The Nipper Saga

Nipper is perhaps the best-known and most loved advertising trademark. In the United States, we know him as the "RCA dog." But he started life in Bristol, England in 1884. Nipper was a mutt, part bull terrier and a trace of fox terrier.

When his master died he became the pet of the Barraud brothers, Mark and Francis. At Francis Barraud's photographic studio, Nipper would listen attentively to the old phonograph. One day it occurred to Barraud that the dog might be waiting to hear his master's voice. This inspired him to paint the oil (1895) of Nipper and the gramophone, which is titled appropriately "His Master's Voice."

Barraud was not satisfied with the painting because he thought it was too dark. He decided to visit the Gramophone Co., Ltd in London to borrow a brass horn to brighten up the painting. Since he was there he asked William Barry Owen if the company would be interested in the painting (he had brought along a photograph). They were indeed interested, but only if Barraud would agree to replace the Edison-Bell cylinder phonograph in his original painting with the company's new disc gramophone.

The painting shown here is the original (not the one we typically think of), showing the Edison-Bell cylinder phonograph.

His Master's Voice

This painting is the finished product that hung on the wall of Gramophone Co., Ltd. It was first used as a trademark in 1900 in England and was called "Dog and Trumpet." In May 1900, Emile Berliner, inventor of the disc gramophone, visited the company and so admired the painting that he returned to the United States and began using the trademark before he had registered it as "Nipper and the Gramophone." He did register the trademark in the U.S. on May 26, 1900 and also in Canada soon afterward. Berliner founded the company that later became the Victor Talking Machine.

Along with the original painting, Barraud also painted some exact (or Chinese) copies. He produced the copy in precisely the same way he created the original, by painting the dog with the Edison cylinder phonograph and then painting over it with the Gramophone. Today the replica is on display at the Capitol Records Building in Hollywood, California.

Nipper at the Top

Nipper is a famous landmark as he oversees Broadway in Albany, New York. Because of his height, he has an aircraft beacon on his right ear.

Nipper is also a popular collectible. Replicas of the dog were made of papier mache, rubber, and plastic. Salt and pepper sets of Nipper were used as promotional give-aways. Advertising ephemera like store window props of Nipper cut out of cardboard, posters, catalogs, lighters, glassware, and neckties are all examples of "Nipperie" that is much in demand.

Introducing Nipper and Chipper

General Electric bought the RCA-Victor Company in the U.S. in the 1980's and sold the home entertainment division to Thomson Consumer Electronics in France. They elected to introduce a new trademark, showing Nipper and his young companion, Chipper. The company has to replace Chipper regularly with puppy-size look-alikes because puppies have a habit of growing.

Nipper on the Town

Nipper's current successor is a superstar in his own right. He travels first class and likes his filet mignon cut in small pieces. He is met at his destination by his own limousine. According to Barbara Austin of the Dawn Animal Agency (NY), this is a very different life than when she found him on death row at an animal research laboratory. The agency was in search of a Nipper to play the RCA mascot. Nipper's salary is used to save other animals from experiments.

The dog on this postcard is not really Nipper, although it might have been one of his ancestors. This is actually a dog model wearing 16th century boar hound armor, displayed at the Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Phil Shea, who works at the Museum, sent me a note to say that the dog model is affectionately known to the staff as "Helmut."

Chipper's Cousin

This is a charming, older postcard (1904) showing a terrier who looks a lot like Chipper.

His Master's Breath

This postcard makes a social comment on the evils of drinking. It shows a glass tipped over, next to a pipe, and a funnel in the whiskey bottle. Rather than hearing his master's voice, Nipper is smelling his master's breath.

Their Master's Voice

Here is a humorous, modern card (1995) showing an ampitheatre full of Nippers - well, almost. Look closely and you will see some special guests. Check row 1, seat 2 from the right (a wrinkly little fellow) and row 3, seat 2 from the right (German Shepherd).

Credits for postcards and information go to: Betsy Kurzinger (card of Nipper and Elvis, homemade postcard of Nipper and Chipper), Cherie Labonte (postcard of dog in boar armor), Barbara Wilshire (homemade postcard of Nipper and Gramophone), Maria Semchuk (postcard of Nipper on building top), George Gerlach (postcard "His Master's Breath), Rob Barrantes (postcard "Their Master's Voice"), and John Wiehn, Barbara Wilshire, and Betsy Kurzinger for information.
This page was last modified on Wednesday, November 15, 1995.

Copyright (c) 1995, Linda Sue Anderson

Nipperscape was originally located at http://www.ais.org/~lsa/ in 1995

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