Alive in our Hearts and Very Collectible

By Neil Maken


Nipper, His Master's voice. The original painting of Nipper and the Gramophone hangs In the EMI Music offices in London.

HE WOULD BE 110 years old if he were still alive. But he is alive in the minds and hearts of thousands of people worldwide. He is probably one of the most popular animals, and certainly one of the most recognizable in the world. One of the world's best-known trademarks, he has helped his companies sell millions of units of their products.

His name is Nipper, and he was a terrier who lived in London. He had the further good fortune of being owned by the Barrauds -first by Mark, and then by his brother Francis. Francis was an artist, and in the 1890s he painted a picture that brought fame, if not necessarily fortune, to him and to the dog that was his subject.

The use of Nipper as a trademark first occurred in the early 1900s. So popular was the dog that the phonograph company chose to retain the trademark and eventually used his likeness on all of their records, phonographs, books, literature, letterhead and correspondence.


The original design of His Master's voice.

In approximately 1895, Francis Barraud painted an oil of an Edison-Bell cylinder phonograph, and sitting next to the phonograph, with his head tilted to best hear the sounds emanating from the horn, was Nipper. Barraud aptly named the painting His Master's Voice. The artist was unhappy with the painting; he felt that it was too dark and depressing. The artist attempted to sell the painting but without success. He felt that the painting would be brighter with a brass horn rather than the dark horn. He went to the offices of the Gramophone Company, Ltd. (London) and asked to borrow a brass horn to use in his painting. He also asked whether they might be interested in purchasing his painting.

The Gramophone Company, acting only on a photograph of the original painting, made a rather fast decision and said yes, they would buy the painting if Barraud would paint out the cylinder phonograph and in its place paint in one of the Gramophone Company's new Disc Gramophones. Barraud agreed, and the die was cast. Although it is speculation, it is assumed but not known for certain that Barraud had attempted unsuccessfully to sell the original painting to Edison-Bell or another phonograph company in Great Britain.


Double sided, enameled shop signs such as this hung over music stores. This one is Of British origin ("His Master's Voice" versus the American "Victor").

The first use of the "Dog and Trumpet" trademark was made in Great Britain on company advertising (British Record Supplement) in January 1900. Nipper's image was used sporadically for several years in the United Kingdom, and was not regularly used on letterhead until 1907.

But in May 1900, Emile Berliner visited the company's offices in England. Berliner, the inventor of the Disc Gramophone and the founder of the company which eventually became the Victor Talking Machine Company, was so taken with the painting that he returned to America and began to use the trademark even before he applied for registration of the "Nipper and the Gramophone" logo on May 26, 1900. The next month Berliner applied for, and received, registration of the trademark in Canada. It has been in virtually continuous use in North America since.

A papier-mache Nipper. These stood anywhere from 10 Inches to 42 Inches high.

The artist, Francis Barraud, sold the painting to the Gramophone Company Ltd. for the sum of 100 British pounds: 50 pounds for the painting and 50 pounds for transfer of registration from the artist to the company. Subsequently, Barraud painted a number of replicas of the original painting, several to exact size, some slightly smaller. One of the replicas was done exactly as the original had been painted - the cylinder phonograph painted first and then painted out and the disc Gramophone painted in. This exact copy became known as the Chinese Copy, and it was the Chinese Copy which hung in the board room of the British Company during the Second World War. The original was packed and sent away for its safety during the bombing of London. Today the Chinese Copy hangs on the wall in the Capitol Records building in Hollywood, Calif., on the executive (13th) floor. (Over the years a great deal of corporate reorganization and reshuffling has taken place, and today in Europe, EMI stands in place of the old Gramophone Company, and Capitol Records is part of the worldwide EMI music family.)

Nipper had been used by both the British company on their products throughout Europe and by the American/Canadian companies on their products. Besides the painting on record labels, literature and corporate documents, Nipper has been used as a more tangible form of sales promotion. Throughout the decades, when a customer walked into a Victor (HMV in Europe) dealer, he was greeted with replicas of the dog in papier mache, hard rubber and a variety of other materials. A large (36-inch) Nipper was often in the front window, and smaller dogs, 10 inches, 12 inches and 18 inches, might be perched on phonographs and other company products in the store.

A modern-day Nipper and his sidekick, Chipper.

A very popular premium item during the '20s and '30s was a chalk miniature Nipper, generally imprinted with the dealer's name and address. Listen to a Victrola, and you could take home your own promotional Nipper. Salt and pepper sets of the dog and Gramophone (often made by Lenox China and so marked on the bottom) were very popular. Today almost any item of "Nipperie" is extremely desirable and collectible.

