The legacy of HIS MASTER’S VOICE® is a critical 120 year old thread woven through the fabric of the entire music industry from its inception to the modern day. The iconic imagery told a simple tale of the dog that listened for his passed master, and in the process, taught the world that recorded music, records, and turntables weren’t just a gimmick, but a way to get in touch with the very essence of what makes us human. The story of Nipper played a critical role in establishing humanity’s emotional connection to recorded sound.
From a beloved little dog that would nip at peoples’ heels to a worldwide figure of the music industry, Nipper has been a long lasting figure and a cultural icon not only in the eyes of the music industry, but also the world.
In 1898, Emile Berliner, the Gramophone Company, and its associates started to foresee a global music industry and began to form allies in many foreign countries throughout the world. Associates such as Alfred Clarke and William Barry Owen founded branches in Britain and France. By 1899,
The British branch of the Gramophone Company acquired the “His Master’s Voice” painting and the subsequent trademark.
“His Master’s Voice” was originally a painting by Francis Barraud of his late brother's dog Nipper, a mixed breed fox-bull terrier that got his namesake from his propensity to nip at peoples’ ankles. Francis took ownership of Nipper upon his brother Mark's death. In addition to heel-nipping, one of Nipper’s peculiar habits was that he would intently listen to a cylinder phonograph, specifically to a recording of Mark Barraud’s voice. Curiously enough, the dog would approach the horn of the machine and listen for, “his master’s voice.” Through the visual depiction of this heart-wrenching story, an icon was born, and Nipper, as well as the phonograph, were cemented into society's collective consciousness. The image of Nipper listening to "His Master's Voice" was forever tied to the history of recorded sound, the music industry, and the world's culture from that point on.
Francis eventually tried selling the painted image to both the Edison Cylinder Company and then the Gramophone Company, a small storefront with imported disc record players from Eldridge Johnson’s garage in Camden, NJ. The Edison Company famously derided Francis by denouncing the notion of the painting by saying that, “dogs don’t listen to phonographs!” Taking this to heart, Francis then brought the painting to the Gramophone Company. William Barry Owen admired the painting, and on behalf of the Gramophone Company insisted Francis return home with a Camden made turntable by Victor as a reference in order to repaint the image to feature the proper disk record player as opposed to a cylinder phonograph. The Gramophone Company then paid 100 GBP for the painting, copyright, and trademark associated with the image.
The Gramophone Company displayed the painting on the wall until co-founder of Victor Talking Machine Company, Emile Berliner, visited the shop, fell in love with the story and the painting, and returned home with the copyright and a vision that Nipper would be able to turn the public perception of recorded music from a fleeting novelty into a beloved and cherished art form.
Nipper functioned as the proverbial watchdog of the music industry and became the symbol of high quality and exquisite music and home audio products created by the Victor Company. The Victor Camden factory was gloriously adorned with imagery of Nipper, the most notable example of this being his memorialization in the form of a stained glass window at the top of Building #17; now affectionally referred to as "The Nipper Building".
However, with the purchase of Victor by Radio Corporation Of America in 1929, Nipper's watch would gradually come to an end. In 1968, The Radio Corporation Of America began to remove all traces of the Victor Division’s nipping dog, an act that many Camden employees said to be a curse on the company. However, in an act to save the company, the windows were reinstalled into the tower of Building 17 in 1979. April 10th was proclaimed to be "Nipper Day" by N.J. Governor Brendan Byrne when replacements for the iconic Nipper windows were installed in the tower of Building #17.
With the purchase of the company (including the Victor Plant in Camden) by General Electric in 1986, the windows would go into years of disrepair, a devastating symbol of the decline of the music industry. It was not until the many renovation efforts that took place over the course of the past twenty years that the windows were repaired and Nipper once again towered over the city of Camden serving as a reminder of the halcyon days and a golden era now looked upon with great fondness - and great hope for the future of the music legacy that Victor Talking Machine Co. now carries today.
These days, the ‘VICTOR DOG’ & ‘HIs Master’s Voice’, and ‘Nipper’ still act as universal symbols of the music industry, keeping a watchful eye and listening ear for over 120 years while guiding an entire new era of music lovers through the past, present, and future of the art and science of recorded sound.