Nipper, the Listening Dog – Bristol, England - Atlas Obscura

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Nipper, the Listening Dog

A miniature replica of the canine that became the logo for a large recording company. 


There are many famous and infamous historical figures associated with the maritime city of Bristol. From Archibald Leach, better known as the Hollywood film star Gary Grant, to the mysterious and elusive Banksy. But there is one who walks on all fours and has a small statue dedicated in their honor. No, not Gromit from Wallace and Gromit fame, but rather, Nipper, a mixed-breed terrier, who would go on to be recognized as the mascot of HMV (His Master’s Voice).

Nipper belonged to the Barraud family, whose children christened him with the unusual name because of his unruly habit of nipping at the ankles of their guests. The father, Mark worked for the Prince’s Theatre, which was located on Park Row, and is known as the Merchant Ventures Building, now a part of Bristol University.

Mark had two brothers: Francis, a painter, and Phillip, a photographer. After Mark passed away, Nipper was left in Francis’s care. At some point, Phillip captured the canine in a photo, as he tilted his head at a playing Edison brand gramophone. A few years later, Francis used the image to paint a portrait that he titled, His Master’s Voice.

Initially, Francis tried to sell his painting to the Edison company, but was told that “dogs don’t listen to phonographs.” He then retouched the portrait, etching out the Edison name, and approached a competing business: the Berliner Gramophone Company. In 1899, they bought the painting and rights to the copyrighted image for £150.00. The company then changed its name to HMV and the rest, they would say, is history.

The image of Nipper, who was buried under a Mulberry bush in London at the age of 11 in 1895, became the company’s logo, and the logo of its successors, including RCA Records in America. It was used to sell everything from life-sized piggy banks to coffee mugs. Larger-than-life depictions of Nipper can be found as an oversized statue in Baltimore, Maryland, to a gigantic effigy in Menands, New York. Not bad for a little mutt who used to terrorize visitors in Bristol. 

Know Before You Go

"Nipper" is on a small platform, above an arched window, where Woodland Road and Park Row meet. Located on the Merchant Ventures Building. Just a five-minute walk down, in a south-easterly direction, from the Bristol Art Gallery, across the street from the Esso Gas Station.

Visible and accessible at all hours of the day.

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