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The Birth of "His Master's Voice" - Part 1
Original "His Master's Voice" painting depicts
an Edison Bell Commercial Phonograph

The story of how the world famous trade mark, "His Master's Voice," came into existence, is so interestingly told by Francis Barraud, the man who painted the original picture, that a part of his account as it appeared in "Strand" magazine for August, 1916, is here reproduced - with an occasional added detail, contained in a footnote, by your secretary:

"I think I am safe in saying that everyone in any civilized part of the world knows the little dog looking into the trumpet and listening to "His Master's Voice," so perhaps I may be forgiven for telling the public in these columns something about Nipper, the original model.

"I painted the picture before I had ever heard of the Gram-o-phone Co., (1) and the instrument which appeared in it was a talking machine of non-descript type. (2) I called it "His Master's Voice" and showed it to several publishers, as I thought there would be a demand for it as a new production. These gentlemen, however, were not of the same opinion; one well known man objected on the score that no one would know what the dog was doing. Another very generous and_venturesome publisher offered me five pounds for it, but I was not tempted. Meanwhile I was thinking of improvement; I was not satisfied with the trumpet I had painted. It was black and ugly, and I wanted something more pictorial. One day a friend of mine suggested that I should call on the Gram-o-phone Co. and ask them to lend me a brass horn to paint from; so armed with a small photograph of my oil painting I paid them a visit at their offices, which were then in Maiden Lane. To a gentleman I saw there I explained what I required, and showed him the photograph. He asked at once if he might show it to the manager, Mr. Barry Owen. I agreed. Mr Owen shortly came out and asked me if the picture was for sale and asked me if I could introduce a machine of their own make, a gram-o-phone, instead of the one in the picture. I replied that the picture was for sale, and I could make the alteration if they would let me have an instrument to paint from.

"The change was made, (4) and the picture was bought from me. I then advised the Gram-o-phone Co. not to make it an obvious advertisement by putting their name across the background, but to leave it without any lettering, and merely give it the title I had already suggested, namely, "His Master's Voice." I pointed out that the subject spoke for itself and required no explanation.

"Nipper, the original living dog, belonged to my brother Mark, who was a scenic artist at Bristol for many years. He is now dead. (5)

"Mr. Alfred Clark, the managing director of the Gram-o-phone Co., told a friend of mine that it might interest me to know that out at their head offices and factories at Hayes, Middlesex, they have frequent fire drill practice; should an actual conflagration take place the firemen have instructions that the first thing to be saved is the original picture of "His Master's Voice" which hangs in the board room. He also stated that from first to last over a million pounds had been spent in reproducing it. If Nipper only knew that he would wag his little stumpy tail so proudly. He did not know he was going to be handed down to posterity. No more did I. Nipper bids fair to go on listening into the ages.

"As soon as Mr. Emile Berliner saw the picture (6) he not only purchased copies to give to his friends, but conceived the idea that this picture might be used as a trade-mark for the gramophone, and he took immediate steps which gave him the legal right to this picture as a trade-mark both in the United States and in Canada. (7) No trade-mark was ever better received by a discerning public and by the advertising fraternity."

Footnotes

  1. It is not known exactly when Francis Barraud painted the picture. Some sources place it in the early to mid 1890s. However, on February 11, 1899, he filed for a copyright on his picture of 'dog looking at and listening to a phonograph' and it seems reasonable to assume that he would file this application soon after finishing the picture. This would put the probable date as late 1898 or early 1899.
  2. Some may not realize that the original 'talking machine' in the picture was not Berliner's gramophone but rather a cylinder phonograph. From a photograph of the original version of the picture - submitted with the application for copyright - it has been determined that Barraud used an Edison Commercial Phonograph, which had been on the market since 1893, or a very close variant of it as his model.
  3. Contrary to popular belief, there is no firm evidence for this, but the story goes that Barraud offered the original picture to a cylinder company - probably Edison-Bell - and that it was rejected.
  4. Instead of repainting the entire picture, Barraud simply painted a Berliner gramophone - now commonly referred to as the Trademark Model - over top of the original phonograph. Apparently, when examined closely, traces of the cylinder phonograph can still be seen in the original painting.
  5. Francis Barraud adopted Nipper after the death of his brother, Mark, in 1887. It is uncertain exactly when Nipper died. It is thought to have been in 1894 or 1895; however, Francis implies in his writings that the dog was still alive at the time that the picture was painted.
  6. In May 1900 while on a visit to the British Company's office.
  7. Patent was granted Berliner on this 'Trademark for Gramophones' on July 10, 1900.