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Barraud and Nipper

Discussion in 'Radio' started by Futwick, Mar 22, 2013.

  1. Futwick

    Futwick One of the Regulars

    Francis James Barraud was born in Liverpool, England on June 16, 1856 and came from a family of painters. His father, Henry (1811-1874), had been a noted painter. And his Uncle William, Henry’s older brother, had also been a noted painter. Most of their works covered wildlife, fox hunting and the horses known as bay hunters. In fact, William and Henry collaborated on a number of paintings which were featured on various sporting magazine covers which, for better or worse, helped popularize fox hunting, before William’s untimely death in 1850.

    Francis followed in his father’s footsteps as did his older brother, Mark. Francis studied first at the Royal Academy Schools, then at Heatherley’s Art School in London and finally at Beaux Arts in Antwerp, Belgium. Francis became a scenic artist while Mark eked out a living painting stage sets. Francis originally set about painting scenes of fox hunting producing his own “Bay Hunter” but soon branched out into other areas. Francis, however, could not achieve his father’s fame. Even today, many Henry Barraud portraits can be found on the internet (as can William’s) but those of his son, with one notable exception, which we will be investigating at length, are very hard to come by. Times were changing and Henry was worried that his sons would not be able to find rich patrons to fund their art. But Francis was not deterred and continued trying to forge his own style and identity as an artist and found a degree of popularity with his oil paintings and watercolors.

    Like many serious painters, Francis Barraud made money on the side as an illustrator. And like many serious painters, he found such work somewhat demeaning but it paid bills. His handiwork as an illustrator for an 1882 edition of Routledge’s Every Girl’s Annual where he did both cover and inside pictures are quite lovely and competent.

    Mark Barraud, however, lived on the edge of poverty, never achieving as much fame as his father or even the nominal fame of his brother. Life was not easy for him as a result and he was given to hard living, particularly drink, which took a toll on his health.

    Sometime in 1883 or 4, a mixed bull/fox terrier (although it may have been part Jack Russell terrier) was born somewhere around Bristol, England. He was a plucky little stray puppy when Mark Barraud encountered him in 1884 while out on a jaunt. He took the dog home to his wife and they found him a faithful companion with the tendency to nip at backs of visitors’ legs so they named the dog Nipper. For three years, Barraud and Nipper were man and man’s best friend. Poverty and ill health, however, caught up with Barraud and he died in Bristol in 1887 at age 39. Nipper was taken to Liverpool, Lancashire where Francis lived.

    Francis Barraud quickly became fond of Nipper whom he found amiable, curious and intelligent. He would take Nipper to the Richmond Park and the dog would frolic and chase other animals, once killing a pheasant that Barraud had not the chutzpah to tuck under his arm.

    While Barraud was in his studio working on a painting, he would play his phonograph, a cylinder machine. He got the idea from his noted contemporary Sir Hubert von Herkomer (1849-1914) who kept such a machine in his studio to set his subjects at ease while they posed. Nipper’s natural curiosity got the best of him and he would sit close to the horn speaker, ears pricked up, ticking his head from side to side as he listened to the mysterious sounds and voices issue forth from the bell. To Barraud, it seemed as though the dog might have thought the voice coming from the horn was that of Mark Barraud. “I had often noticed how puzzled he was to make out where the voice came from,” Francis later stated. The image stayed with him.

    In 1895, Nipper went to Kingston-upon-Thames in Surrey to keep company to Mark Barraud’s widow but, alas, he died in September of that year at the age of 11 or 12. He was buried in Kingston-upon-Thames.

    Three years later, Francis Barraud was back in his studio listening to his phonograph when he thought of Nipper staring intently into the bell of the speaker horn. He remembered how he fancied that Nipper might have thought he was hearing his dead former owner. He began to work on a new painting depicting that scene. He painted Nipper seated before a cylinder-player staring into the bell.


    Barraud titled the work “Dog Looking at and Listening to a Phonograph” and registered the painting under that title in February of 1898. Going with his original impression of the dog hearing his dead master’s voice, Barraud retitled the painting “His Master’s Voice.” If this was in hopes that the Royal Academy would exhibit the work, Barraud was sadly mistaken. They turned him away. Barraud hoped to get “His Master’s Voice” published in a few magazines but they said the painting did not make sense. Barraud went to the Edison Bell Company who made the phonograph seen in the painting. They were not interested in purchasing it because, they told him, dogs don’t listen to phonographs (weird reasoning when Nipper did indeed listen to it and they could have easily told customers as a sales gimmick that if the machine can fool a dog’s sharp ears imagine how real it must sound).

