Advertising History: The Origin of ‘Nipper,’ the RCA Victor Dog

Dog Looking at and Listening to a Phonograph,” painted by Francis Barraud, would become one of the best know advertising images in the world.

Dog Looking at and Listening to a Phonograph,” painted by Francis Barraud, would become one of the best know advertising images in the world.

“Nipper,” the RCA Victor advertising dog, was one of the most familiar advertising icons of the early 20th century. The image was used extensively on products by RCA, the figures used in stores and outlets that sold the RCA product line or serviced them.

But for the decision of one man more than 100 years ago, the image of Nipper would have belonged to another company altogether.

The only know photograph of the original Nipper, in that famous pose.

The only know photograph of the original Nipper, in that famous pose.

Of Nipper himself, history claims the dog was born in Bristol, England in 1884, gaining his name for his habit of nipping the backs of visitors’ legs. He became an orphan in 1887 when his first master, Mark Barraud, died destitute in Bristol in 1887. Nipper was taken in by Mark’s younger brother Francis, a painter.

Barraud noticed his new dog was perplexed by the sound of his phonograph, wondering where the sound was coming from, but it wasn’t until three years after Nipper’s own death in 1895 did Barraud produce this image he called “Dog Looking at and Listening to a Phonograph” on canvas in 1898.

Like many artists, Barraud needed to make a living and took his painting to Edison-Bell—as it was one of their machines shown in the painting—and offered to sell it to them, only to be told “Dogs don’t listen to phonographs.” Not put out by this rejection, Barraud went to the newly formed Berliner Gramophone Company Ltd. The manager, a Mr. Barry Owen, asked if the painting was for sale and could it be altered to show one of their machines? Barraud suggested it could, was given one of their machines, and simply painted over the Edison machine. For his labors he is reported to have received £100 (at the time about $485 US) for the painting, and an additional £50 ($240 US) for the copyright on September 15, 1899.

Nipper shows up on this needle tin from the Victor Talking Machine Company, 1904, for Victor Needles-Half Tone needles.

Nipper shows up on this needle tin from the Victor Talking Machine Company, 1904, for Victor Half Tone needles.

In a visit to the London office in 1900, Emile Berliner saw the painting hanging on the wall in Owen’s office and liked it enough that commissioned Barraud to make a copy of the painting, and he registered a trademark for it as soon as he got back to the USA. The trade mark was granted by the Patent Office on July 10, 1900. Barraud went on to produce 24 copies of his original for the Gramophone and Victor Companies by the time of his death in 1924.

Nipper went on to become one of the most famous trademark in the world, leaving Barraud to conclude when interviewed by “The Strand” magazine in 1916: “If Nipper only knew that, he would wag his little stumpy tail so proudly. He did not know he was going to be handed down to posterity. No more did I. Nipper bids fair to go on listening into the ages.”

Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.

Francis Barraud with one of 24 copied he made of his original painting “Dog Looking at and Listening to a Phonograph.”

Francis Barraud with one of 24 copied he made of his painting “Dog Looking at and Listening to a Phonograph.”

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No Comments

  1. maryb says:

    This reminded me to check out the value of my Nipper in the Worthopedia. Found one just like it (a limited edition) that sold for close to $100 a few years ago. Interesting story, Mike. Thank you.

  2. Nick Ryan says:

    Hi, good story if a little conflicting to this one http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/His_Master%27s_Voice

    Thank you for your viewpoint

    Nick

  3. Jacqui says:

    This is a very nice story. I was fortunate to meet his grandson, Attorney Francis Speh, some twenty-year ago. He show me were his grandfather had also, donated a brick for the WGN Tribune building in Chicago. I love hearing and reading the story behind the artist.

  4. jack says:

    There is also mythology regarding this advertising: I have been told that the dog was listening to his master’s voice recorded prior to his death. Dogs are legendary for loyalty.

  5. John says:

    Mark Barraud was hardly destitute when he died. He was one of the most succesful portrait photographers in London. A poor man could have scarcely afforded an Edison-Bell Phonograph at that time. The worthpoint article is not quite on the money on several points of fact.

    • Mike Wilcox says:

      Nonsense, Nipper was born, lived and died in London. Edison had nothing to do with the British Gramophone Company.

