His Master's Voice, today usually abbreviated to HMV, is a famous trademark in the music business, and for many years was the name of a large record label. The name was coined in 1899 as the title of a painting of the dog Nipper listening to a wind-up gramophone. In the original painting, the dog was listening to a cylinder phonograph.
Later, 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 UK partner, and from 1902 on all Victor records had a simplified drawing of the dog and gramophone from Barraud's painting on their label. Magazine advertisements urged record buyers to "Look for the dog".
In Commonwealth countries, the Gramophone Company did not use this design 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 by the famous picture painted by Frances Barraud, commonly referred to as Nipper or The Dog.
The company was never formally called "HMV" or His Master's Voice, but was identified by that term because of its use of the trademark. Records issued by the Company before February 1908 were generally referred to as "G&Ts", while those after that date are usually called "HMV" records.
This image continued to be used as a trademark by Victor in the USA, Canada and Latin America, and then by Victor's successor RCA. In Commonwealth countries (except Canada) it was used by 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 is used by a chain of music shops owned by HMV Group plc, 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 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 rights to His Master's Voice in the Americas.
World War II fragmented the ownership of the name still further, as RCA Victor's Japanese subsidiary The Victor Company of Japan (JVC) became independent, and today they still use the "Victor" brand and Nipper in Japan only. Nipper continued to appear on RCA Victor records in America while EMI owned the His Master's Voice label in the UK until the 1980s, and the HMV shops until 1998.
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 in the 1990s for Morrissey recordings. The HMV trademark is now owned by the retail chain in the UK. The formal trade mark transfer from EMI took place in 2003.
Meanwhile, RCA went into a financial decline. The dog and gramophone image, along with the RCA name, is now licensed by RCA Records and RCA Victor owner Sony BMG Music Entertainment from Thomson SA, which operates RCA's consumer electronics business (still promoted by Nipper the dog) that it bought from General Electric in 1986, after GE bought RCA. The image of "His Master's Voice" now exists in the United States as a trademark only on radios and radios combined with phonographs, a trademark owned by Thomson subsidiary RCA Trademark Management SA.
With that exception, the "His Master's Voice" dog and gramophone image is in the public domain in the USA, its United States trademark registrations having expired in 1989 (Sound recordings and phonograph cabinets), 1992 (television sets, television-radio combination sets), and 1994 (sound recording and reproducing machines, needles, and records).
The 1958 LP album "Elvis' Golden Records" shows pictures of various RCA 45s with Nipper on their labels. On the British version, these images were blacked out, for obvious copyright reasons. This editing took place with many other RCA releases in England.
The movie Superman Returns(2006) contains a scene early on set in Kansas, in which a "His Master's Voice" radio is clearly shown. HMV radios have never been sold in the USA, due to RCA holding the "Nipper" copyright. The movie was made in Australia, and the nearest "prop" was obviously used.
Homage is played to the iconic dog and gramophone image in the 1999 feature film Wild Wild West where in the 43rd minute 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.
On July 1st 2008 HMV lifted the wraps on its bespoke social discovery Web site, Getcloser.com. after being in beta testing for 6 months.
As of August 2006, there are over 400 HMV stores worldwide, plus the website hmv.com, which is operated by HMV Guernsey.