Monday, November 16, 2009

A Dog Named Nipper

Nipper was born a really long time ago, in the year 1884, in Bristol, England.  Most people say he was a Jack Russell terrier, but he might have also had some bull terrier mixed in.  He got his name because he sometimes nipped people on the leg when they came to visit, which was very bad manners for a dog.  Nipper's dad was named Mark Henry Barraud, but sadly, he died in 1887.  After that, Nipper's uncles, Philip and Francis Barraud, took care of him.

One of Nipper's new dads, Francis, was an artist.  He also liked to take photographs, which was still a pretty new thing to do back in those days.  One time, he took a photo of Nipper listening to a phonograph, which was like a very primitive kind of MP3 player.  Whenever his dad played the phonograph, Nipper liked to sit in front of the big horn speaker thingy and try to figure out where the voices were coming from.

Then in 1895, Nipper died.  We don't know why he died, but he was only 11, which wasn't all that old for a small dog.  Anyway, three years went by, and then Nipper's dad, Francis, got the idea to paint a picture of Nipper sitting in front of the phonograph.  He called the painting "Dog Looking at and Listening to a Phonograph," which was a good name because it pretty much described what the picture was about.  Then he took the painting to the Edison-Bell company, but they didn't want to buy it because they said, "Dogs don't listen to phonographs."  Of course, this was untrue because we already know that Nipper used to listen to the phonograph.

So then Nipper's dad went to The Gramophone Company, and they said that they would buy the painting if it had a gramophone instead of a phonograph in it, because by then more people were using gramophones.  The difference was that gramophones played a flat disk, and phonographs played a cylinder. This is an example of how, even way back then, if you bought some kind of fancy machine, it always became outdated and then you had to buy a different one.

Anyway, the picture of Nipper, and also the phrase "His Master's Voice" got copyrighted and used for many years by RCA Victor and the other companies that got started by the Gramophone Company.  And there was even a record label called "His Master's Voice."

So Nipper got to be very famous, even though he had been dead for many years by then.  The original painting of him is at the EMI Music headquarters in London, in case you want to go see it.  RCA made a huge statue of Nipper in 1954 and put it on the roof of their building in Albany, NY.  This statue is 25 feet tall and weighs 4 tons.  It is the largest man-made dog in the whole world.  It is such a big statue that Nipper has to have a light on top of his right ear to warn airplanes not to crash into him!

There was another big Nipper statue on the RCA building in Baltimore, but it was only 18 feet tall.  Now it is on the roof of the Maryland Historical Society.

Besides these great big, huge Nipper statues, there are lots of smaller Nippers, too.  I looked on eBay, and I found more than 100 Nipper items for sale, such as salt-and-pepper shakers, door stops, figurines, banks, posters, plush toys, and some other stuff I don't even remember.  A lot of these things cost beaucoup bucks, so I guess that means people like to collect them.  Oh, and there is also a museum in Dover, Delaware, called the Johnson Victrola Museum, and it has lots of Nipper stuff, too.

When Nipper died, he was buried in a nice, shady place called Kingston upon Thames, but later some people came along and built a bank right on top of where he was buried.  I guess they were sorry about putting a bank on a famous dog's grave, though, because inside the bank they put a brass plaque that tells about Nipper.

It's too bad Nipper did not get to march in any parades or win any awards, like Sergeant Stubby did.  But in some ways, Nipper is more famous because almost everybody has seen the picture of him listening to the gramophone, even if they don't know what his name is!


  1. Fantastic piece of writing about an important piece of history!

  2. I have a question after reading this article, which I might add is a very good article. I have a Nipper RCA Victrola cast iron door stop (not a bank) that is very old. But my problem is trying to authenticate it. It looks exactly like the banks minus the slot and bottom. But also the nose on mine is shorter. There are no markings on it so I was wondering if it is the real thing. If I could attach photos I would. I have two beagles named Bobo and Brandy.

    1. I'm afraid I don't know how you can find out if your door stop is authentic or not, but it sounds like it may well be. You would need to find an antiques appraiser, which maybe you could do by searching on the internet. Of course, you would have to pay something for the appraisal. If you are on Facebook, try going to the Dusty Old Things page and posting a photo there. A lot of people who "like" that page know quite a bit about antiques, and they might have seen a similar door stop, or they might be able to tell you how to go about getting it appraised.