The Little Nipper
This is the history of one of the most iconic advertising mascots of the 20th century: “Nipper” the dog. Nipper the Dog was the longtime mascot of the RCA Victor Company, maker of fine radios. This mascot found on RCA Victor radios, came with a slogan “His Master’s Voice,” and featured a dog peering into the bell of a gramophone. We were curious about the story of Nipper the dog and the massive amount of advertising material made with his image. For example, there are many towns across the US with a Nipper the Dog advertising sign or even Nipper the Dog statues atop buildings. Many have been lost but people are trying to save these old icons, monuments, and advertising signs. Many people collect Nipper the dog imagery, it is quite popular all over the world.
Nipper lived in the home of Mark Henry Barraud of England back in the late nineteenth century. The family lived above a theater. Nipper was at least part terrier and was named so supposedly because of his predilection for nipping at the trousers of passersby. When Mark passed away, his brothers Francis and Phillip took custody of Nipper. In 1898, Francis Barraud, a painter, remembered a time he’d seen the dog looking down into the bell of an old-fashioned recording machine. He painted a realistic painting of the dog and named it “Dog Looking at and Listening to a Phonograph.”
The Gramophone company, bought the painting for a hundred pounds and used it in advertising almost immediately. The dog’s expression; quizzical and endearing with eyes focused, head cocked, and ears ready. Magazine and print advertising used a simple slogan “Look for the dog” to encourage people to purchase the company’s products. Though less cumbersome than the original title this was not enough. A competition was held for a new slogan, which was won by Ralph Mountain, “His Master’s Voice.”
Francis Barraud liked the image because it was a wonderful memory of the dog being perplexed by hearing “His Master’s Voice” coming from a machine. Though we can’t know for sure what the dog was hearing at the time, there is a popular story that the dog was hearing his master command him to “stay and sit” over the phonograph. Francis Barraud made several changes to the painting in his effort to appeal to a phonograph company to buy the painting. He eventually changed the painting so the Gramophone Company would purchase it.
Victor, maker of the Victrola gained the rights to the dog in its marketing and later RCA took over Victor and began using the images by the late 1920s. RCA Victor placed the dog right on its radios all throughout the 1950s. Sometimes the icon was just embossed plastic as seen below.
Sometimes the icon was highlighted in gold on a black background like on this 1957 RCA C-4FE AM Tube Radio.
This is a close up:
Nipper in plain white embossed plastic on a 1957 RCA Victor Model 3RD49 AM Tube Clock Radio.
What is also interesting is that the icon was not put on every radio. Some had it, some did not. I guess you can chalk that up to how much diversity in design you found in products manufactured in the 1950s. In fact, you can go back through several models of RCA Victor radios from even the 1930s and 1940s and they do not have the Nipper icon those radios either.
Nipper the dog even made into architecture. The dog was rendered in the intricate stained-glass windows of the RCA Victor building in Camden, New Jersey. Now, some of those original "Nipper" windows are now in the collections of the Smithsonian, Widener University and Penn State.
One of my favorites is Nipper the Dog on top of a building in Albany, New York. The dog made the building the tallest at the time so the owner had to add at red light to the top of the Dog’s ear to warn aircraft etc…
Today, many people collect Nipper images. They find the dog on advertising from all over the world. Some collect the Nipper on radios and record players made all around the world. For example, a collector found a radio made by RCA Victor Japan with Nipper the Dog on the radio. A great find to be sure. So much like how people collect Coca Cola imagery, people like to collect Nipper images.