His Master's Voice (HMV) was the unofficial name of a major British record label created in 1901 by The Gramophone Co. Ltd. The phrase was first coined in the late 1890s as the title of a painting depicting a terrier-mix dog named Nipper listening to a wind-up disc gramophone. In the original 1898 painting, the dog is listening to a cylinder phonograph. It was a famous trademark and logo of the RCA Victor record label.
In the 1970s, the statue of the dog and gramophone, His Master's Voice, were cloaked in bronze and was awarded by the record company (EMI) to artists or music producers or composers as a music award and often only after selling more than 100,000 recordings.
The trademark image comes from a painting by English artist Francis Barraud and titled His Master's Voice. It was acquired from the artist in 1899 by the newly formed Gramophone Company and adopted as a trademark by the Gramophone Company's United States affiliate, the Victor Talking Machine Company. According to contemporary Gramophone Company publicity material, the dog, a terrier named Nipper, had originally belonged to Barraud's brother, Mark. When Mark Barraud died, Francis inherited Nipper, along with a cylinder phonograph and recordings of Mark's voice. Francis noted the peculiar interest that the dog took in the recorded voice of his late master emanating from the horn, and conceived the idea of committing the scene to canvas. The incident took place at 92 Bold Street, Liverpool.
In early 1899, Francis Barraud applied for copyright of the original painting using the descriptive working title Dog looking at and listening to a Phonograph. He was unable to sell the work to any cylinder phonograph company, but William Barry Owen, the American founder of the Gramophone Company in England, offered to purchase the painting under the condition that Barraud modify it to show one of their disc machines. Barraud complied and the image was first used on the company's catalogue from December 1899. As the trademark gained in popularity, several additional copies were subsequently commissioned from the artist for various corporate purposes. Emile Berliner, the inventor of the Gramophone, had seen the picture in London and took out a United States copyright on it in July 1900. The painting was adopted as a trademark by Berliner's business partner, Eldridge R. Johnson of the recently formed Consolidated Talking Machine Company, which was reorganized as the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1901.
Johnson first used the dog-and-gramophone image in print advertisements for Consolidated in the autumn of 1900. Beginning in February 1902, most Victor records had a simplified drawing of the image on their labels. The Victor Company used the trademark far more ubiquitously than its UK affiliate, placing it on virtually all Victor products. Magazine and newspaper advertisements urged buyers to "look for the dog." Victor erected a large illuminated advertising sign of Nipper on Broadway, near the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. In 1915, Victor installed stained glass windows depicting the logo in the tower of Building 17 of its manufacturing complex and headquarters in Camden, New Jersey; the building and windows remain today, and have long been an iconic symbol of both RCA Victor and of Camden's industrial heritage.
In British Commonwealth countries, the Gramophone Company did not use the dog on its record labels until 1909. The following year the Gramophone Company replaced the Recording Angel trademark in the upper half of the record labels with the Nipper logo.
The company was not formally called HMV or His Master's Voice, but rapidly became identified by that phrase due to its prominence on the record labels. Records issued by the company before February 1908 were generally referred to by record collectors as "G&Ts", while those after that date are usually called "HMV" records. During World War I, the Gramophone Company's German branch, Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft, severed ties with the British parent company and operated independently; DG retained the Nipper trademark for use in Germany until 1949, when the rights were sold to Electrola, which replaced DG as the EMI affiliate in Germany. The image continued to be used as a trademark by Victor in the US, Canada, and Latin America. In British Commonwealth countries (except for Canada, where Victor held the rights) it was used by various subsidiaries of the Gramophone Company, which ultimately became part of EMI.
The trademark's ownership is divided among different companies in different countries, reducing its value in the globalised music market. The name HMV was used by a chain of music shops owned by HMV, mainly in the UK, Ireland, Canada, Singapore, Australia, Hong Kong, and Japan.
In 1921, the Gramophone Company opened the first HMV shop in London. In 1929, the Radio Corporation of America purchased the Victor Talking Machine Company and with it a major shareholding in the Gramophone Company, of which Victor had owned 51% since 1920. RCA was instrumental in the creation of EMI in 1931, which continued to control the His Master's Voice name and image in the UK. In 1935, RCA Victor sold its stake in EMI but continued to own the rights to His Master's Voice in the Americas. HMV continued to distribute Victor recordings in the UK and elsewhere until 1957, after EMI purchased Capitol Records as their distributor in the western hemisphere. The hostilities between Japan and the US during World War II led RCA Victor's Japanese subsidiary, the Victor Company of Japan (JVC), to secede from the American parent company and become independent. Today, JVC is still allowed use of the "Victor" brand name and Nipper trademark in Japan only. In 1968, RCA introduced a modern logo and retired the Nipper trademark, removing it from virtually all RCA advertising and products with the exception of Red Seal album covers. In 1976, largely due to public demand, RCA revived the trademark and reinstated Nipper to most RCA record labels in the Western Hemisphere. Throughout the late 1970s and 1980s, Nipper was once again widely used in RCA advertising, and the trademark reappeared for a time on RCA television sets and the ill-fated RCA CED videodisc system. In 1967, EMI converted the HMV label into an exclusive classical music label and dropped its POP series of popular music. HMV's POP series artists' roster was moved to Columbia Graphophone and Parlophone and licensed American POP record deals to Stateside Records.
