Here's the Story of
Nipper, His Master's
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Nipper The Victor Dog
OK. Get out your hankies for this one. So many of us have
seen the ubiquitous image of "Nipper", the Victor Pooch,
listening to a phonograph that is playing back his masters
However, why and under what circumstances is the rest of
the story (apologies to Paul Harvey). Nipper listening for
"His Masters Voice" on his master's coffin.
The original painting was partially finished in 1898 by
British artist Francis Barraud, who portrayed his
brother's dog listening to "His Masters Voice" on an
Edison cylinder phonograph that was placed on top of...
grab your tissue... the coffin of his brother
(the dog's master).
Yes, Nipper, whom Francis had adopted following his brother's
death, is listening to a voice from the grave. *tears*
Barraud tried to sell the painting to Thomas Edison for
potential advertising purposes, and Edison summarily
rejected it. He then went to the Emile Berliner company
and convinced a manager to purchase the work for their
advertising with the promise of altering the displayed
The Edison player was painted over with a Berliner disc
player, and both the painting and Nipper were patented
in 1900 by Berliner.
The following year, the newly formed Victor Talking
Machine Company purchased the rights to the painting and
"Nipper" the dog, following lawsuits that led to Berliner's
prohibition from selling his phonographs in the United States.
Victor then altered the design to one that was less
emotionally wrenching. It became instantly recognizable as
their trademark, and was retained when the Radio
Corporation of America (RCA) purchased Victor in the late
The most recognizable dog in the world (next to Snoopy)
was joined in the early 1990's by a digital pup name
"Chipper", who is probably depicted listening to a voice
from a dead 386 PC.
Nipper has been used in RCA advertising materials since 1929,
is a Smooth Fox Terrier.
Chipper, a Jack Russell Terrier,
was added to the family in 1991
And now, as Paul Harvey would say, "For the Rest of the Story."
We visited your site and enjoyed love of animals. We
just wrote a book on Nipper Collectibles
and we also have two pet goats named Tillie and Victor.
As authors of the new Nipper Collectibles we spend many years
researching the history of Nipper and the company he represented.
I was saddened to read about the coffin story on your website.
If you have the opportunity to view the original painting, one can
observe that Nipper is not sitting on a coffin. The Victor and
RCA company in all our research never verify or even mention
the coffin story. I agree it is a touching story that someone put
forth and the story continued to this day. To quote from our book:
"It is disappointing that a rumor of Nipper sitting on a coffin is
being perpetuated. Francis Barraud never stated that Nipper
was sitting on a coffin listening to his dead master’s voice. It is only
speculation on the part of authors who have taken license to
emotionalize the painting beyond the artist’s intention and have
not done their full research. No proof has been found to support the
“coffin theory.” We feel Ruth Edge and Leonard Petts,
authors of outstanding Nipper books, have completed in-depth
research on this subject and nowhere could they verify or find evidence
whether Nipper was sitting on a coffin or table. The Nipper
prints have changed throughout time and in later prints the table
Nipper is sitting on has changed in shape and color.
The Victor Company has never confirmed a story that Nipper is
sitting on a coffin. As Francis Barraud stated: “It is difficult to
say how the idea came to me beyond that fact that it suddenly
occurred to me that to have my dog listening to the Phonograph,
with an intelligent and rather puzzled expression, and call it
“His Master’s Voice” would make an excellent subject.
We had a phonograph and I often noticed how puzzled he
was to make out where the voice came from. It certainly was
the happiest thought I ever had.” One would like to
think that if, as Francis Barraud stated, “It was certainly the
happiest thought I ever had,” the thought would not be of Nipper
sitting on a coffin listening to his dead master’s voice."
"One of our favorite Nipper stories is the “camel story.”
The animal Nipper loved to hate was a large toy camel upon
which children were often placed when they came to Philip Barraud
to have their pictures taken. Someone often pushed the camel
towards Nipper and teased him. Nipper, biding his time, one
day took matters into his own hands (or mouth) and ripped
the toy to shreds. He was found sitting, unconcerned, surrounded
by fragments. He wasn’t even repentant!"
For more information on our Nipper book you can visit our website at:
Robin & Joan Rolfs
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