Monday, October 30, 2006

What was Nipper really looking at??? (The true story of the RCA Victor dog)

This is the original picture ...As you can see it is very different from what we know. This was painted around 1895. As you can see Nipper is looking into an Edison Bell cylinder phonograph. This is what Nipper can make your own recordings on wax cylinders. you cannot on disc records.

Francis Barraud 1855-1924 who is the creator of that picture had a great success afterwards making copies.

The original remake of the picture...removing the cylinder phonograph and placing the gramophone in its place...This painting was finished Oct 3, 1899

This is the image as we know it...This is how it was portrayed by the Victor Talking Machine Company...In later years with RCA they made the picture into a line drawing.....Still to this day Nipper is part of RCA advertising

The picture is known to almost everyone. It has been the symbol of several companies from Berliner Gramophone to RCA...But where did the idea come from and what was the story about this little dog looking into a small gramophone. The story is far different from the ones I see in the "True History" books...Lets see what they say.

Well I have found several stories about Nipper.....Most of them state that the gramophone was on top of the coffin of the owner of the machine and the dog. And a photograph was taken of the dog and gramophone on the lid of the coffin! ...Oh give me a break!

The truth is that the dog was not looking at the horn of a gramophone....The dog was looking into the horn of a cylinder phonograph!

I know you will all wonder....than why does Nipper look into the machine we always see?

It is an interesting story that can get long so I will make it short. Francis Barraud (1855-1924) was an artist who's brother had a phonograph and dog named Nipper. On the death of his brother Francis inherited both. One thing that Nipper would do was as a cylinder record was being played on the phonograph the dog would look into the horn of the phonograph. Barraud thought this would make a wonderful painting. He called his painting..."His Masters Voice"...He tried to sell it to the cylinder recording companies, but received little interest on their part.

The picture was put away for a while. Now in the meantime Nipper had died and the picture collected dust. But in 1899 Burraud took out a copywrite on the picture.

In 1899 a chance meeting with Barry Owen, the head of the Gramophone Co. in 1899 led to a change in the picture. Owen asked if the picture was for sale and if it could be altered? Barraud said that it could be as long as the he could have an instrument to paint as a subject. So Owen lent Barraud a new "improved" gramophone and suggested that Barraud paint in the new gramophone over the old phonograph....In a few months the picture was ready...In fact...on my birthday October 3rd 1899 (only the date, not the year) the picture was completed.
In early 1900 the Gramophone Company used the new picture in its advertising literature but did not use it on their records. They used the image of a recording angel.
Now Emile Berliner, the inventor of the gramophone and the disc record was in England and saw the picture. As soon as he returned to the United States he took out a copyright on the picture "His Masters Voice" But he never got to use it as he was forced out of business by the work of Frank Seaman and the Columbia Graphophone Company interests...with the masterful work of Phillip Morro.
The Next person who would make the Image of Nipper a house hold image was Berliners mechanic...Eldridge Reeves Johnson...who had all the parts and gramophones and records...but no company.
He formed the Consolidated Gramophone Company and was quickly attacked by the Graphophone interests.....Johnson lost on only one count in that case he could not use the word "gramophone" ....He never did again...As he walked out of that court room however, he was the VICTOR of it all.
Soon he and Berliner formed a partnership and on Oct 3rd 1901 (that date again...No wonder I like phonographs and sound recordings) The Victor Talking Machine Company was formed in Camden New Jersey.
Starting in 1902 Victor records always proudly showed the image of Nipper looking into the gramophone.
In 1928 the Radio Corporation of America bought the Victor Talking Machine Company and it all became RCA Victor. Of course as much as David Sarnoff hated the picture he knew that Nipper was here to stay. At one point in time it was the most well known advertising image in the world.
In the late 1960's RCA tried to modernize its image and dropped Nipper! The world went nuts...To this day RCA still holds on to the image of Nipper.

As for Francis Barraud...He had a great career making copies of that painting...He did so for nearly a quarter of a century after his first.

Nipper the famous dog that never saw what we think he saw......

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