The companies had made items such as neckties for their employees, with a tiny dog-and-Gramophone logo as the design, desk sets, floor mate, cigarette lighters, glasses, cups and so much more which all carried the famous image. Several of these items found their way out of the company and into the hands of private collectors. Several were advertising pieces designed to be given to or purchased by the public to enhance the company's logo. And in store advertising items are especially sought after. Paper and cardboard signs and cut-outs, advertising banners, monthly record supplements and merchandise catalogs have all become extremely sought after, collectible items.

Even contemporary items, either used by the company as an advertising promotion, or those made to satisfy the collecting public, are still quite collectible. Whether it is a ceramic Nipper dog, or a sweatshirt embroidered with the dog-and-Gramophone logo, or a key chain, money clip or coffee mug, the image of Nipper lives on. Today the 36-inch papier mache Nippers have been replaced with polyethylene plastic Nippers, and these grace dealers' front windows. Papier mache Nippers are again being made today, but the quality and value is far below that of the originals. Be sure when purchasing a papier-mâché Nipper that you are certain it is original. The detailing is finer on the original; check the snout, the detailing on the back and the dog's feet. The original dogs often have a remnant of the original label from the Old King Cole company affixed somewhere on the bottom of the dog. Merely "looking old" is not enough; orange shellac will make the bright, white papier-mâché look old, but it is still new. Buyer beware! Original 36inch Nippers will often show cracks at the ears and top of the front legs. During the 1950s'60s, several variations of plush Nippers appeared in the marketplace. Later, in the late 1980s-'90s plush Nippers were again introduced by the Dakin Company. These dogs, although collectible, are less valuable than the earlier Nippers.

Chalkplaster souvenirs, given to potential customers by Victor dealers, whose names were often imprinted on the sides. Fit.: 3'/a to 4 inches.

The fact that a Nipper collectible is made in Japan is not necessarily a sign of a reproduction. The Japan Victor Company (JVC) has been marketing Nipper items for decades. One of the marketing divisions of the original companies was in Japan, and today they still continue to market Nipper as sales promotional items for their own product.

In the 1980s General Electric purchased the RCA-Victor Company in the United States. The home entertainment products division was sold to a bench company, Thomson Consumer Electronics, and they chose to update the traditional trademark. Today, instead of the Nipper listening to the Gramophone, they have him with a young pup named Chipper.

Nipper and Chipper have become one of the most popular pairs in advertising today. The real dogs (puppies have to be replaced frequently as they outgrow the cute puppy size are much sought after at store openings, trade shows and other special events. They are the basis of an entire series of magazine, news-paper ads and television commercials. (The record, tape and Compact Disc division of RCA Victor went to a German company, B.M.G. who have marketing rights to Nipper and the Gramophone in North America, but not in Europe. B.M.G. cannot use the Nipper/Chippe logo, though.)

Chipper now is becoming a very collectible item. He is new to the world of collecting and has only been around for a very few years. This is the time to start collecting. To wait until hl has proven his worth would be a mistake. As years go by, supply dwindles and prices will skyrocket. Just as original 1920s Nipperie is very collectible and often quite expensive Chipper will probably be just as desirable and collectible.

Souvenir lighter, often given to RCA salesmen to pass out to customers.

Like any other collectible, rarity and condition go a long way in determining value it Nipperie. A broken piece is never worth a: much as the same piece in good condition, but rarity might make a broken piece a nice addition to a collection. Broken papier niche car be repaired, and it will often look as good as when new. Nipper will frequently show up a1 flea markets, swap meets and antique shops Be sure to check showcases carefully. Many Nippers were small and tend to get buried behind other "junk" in a dealer's showcase.


ALMOST A CENTURY of rumors have grown up around Nipper. A few of the most popular, and completely erroneous, follow:

o Nipper was a pit bull. FALSE; Nipper was a mixed breed and probably had a good percentage of bull terrier and some fox terrier.
o Nipper was painted sitting on his master's coffin. FALSE; the painting His Master's Voice was painted in approximately 1895. Nipper's first master, the artist's brother Mark, died and was buried in 1887.
o Nipper was Enrico Caruso's dog. FALSE; Caruso didn't reach recording popularity until well after the painting was completed and the dog was deceased.
o Nipper was Thomas Edison's dog. FALSE; Edison was an' American living in the United States, and Nipper was born, lived and died in London. Edison had nothing to do with the British Gramophone Company.
o Nipper was stuffed and is in a house in Pasadena, Calif. FALSE; Mark Henry Barraud's son, Mark, buried Nipper in England in 1895.