Saturday, February 20, 2010

Nipper the RCA Dog

Nipper the Dog was the fox terrier mascot of the RCA Victor company seen in numerous commercials and print ads. Nipper was previously the symbol of the Gramophone Company, and later the Victor Talking Machine Company which became RCA Victor in 1929.

What many people don't know is Nipper was actually a real dog.

Nipper was born in 1884 in Bristol, England. He was found as a stray puppy. Nipper was a mutt, part bull terrier and a trace of fox terrier. He got the name because he like to nip the back of peoples legs, like puppies do.

His first owner, Mark Barraud, died in 1887, Nipper was taken to Liverpool by Mark's younger brother, Francis, who was a struggling painter.

Francis noticed one day that the fox terrier was listening intently, head cocked, to a cylinder phonograph he had playing in his studio, and Francis Barraud "often noticed how puzzled he was to make out where the voice came from."

Barraud commited this scene to memory, because it wasn't until three years after Nipper died, September of 1895, that he painted the scene of Nipper trying to make out where the sounds were originating from.

In 1898 Barraud completed the painting and registered it on 11 February 1899 as 'Dog looking at and listening to a Phonograph.'

Francis Barraud then decided to rename the painting 'His Master's Voice' and tried to exhibit it at the Royal Academy, but was turned down. He renamed the painting because "no one would know what the dog was doing" was given as the reason!"

Next on Francis Barraud's list was The Edison Bell Company, leading manufacturer of the cylinder phonograph, ((after did have their phonograph pictured) but again without success. "Dogs don't listen to phonographs," the company said.

Francis Barraud was given the advise to repaint the horn from black to gold, as this might better his opportunity for a sale. With this in mind, in the summer of 1899 he visited the newly formed Gramophone Company, with a photograph of his painting and a request to borrow a brass horn.

As Francis Barraud later wrote in an article for The Strand magazine: "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 in the picture. I replied that the picture was for sale and that I could make the alteration if they would let me have an instrument to paint from."

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

The painting made its first public appearance on The Gramophone Company's advertising literature in January 1900, and later on some novelty promotional items. However, 'His Master's Voice' did not feature on the Company's British letter headings until 1907. The painting and title were finally registered as a trademark in 1910.

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.

In 1929, Radio Corporation of America (RCA) purchased the Victor Talking Machine Company. The company then became RCA-Victor. With Victor, RCA acquired New World rights to the famous Nipper trademark.

In 1991, Chipper who was added to the RCA family to be Nipper. Real dogs continue to play the roles of Nipper but have to be replaced frequently, since his character is a puppy.

Currently, the RCA trademark Nipper is owned by the French conglomerate Thomson SA through RCA Trademark Management S.A., a company owned by Thomson. The trademark is used by Sony Music Entertainment and Thomson SA, which licenses the name to other companies like Audiovox and TCL Corporation for products descended from that common ancestor.

Nipper passed away in September of 1895. His burial site, in a garden at Kingston-upon-Thames, in England, is marked with a plaque.

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