    A friend of Barraud’s told him the horn was too dark to be properly seen and a nice golden brass one might spice up the picture. Barraud saw the logic and thought the whole painting should be lighter. He called on the newly-formed Gramophone Company at Maiden Lane and spoke to the company president, William Barry Owen, requesting a golden horn attachment for loan. Barraud showed Owen the painting and what changes he wanted to make. Owen, in turn, needed a trademark for his company knowing how important a good distinctive trademark is to the success of a business. Barraud recalled years later that Owen asked him if the painting was for sale and if he would mind changing the phonograph to a gramophone. This was, of course, precisely what Barraud was hoping for and replied that the painting was indeed for sale and immediately set to work the revising the picture as requested having secured a gramophone from the company to employ as a model. When he finished the painting, Barraud dropped it off at Maiden Lane and waited nervously for a response.

    He got one when a letter arrived from the Gramophone Company offices on the 15th of September 1899 offering Barraud £50 for reproduction rights and another £50 for the artist’s copyright. In short, they offered him £100 for the work. Not at all a bad sum in those days (in fact, not at all a bad sum these days, just ask any struggling artist) and Barraud happily and gratefully accepted. The Gramophone Company was now the legal owner of the painting and the image on it and Barraud no doubt did a bit of celebrating with his £100. Did he ever dare to guess how famous that painting would become?


    By the way, a few sources say that Nipper and gramophone are poised atop a coffin and that is why he thinks he hears his master’s voice coming from the horn. Other sources say that this is not true—both subjects are depicted seated on a tabletop in Barraud’s studio. I’ll leave that to the reader to decide which story sounds better.
  2. Futwick

    Futwick One of the Regulars

    “His Master’s Voice” turned up on the cover of a Victor catalog dated January 1900. There were a few promotional items that also bore the image such as needle tins.

    That year, the great inventor Emile Berliner, Owen’s boss, came to Britain and requested that American and Canadian rights to the painting be granted to him as the inventor of the recording disc and gramophone. Owen sold Berliner the rights. Berliner’s records were recorded only on the label side while the flipside bore “His Master’s Voice."

    The next year, Berliner requested the copyright go to the Victor Talking Machine Company. Owen obliged. Victor began putting “His Master’s Voice” on their record labels by 1902.


    With Victor owning copyrights on “His Master’s Voice,” Victor of Japan requested Japanese rights to the painting be granted to Victor’s Japanese subsidiary in 1904. Owen sold Victor of Japan those rights. Latin America would also request its rights to the picture. The Gramophone Company letterhead began featuring “His Master’s Voice” in 1907. By 1909, the commonwealth nations of Britain starting using “His Master’s Voice” as a label. The following year, the image and title were registered as trademarks by the Gramophone Company which then changed its name to His Master’s Voice or just HMV. Below, an early example of an HMV label:


    In 1929, with the crash of Wall Street, Edison Records folded and RCA bought the Victor Talking Machine Company and became RCA Victor. They also bought the right to use Nipper as a trademark and “His Master’s Voice” was synonymous with RCA Victor and one of the most recognized trademarks in America up to 1968 when Nipper was dropped.

    The “Red Seal,” RCA Victor’s classical music label, was begun by the Gramophone Co. in England in 1902 as Monarch. The difference between the red and black labels other than the color was that the Red Seal said “His Master’s Voice” under the image while the black label did not. Eventually, “Victor” was dropped from the Red Seal label even though it still was an RCA Victor enterprise due to some legal problems with Japanese Victor, which had taken over Victor Entertainment. My parents had dozens of Red Seal records when I was young and I played them incessantly which instilled in me a great love for classical music. To this day, I still associate classical music with the image of the Red Seal.

    1931 was a bleak year when bad economic times across the globe caught up with both Columbia Graphophone and HMV. They merged and incorporated as Electrical and Musical Industries Ltd a.k.a EMI. They built the first true dedicated recording studio that year now known as the Abbey Road studio.

    By 1968, “His Master’s Voice” was dropped as RCA Victor’s trademark and logo. Jefferson Airplane must have resented this move and decided to pay homage to “His Master’s Voice” when they released “The Worst of Jefferson Airplane” in 1970 which featured a full color reproduction of Barraud’s painting in the foldout. The label was a reproduction of the old Victor “VE” label and the inner sleeve was also a reproduction of the original Victor Talking Machine Company sleeves (and, yes, the CD also has Nipper, label and inner sleeve reproduced). There was an outcry among consumers when Nipper went away and RCA was forced to reinstate the old trademark in 1976. Nipper was once again RCA Victor’s mascot by simply superimposing him on the new style labels.
  3. Futwick

    Futwick One of the Regulars

    As for Francis Barraud, he spent the last 25 years of his life painting at least two dozen different versions of “His Master’s Voice” at Victor’s behest. Despite it being the only painting he would ever be known for, Barraud was far from displeased. He was an artist of the people and was not trying to paint masterpieces like his father. He was a working artist who had to sell paintings to make a living and they had to be depictions the average person would find charming not something a rich patron would hang on his wall. In fact, “His Master’s Voice” may be the most recognizable piece of pop art of all time and so is a masterpiece in its own right. Every masterpiece has a deeper meaning and there does appear to be one here even if Barraud himself may have been unaware it: According to Eastern philosophy and Gnostic teachings, human beings are a combination of animal and god. Our bodies are those of animals at the sway of the temptations of the flesh but our minds, our intelligence, comes down to us from on high. Nipper represents the animal nature hearing that call from our divine intelligence represented by the gramophone. Not understanding what we hear speaking inside us but trying to, vaguely recognizing it but not quite placing it—which is the struggle of all religion, the War in Heaven, how to recognize and obey the Master’s voice.

