One of the most iconic logos of the 20th century started as an unappreciated painting. It all began in 1884, when a man living in Bristol, England named Herbert Barraud picked up a stray terrier. Because the dog had an unfortunate habit of biting at the feet of Herbert’s visitors, he ended up with the name “Nipper.”

Ten years passed, and Herbert acquired a phonograph, on which he recorded his voice. Nipper was fascinated by the sound emanating from a phonograph horn and would sit in front of the phonograph, head cocked, listening to his master’s voice.

After Herbert’s death in 1895, Nipper (and the phonograph) passed to his younger brother Francis, who looked after the dog for three more years until the dog died in the fall of 1898.

Francis was a painter, and he committed the image of Nipper listening to the phonograph to canvas.

Nipper listening to a phonograph in the painting known as "His Master's Voice."
Nipper listening to a phonograph in the original version of “His Master’s Voice”

Francis first showed the painting to the Royal Academy exhibition, who rejected it. He then tried selling to some popular magazines, again without success. He even showed it to the Edison Bell Company who responded, “Dogs do not listen to phonographs.”

Finally he offered it to the Gramophone Company (another phonograph manufacturer) but their phonograph played disc records, not the earlier cylinder records. They told the younger Barraud that if he replaced the cylinder phonograph with one of their disc models, they would buy the painting for 100 pounds (about $400).   This was done by the fall of 1899, and the final version of the painting ended up looking like this:

Final version of “His Master’s Voice”

On a visit to London in the late Spring of 1900, the inventor of the disc phonograph, Emile Berliner, saw the painting on the wall, and requested a copy to take with him back to the United States. He returned with it, and registered it in the Patent office as a trademark in the Summer of 1900.

The rest, as they say, is history, for when the Victor Talking Machine Company assumed control of the Berliner’s Gramophone Company in late 1900, they adopted the painting as their logo, and for the next century, used it extensively in advertising, on record labels, on signs and on their phonographs. When Victor was purchased by RCA in 1929, the logo naturally went along.

Iterations of the logo throughout the years

At a recent antique phonograph show, I had the opportunity to purchase an original gramophone of the type shown in the painting. It’s called the “Trademark Model” for obvious reasons, and while it’s not extremely rare, it’s never cheap as demand for it is high. I paired it with a small statue of Nipper I’ve owned for about 25 years or so, and ended up with a nice “3D” logo for my den.

My 3D depiction of the painting