The globalised market for CDs pushed EMI into abandoning the HMV label in favour of "EMI Classics", a name they could use worldwide; however, it was revived between 1988 and 1992 for Morrissey's recordings. The HMV/Nipper trademark is now owned by the retail chain in the UK. The formal trademark transfer from EMI took place in 2003. The old HMV classical music catalogue is now controlled by the Warner Classics unit of Warner Music Group. Reissues of HMV pop material that EMI previously controlled are now reissued on Warner's Parlophone label. In the UK, Warner Classics's online presence was launched as 'Dog and Trumpet' on Spotify, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in January 2017.
The dog-and-gramophone image is now licensed by RCA Records and its parent company, Sony Music Entertainment, from Technicolor SA, which operates RCA's consumer electronics division (still promoted by Nipper the dog). Thomson SA acquired the division from General Electric after GE absorbed the RCA Corporation in 1986. The image of "His Master's Voice" exists in the U.S. as a trademark only on radios and radios combined with phonographs; the trademark is owned by RCA Trademark Management SA, a subsidiary of Technicolor.
With that exception, the "His Master's Voice" dog-and-gramophone image is in the public domain in the U.S., its trademark registrations having expired in 1989 (for sound recordings and phonograph cabinets), 1992 (television sets, television-radio combination sets), and 1994 (sound recording and reproducing machines, needles, and records).
The "His Master's Voice" logo was used around the world, and the motto became well known in different languages. In Europe these include "La voix de son maître," (France), "La voz de su amo" (Spain), "A voz do dono" (Portugal), "La voce del padrone" (Italy), "Die Stimme seines Herrn" (Germany), "Husbondens Röst" (Sweden), "Głos Swego Pana" (Poland), "Sin Herres Stemme" (Norway) and "Sahibinin Sesi" (Turkey).
The 1958 LP album cover of Elvis' Golden Records shows pictures of various RCA 45s with Nipper on their labels. On the British version, these images were blacked out for copyright reasons. This type of editing took place with many other foreign versions of US RCA releases. Similarly, the album covers and labels of RCA and EMI imports which were sold in other countries, often had a sticker placed over the Nipper trademark.
The movie Superman Returns (2006) contains a scene early on set in Kansas, in which a "His Master's Voice" radio is clearly shown. His Master's Voice radios have never been sold in the U.S., due to RCA holding the "Nipper" copyright. The movie was made in Australia, and the nearest "prop" was obviously used.
In the 2008 film Valkyrie, a Deutsche Grammophon recording of "Ride of the Valkyries" with Nipper and the "Die Stimme seines Herrn" motto on the label was shown spinning on a 78-rpm wind-up gramophone as the music played in the protagonist's living room.
Homage is paid to the iconic dog-and-gramophone image in the 1999 feature film Wild Wild West in which a dog resembling Nipper runs to the side of a recently departed character and looks into an ear horn. The film, however, is set in 1869, 30 years before Barraud created his work.
Staffers at the US public media organization NPR (National Public Radio) noted the similarity of sound between NPR and 'Nipper', and informally adopted the Nipper dog as a mascot. For several years in the 1990s a larger-than-life-size plastic statue of the dog Nipper graced the main entrance lobby of the network's headquarters building in Washington, DC.
EMI continued to expand internationally through the 1990s. The name HMV is still used by the chain of entertainment shops founded by the Gramophone Company in the UK and, until 2017, in Canada.
In 1998 HMV Media was created as a separate company, leaving EMI with a 43% stake. The firm bought the Waterstones chain of bookshops and merged them with Dillons the UK booksellers. In 2002 it floated on the London Stock Exchange as HMV Group plc, leaving EMI with only a token holding.
HMV shops in Australia, Ireland, and the UK also use the Nipper trademark. HMV applied for trademark status in order to use Nipper at HMV stores in Canada but in 2010 abandoned the application, presumably because the rights to Nipper in Canada are part of the RCA brand portfolio now owned by Technicolor SA and licensed to other companies.
On 15 January 2013, HMV Group plc entered receivership; stores in Ireland closed 16 January 2013 and were no longer accepting vouchers. The HMV website posted a receivership notice and no further online sales were made.
According to the HMV website, the organization was restructured by Hilco and, while some stores were closed, it has reopened debt-free and continues to trade.
As of 28 December 2018, HMV has confirmed that it has called in KPMG as administrators and entered administration for the second time in six years.
On 5 February 2019, the Canadian retailer Sunrise Records announced its acquisition of HMV Retail for an undisclosed amount (later reported to be £883,000). Sunrise planned to maintain the HMV chain and five Fopp stores, but immediately closed 27 locations. By late-February, HMV had reopened a number of stores (including 1 Fopp branch).
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- List of record labels
- List of phonograph manufacturers
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