    That the painting became world famous is one of those what-ifs. What if someone other than William Barry Owen had run the Gramophone Company and told Barraud to get lost and take his lousy painting with him? What if Emile Berliner did not go to London specifically to get the rights to use “His Master’s Voice” as an American trademark? He could have as easily told Owen to can the painting and get a different trademark but instead he wanted it for his own use. What if Mark Barraud had never met Nipper? What if Nipper had not been sent to live with Francis or if Francis had decided not to take him in? What if Nipper had not found the phonograph so fascinating? Barraud had loved Nipper and even two decades after Nipper’s death, he was still bringing Barraud a comfortable income on which he and his wife could live out their lives not to mention a masterpiece known every bit as well as the Sistine Chapel or the Mona Lisa. Quite a reward for Barraud taking in the dog when he had no place else to go.

    When looking for other art by Francis Barraud, be careful not to confuse him with Francis Philip Barraud (1824-1901), another British artist. He was the younger brother of Charles Decimus Barraud (1822-1897) a.k.a. C. D. Barraud, an Englishman who spent most of his adult life in New Zealand and painted many beautiful scenes of that land. He, in turn, should not be confused with Charles Barraud an artist who lived from 1535-1612. Likewise, don’t confuse Henry Barraud the British artist with Henry Barraud the French composer (1900-1997). To make matters even more complicated, Francis and Mark had another brother named Philip so don’t confuse him with Francis Philip Barraud either. Glad I straightened that out for you.

    “His Master’s Voice” became one of the most recognized trademarks of our time. I grew up with it as my parents, as I stated earlier, had a lot of RCA Victor records including quite a number of Red Seals. Later, my older siblings bought quite a number of RCA Victor 45s and I even once wrote to RCA who sent me the story of Nipper and Barraud when I was about 14. It has been reproduced in every conceivable form and been lampooned countless times. Somehow I doubt that Barraud would have been angered. Chances are he’d take it all in with a satisfied grin and proudly proclaim, “See that, dad? I made it after all!”


    The man behind the gramophone/victrola was not Emile Berliner even though he invented it. The true genius behind it was Eldridge Johnson of Camden, New Jersey. He invented the spring-loaded mechanism that made the victrolas go. Without this mechanism, the victrola was a paperweight. He patented the mechanism and so Berliner merged his company with Johnson after a court ruled in Johnson's favor. By 1900, Johnson was manufacturing Victor discs. His tiny shop at 108 North Front Street was moved to more spacious quarters at Cooper and 2nd Streets. When this building could no longer handle the volume of work, a new facility was built at 1 Market Street by the Camden port. Started in 1906, the facility was completed in 1916. It was a mini-city that pressed the discs but also developed new recording and communication technologies (the radio backpacks worn by the Apollo astronauts were developed here). Building 17 of the facility dominated the skyline of the port and became iconic. In 1992, all production ceased at the facility and it was abandoned. It fell into ruin and many of the old buildings were torn down. Building 17 remained standing only because it was declared a landmark but was badly vandalized. Using investment tax credit, Building 17 was converted to a complex of 341 loft apartments owned by Dranoff Properties who acquired the building 2003 saving the structure from complete deterioration. The renovation cost an astonishing $65 million!

    The tower of Building 17 contained huge stained-glass depictions of "His Master's Voice" on all four sides. These were built by D'Acenzo Studios of Philadelphia and installed in 1915. When Nipper was retired as the RCA Victor logo in 1968, the windows were removed and replaced with plywood bearing the new logo. When public outcry forced the company to reinstate Nipper as the logo in 1976, D'Acenzo Studios built new windows that were exact replicas of the originals. After the building was abandoned, vandals broke the windows out. When Dranoff renovated the building, they had new exact replicas installed in the tower where they remain to this day.

    But where’s the original “His Master’s Voice” you ask? A fair question and fortunately there is an answer. The original “His Master’s Voice” bought from Barraud by Owen hangs at the Gloucester Place HQ of EMI. Nipper’s burial place is now part of a bank parking lot in Kingston-upon-Thames and a plaque on one wall of the bank commemorates Nipper’s burial. A similar plaque was to be placed on the house where Nipper grew up but the owner won’t allow it unless EMI buys the house.
  4. Fabulous story! Thanks for sharing!
  5. 3fingers

    3fingers Practically Family

    Thank you. Enjoyed the story very much.
  6. Futwick

    Futwick One of the Regulars

    Just found this.

  7. 3fingers

    3fingers Practically Family

    Amazing. I never knew there were so many steps in making the master. Every batch from that mixer would make a ton of records!

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