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A tale of two cities, and two Nippers

albanynipperWhat do Baltimore and Albany have in common?

Giant Nippers.

The cities sport the only remaining giant statues of the RCA Victor mascot that were placed atop RCA warehouses in the northeast in the 1950’s.

Albany’s (left) is the largest — 25 feet tall and weighing almost four tons.

Its history was recounted this week by photographer Chuck Miller on his Times-Union blog.

New York Nipper, erected in 1954, sits atop what is now Arnoff Moving and Storage in North Albany’s early industrial warehouse district.

The bulding was once the RTA warehouse, an RCA Victor electronics distributor, then went through several different owners, serving as a  furniture store, flea market and art gallery. The object on Nipper’s ear is an aircraft beacon that keeps low-flying airplanes from hitting him.

In 1997, according to Miller’s report, there was talk in Albany of removing Nipper, who had deteriorated a bit over 40-plus years, from the top of the building. But Michael Arnoff, owner of Arnoff Moving and Storage, announced the company would spend $1 million in building renovation, including repairing Nipper’s steel skeleton and giving him a new paint job.

baltimorenipperThe Baltimore Nipper statue is 18 feet tall. It was originally installed on the RCA building in Baltimore around 1950. When RCA temporarily discontinued using the icon in 1975, the statue was sold to Virginia resident Jim Wells, reportedly for $1, who moved it to his property in Merrifeld, Virginia.

Twenty years later he decided to sell his land for development as a townhome community. (The street leading to the development is named Nipper Way, according to Wikipedia.)

Wells sold Nipper back to a group of Baltimore citizens, reportedly for $25,000. It is now located on the roof of the Maryland Historical Society at Park Ave. &  W. Centre St.  Unlike Albany’s, Baltimore’s Nipper sculpture still includes a gramophone.

The real Nipper was  a fox terrier-pit bull-maybe something else mix born in Bristol, England in 1884.

When the dog’s owner died, Nipper was passed on to two French painters, Marc and Francis Barraud. In 1895, Francis Barraud saw Nipper gazing intently at a nearby gramophone, and painted the scene, calling the work “His Master’s Voice.”

He later sold the painting to the president of a music company in London called the Gramophone Co., Ltd., where in 1900, Emile Berliner – the inventor of the disc gramophone – saw it and had it registered as an official trademark. Berliner’s company later evolved into the Victor Talking Machine Company, which would later become RCA Victor.

The dog and gramophone trademark appeared in the company’s advertising campaigns, on phonograph cabinets and lids, on records and, in numerous cities, atop buildings.  Most of the rooftop Nippers didn’t stand the test of time, falling out of fashion and victim to weather.

But in two scrappy cities — both known for being proud of their pasts and unashamed of their quirky sides — Nipper is still sitting pretty.

Comments

Comment from Robin
Time January 14, 2010 at 3:33 pm

Just wanted to let you know that the Johnson Victrola Museum in Dover Delaware has over 150 Nipper Dogs on display.

Comment from Dawn
Time March 1, 2010 at 10:59 pm

Really enjoyed this story. Thanks!

Comment from Gerald Uhlan
Time March 21, 2016 at 8:41 pm

The original painting had Nipper looking at a Cylinder player. Later, Baraud painted over it with the familiar Victor machine we see in the portrait today.