such a small dog!

Featured Image: Public Domain, by the Victor Talking Machine Company, via Wikimedia Commons

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