Nipper

And The Story Of "His Master's Voice"


The story of, and some of the paraphernalia related to, the most popular mascot and advertising logo of all time


Found as a stray in Bristol, England in 1884, and so named because of his love of peoples ankles, Nipper spent all of his life in relative obscurity. He was the pet of Mark Barraud, a Bristol theater stage set painter. Upon the painter's death in 1887, Nipper was adopted by Mark's brother, Francis Barraud.

Francis, also a struggling artistic painter, noticed one day that the fox terrier was listening intently, head cocked, to a cylinder phonograph he had playing in his studio, and Barraud "often noticed how puzzled he was to make out where the voice came from" (anyone who has ever owned a dog knows that they cock their head and listen intently to ANYTHING strange!).

After returning to live with his first owner's widow, Nipper passed away in September of 1895. His burial site, in a garden at Kingston-upon-Thames, in England, is marked with a plaque.

The image of his old companion with the phonograph never left him, and inspired by this sentiment, Barraud painted the image of Nipper, listening intently to an Edison-Bell cylinder machine. Completed on February 11,1899, Barraud originally called the painting "Dog looking at and listening to a Phonograph" and it wasn't until later that it was renamed "His Master's Voice".

Barraud would later say, "It is difficult to say how the idea came to me beyond the fact that it suddenly occurred to me that to have my dog listening to the phonograph with an intelligent and rather puzzled expression would make an excellent subject... it would certainly be he happiest thought I ever had."

Barraud took his painting to the folks at Edison-Bell and offered to sell it to them (after all...it DID have their phonograph pictured). An unfortunate character at Edison declined the purchase of the painting, stating that "Dogs don't listen to phonographs". A disappointed Barraud was advised to brighten the picture by repainting the black horn as a brass horn, and went to the newly formed Gramophone Company, Ltd., on Maiden Lane in London, to borrow one. He showed the folks there a photograph of his painting, and, as he would later recall: "The manager, Mr. Barry Owen asked me if the picture was for sale and if I could introduce a machine of their own make, a Gramophone, instead of the one pictured. I replied that the picture was for sale and that I could make the alteration of they would let me have an instrument to paint from".

Given a Gramophone to work from, Barraud painted out the cylinder machine, and then painted in a Berliner "Improved Gramophone" machine on top (it is rumored that if you look at the original, located at EMI in England, at just the right angle you can see traces of the cylinder machine beneath).

On September 15, 1899, the Gramophone Company offered Barraud £100: £50 for the painting, and an additional £50 for the copyright.

The painting was purchased, and by the time of his death on August 29, 1924, Barraud had been commissioned by the Gramophone and Victor companies to make 24 copies of his painting.

Emile Berliner brought the painting to the United States, where it was used as his logo, until it was acquired by his successor in America, Eldridge Johnson, who formed the Victor Talking Machine Company, and became the owner of what would become the most famous trademark in the world, and make Nipper the most famous dog in the world.


"His Master's Voice"

The United States trademark registration (No. 34,690) for The "His Master's Voice" trademark was granted to Emile Berliner on July 10, 1900.


The picture was often imitated, as seen here with Scott's Antarctic Expedition recreating the picture using a Gramophone they brought with them, and a sled dog standing in for Nipper.