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His Master's Voice, often abbreviated to HMV, is a famous trademark in the music business, as well as the name a large record company for many years. The name was coined in 1899 as the title of a painting of the dog Nipper listening to a wind-up gramophone.

The Origin of the Trademark Image

The famous trademark image came from a painting originally titled Dog looking at and listening to a Phonograph, and then retitled His Master's Voice. It was painted by British artist Francis Barraud in 1898, based on memories of his dog Nipper. The original version of the painting showed not the disc gramophone familiar in the trademark today, but rather a cylinder phonograph. The dog and phonograph were perched atop a coffin. Presumably the dog was listening to the voice of his deceased owner. (This made more sense with a cylinder phonograph, since at the time they commonly had attachments to make home recordings, whereas the disc gramophone only played back prerecorded sound.)

Barraud failed to sell it to any cylinder phonograph company, but in 1899 was able to sell it to the Gramophone Company under the condition that he modify it to show a disc machine. The Gramophone Company first used the image on publicity material in 1900. At the request of the gramophone's inventor Emile Berliner, the American rights to the picture became owned by the Victor Talking Machine Company.

Victor used the image more aggressively than its U.K. partner, and from 1902 on all Victor records had a simplified drawing of the dog and gramophone from Barraund's painting on their label. Magazine advertisements urged record buyers to "Look for the dog".

The Gramophone Company becomes "His Master's Voice"

In the British Commonwealth, the Gramophone Company did not use this design on its record labels until 1909. The following year the Gramophone Company changed its name to His Master's Voice or "HMV".

This image continued to be used as a trademark by Victor in the USA and Latin America, and then by Victor's successor RCA. In the Commonwealth it was used by the associated company HMV Records, which was later acquired by EMI. The trademark's ownership is divided between different companies in different countries, reducing its value in the globalised music market. The name HMV is used by a chain of music shops, mainly in the UK, Canada and Japan.

In 1921 the His Master's Voice Company opened the first HMV shop in London. In 1929 RCA bought Victor, and with it a major shareholding in the Gramophone Company which Victor had owned since 1920. In 1931 RCA was instrumental in the creation of EMI, which continued to own the "His Master's Voice" name and image in the UK. In 1935 RCA sold its stake in EMI but continued to own Victor and the American rights to His Master's Voice. World War II fragmented the ownership of the name still further, as RCA Victor's Japanese subsidiary JVC became independent. Nipper continued to appear on RCA Victor records in America while EMI owned the His Master's Voice label and shops in the UK until the 1980s. The globalised market for CDs pushed EMI into abandoning the HMV label in favour of "EMI Classics", a name they could use worldwide. Meanwhile RCA went into a financial decline; The RCA Victor label (complete with the dog and gramophone image) is now owned by BMG-Bertelsmann, while RCA's consumer electronics business (still promoted by Nipper the dog) is owned by Thomson.

Although the HMV label for records was abandoned by EMI, the name was still used by their chain of record shops in the UK, which continued to expand internationally through the 1990s. In 1998 HMV Media was created as a separate company and bought the Waterstone's chain of bookshops, leaving EMI with a 43% stake. In 2002 it floated on the Stock Exchange, leaving EMI with only a token holding.

See also: Victor Talking Machine Company, List of record companies

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