Nipper Listens to His Master’s Voice

His Master’s Voice

His Master’s Voice is a famous trademark in the music business, and for many years was the name of a large record label. The name was coined in 1899 as the title of a painting of the dog Nipper listening to a wind-up gramophone. In the photograph on which the painting was based, the dog was listening to a cylinder phonograph. The famous trademark image comes from a painting by English artist Francis Barraud, A.R.A. and titled His Master’s Voice. It was acquired from the artist in 1899 by the newly-formed Gramophone Company. According to contemporary Gramophone Company publicity material, the dog, a fox terrier called Nipper, had originally belonged to Barraud’s brother Mark. When Mark Barraud died, Francis inherited Nipper, along with a cylinder phonograph and a number of recordings of Mark’s voice. Francis noted the peculiar interest that the dog took in the recorded voice of his late master emanating from the trumpet, and conceived the idea of committing the scene to canvas.

In early 1899, Francis Barraud applied for copyright of the original painting using the descriptive working title Dog looking at and listening to a Phonograph. He was unable to sell the work to any cylinder phonograph company, but The Gramophone Company purchased it later that year, under the condition that Barraud modify it to show one of their disc machines. The image was first used on the company’s publicity material in 1900, and additional copies were subsequently commissioned from the artist for various corporate purposes. Later, at the request of the gramophone’s inventor Emile Berliner, the American rights to the picture became owned by the Victor Talking Machine Company.  Victor used the image more aggressively than its UK partner, and from 1902 on all Victor records had a simplified drawing of the dog and gramophone from Barraud’s painting on  their label. Magazine advertisements urged record buyers to “Look for the dog”.

In Commonwealth countries, the Gramophone Company did not use this design on its record labels until 1909. The following year the Gramophone Company replaced the Recording Angel trademark in the upper half of the record labels by the famous picture painted by Frances Barraud, commonly referred to as Nipper or The Dog.

The company was not formally called “HMV” or His Master’s Voice, but was identified by that term because of its use of the trademark. Records issued by the Company before February 1908 were generally referred to as “G&Ts”, while those after that date are usually called “HMV” records. This image continued to be used as a trademark by Victor in the USA, Canada and Latin America, and then by Victor’s successor RCA. In Commonwealth countries (except Canada) it was used by subsidiaries of the Gramophone Company, which ultimately became part of EMI. The trademark’s ownership is divided among different companies in different countries, reducing its value in the globalized music market. The name HMV is used by a chain of music shops owned by HMV Group, mainly in the UK, Ireland, Canada, Singapore, Australia, Hong Kong, and Japan.

In 1921 the Gramophone Company opened the first HMV shop in London. In 1929 RCA bought Victor, and with it a major shareholding in the Gramophone Company which Victor had owned since 1920. In 1931 RCA was instrumental in the creation of EMI, which continued to own the “His Master’s Voice” name and image in the UK. In 1935
RCA sold its stake in EMI but continued to own Victor and the rights to His Master’s Voice in the Americas.[citation needed] HMV continued to distribute RCA recordings until
RCA severed its ties with EMI in 1957 which led EMI to buy Capitol Records. World War II fragmented the ownership of the name still further, as RCA Victor’s Japanese subsidiary The Victor Company of Japan (JVC) became independent, and today they still use the “Victor” brand and Nipper in Japan only. Nipper continued to appear on RCA Victor records in America (except for a period from around 1968 to 1977), while EMI owned the His Master’s Voice label in the UK until the 1980s, and the HMV shops until 1998.

In 1967, EMI converted the HMV label into an exclusive classical music label and dropped its POP series of popular music. HMV’s POP series artists’ roster was moved to Columbia Graphophone and licenced American POP record deals to Stateside Records. The globalised market for CDs pushed EMI into abandoning the HMV label in favour of “EMI Classics”, a name they could use worldwide; however, it was revived in 1988 for Morrissey recordings. The HMV trademark is now owned by the retail chain in the UK. The formal trademark transfer from EMI took place in 2003. Meanwhile, RCA went into a financial decline. The dog and gramophone image, along with the RCA name, is now licensed by RCA Records and RCA Victor owner Sony Music Entertainment from Thomson SA, which operates RCA’s consumer electronics business (still promoted by Nipper the dog) that it bought from General Electric in 1986, after GE bought RCA. The image of “His Master’s Voice” now exists in the United States as a trademark only on radios and radios combined with phonographs, a trademark owned by Thomson subsidiary RCA Trademark Management SA. With that exception, the “His Master’s Voice” dog and gramophone image is in the public domain in the USA, its United States trademark registrations having expired in 1989 (for sound recordings and phonograph cabinets), 1992 (television sets, television-radio combination sets), and 1994 (sound recording and reproducing machines, needles, and records).

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