William Barry Owen
When hearing the name William
Barry Owen, most phono-enthusiasts will say, that name sounds
familiar. Doesn't he have something to do with the world
famous His Master's Voice (HMV) or RCA Victor terrier called
Nipper? Is he the guy inside the
casket that Nipper is sitting on? No, there's absolutely
no truth to the story that Nipper's Master is inside the casket.
Wasn't he born on Martha's Vineyard, a real
estate developer, lawyer, chicken farmer, book binder, banker, a
As I research old phonographs, I read everything related to
the history of phonographs. William Barry Owen
gets little credit
except for having purchased the painting of His Master's Voice
'the Nipper logo' from Francis Barraud in 1899. Very little is written about William, so I hope to set the record
straight (pun intended) concerning William's
exciting life and contributions to the phonograph, gramophone
and recording industry.
A Combination of Circumstances....
Eldridge Reeves Johnson said the Victor Talking Machine Company (VTMC)
never would have been created had it not been for a "combination of
circumstances". I think the VTMC and subsequent RCA Victor and
the British Gramophone Company (now EMI) the Deutsche(German)
Gramophone Company and other
associated companies including Japan Victor Company (JVC), might not
have emerged in their present form had it not been for William Barry
Owen. But for some reason, he is only remembered for the Nipper logo,
the most popular commercial logo of all time and for being the founding General Manager of The
William Barry Owen would never have left the security and comfort
of life in Boston and a summer residence on the resort island of
Martha's Vineyard had it not been for a combination of circumstances
that you won't believe. So let's get started.
Before we can begin to understand this complex, quiet man......
I'm currently writing a brief, but well-researched biography of
William Barry Owen.
Theme, life story will unfold over a period of time, much
research is required, good news is Owen family history revolves
around a very small community on a very small island, MV. Key
events are well documented in the press, public papers, and public
records, name is very unique, there are few William Barry Owen's in
the world, but many William, Will and Bill Owen or Owens, and others
such as Barry Owen, W.B. Owen, Willy Owen used in 1886 BC, (Before
There is much debate about whether Nipper is in fact sitting on
top of a casket and Nipper's Master's Voice is coming from the
gramophone. I've not spend much time researching this
question, but because it is such a persistent rumor, let me add my
two cents. First, I've been fortunate to meet Ruth Edge, Chief
Archivist at EMI's (originally the British Gramophone Company)
Archive in Hayes, England. While looking at the original
painting created by Barruad, I asked Ruth, well is Nipper sitting on
a casket? She politely smiled, then gave me a resounding no.
Nipper Repainted Nipper-->
I've never asked the 'Nipper on the casket' question again, as
Ruth has repeatedly proven to be one of the most credible, reliable
suppliers of objective research. For example, when researching
William Barry Owen, I did find one or two tidbits of information
that I will not publish because I don't have conclusive evidence
that can be triangulated. When I asked Ruth if she thought my
tidbit was plausible, she said too had found some correspondence
to/from William that could lead one to believe what we were
thinking, nonetheless, there was no conclusive proof.
If you 'want to believe' the Nipper casket story, be sure to read
The Audible Past by Jonathan Sterne, see Chapter six, A Resonant
Tomb for a summary of compelling arguments from several
'knowledgeable writers' that Nipper's master is in the casket.
It's fun to hear the point, counter-point arguments that because
Nipper is listening to a 'gramophone' which wasn't capable of 'home
recording', His Master's Voice was never recorded. The
counter-point is the original painting was Nipper listening to a 'phonograph'
that could record wax cylinders. There's no doubt that
machine had been painted over because Mr. Owen asked Barraud for a
gramophone, not the competitive Edison cylinder phonograph.
When looking at the original painting, located at the EMI Archive,
you can see the outline of the Edison phonograph that had been
Could you score well taking a quiz about Nipper?
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