  6. Jeff says:

    Get the story straight.

    Nipper was an orphan dog owned by Mr. Ted Shatimeyer, former president of RCA Victor. Ted went to the local dog pound in Princeton NJ to get another dog for his sick father, Samuel, as both a service dog an companion dog. After the invention of the Victrola, Nipper was given to Thomas Edison, where he then lived in Llewelyn Pack in West Orange New Jersey.

    • Dave says:

      Well, I worked for “Nipper” for 37+ years until after going from RCA to GE to Thomson and then crashing and burning and the ashes got sent to China with the rest of our manufacturing base in the USA — I can tell you this story is fact – and fiction.. I met Nipper and asked him ( just joking), I got my info direct from the General ( Sarnoff ) and Ralph Hill the then Comtroller for RCA CORP in the mid 70’s ( and no doubt biased – so I did my own homework.. The original was indeed a painting no doubt by whom stated, but wound up in the hands ( and trademark ) of the THEN totally European – Thomson corp — same as the latter who bought us ( how ironic ? )… They had the EUROPE rights, but at you stated – the Berliner did indeed copyright it in the US on return ( easy to check) but most references to Edison beyond the original offer are a stretch.. TAE had a habit of bragging after all. He turned it down – and regretted it for the rest of his life. As a “Nipper” myself – I have collect memorobilia all these years and can only hope it ends up in good hands of my daughters.. Nice story – kudos.. these things should go down in history.. dave

      • Karla Baker says:

        Since you worked for RCA maybe you will know if this 3ft tall nipper is really an advertiseing item or what. He is either hard vinyl, oc celluloid, and hasa sticker on the bottom that reads: Nipper There is also a picture of Nipper on it, and a small round picture of Nipper next to The Radio listening. Then it says Trademark used with permission and under license from trademark owner. RCA Corporation. And does anyone know what it is worth?

        • Mike Wilcox says:

          I’ve seen the plastic/resin Nippers of this size sell as low as $175.00 just last week, others in the last year as high as $600.00

    • Valerie says:

      Dave,
      I too have worked at RCA for over 25 years and have many RCA memorabiles. I have the Nipper poster along with many RCA posters. Your story is true. I worked for the RCA plant which was on Rt. 202 in Raritan NJ.

      • Karla Baker says:

        I have one of the Nipper dogs. I believe he is celluloid. He is 3 ft tall. He has the original paper sticker on the bottom. Most of his paint is gone but otherwise he is in great condition. I wiould like any information you might have on his age, etc..The sticker has a picture of him and his name. It reads trademark used with permission and under license from trademark owner. RCA Corporation. also has a tiny picture of nipper listening to his masters voice.

  7. PhonoJack says:

    Edison was never offered the painting or rights to the painting. There is no evidence that Tom Edison ever regretted not taking rights to the Nipper logo.

    The orignal painting now hangs at EMI outside of London. you can see the original Edison phonograph that had been painted over and replaced with what we now call the Trademark Gramophone then sold by the British Gramophone Company. The decision to buy the painting and rights to the logo was made by William Barry Owen, Managing Director of the Gramphone Company in England.

    Emile Berliner later applied for the and was granted the Trademark rights to Nipper which were subsequently sold or licenses to other companies.

  8. Stella says:

    I grew up next door to Barry Owen’s house in Vineyard Haven, Mass on Martha’s Vineyard. He was the island’s first millionaire. There were small white painted wooden crosses in the garden near us. People always claimed that “Nipper” was buried there. It was a magical notion for a 6 year old in 1950.

  9. Debbie says:

    I have a orginal RCA victor ceramic dog. I was wondering the price on this ? if you have any information on this, I would appreciate it. thank you, Debbie e-mail address is italiangirl59@aol.com

  10. Helga says:

    I too have a rca ceramic dog, he is 9.5″ tall and has a brwon collar with brown eyes and ears. I can’t seem to find this guy anywhere else. My husband remembers playing with it as a kid, and now he got it after his grandpa past away. Any ideas on value, or maybe a good place to do more research? Any help is appreciated!
    dutchmillsfarm@yahoo.com

  11. Ray Plate says:

    I used to have a dog, Sparky, that would look get that same look Nipper had when ever he heard a strange noise!