Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music
His Master's Voice, UK record label. Emile Berliner sold the rights to his disc gramophone (see Recorded Sound) in Europe and most of the world to a group of English investors in 1898 for £5,000; they formed the Gramophone Company and built a factory in Hanover (now Polygram's CD factory). In the late 1890s English painter Francis Barraud painted 'His Master's Voice', a picture of his dog Nipper listening to an Edison cylinder phonograph (in Kingston-upon-Thames, southwest London); he offered it to the Edison Bell Company, whose chairman James Hough turned it down, saying 'Dogs don't listen to phonographs.' The Gramophone Company paid £50 for the picture and £50 for the copyright, on condition that he paint a gramophone over the phonograph; it hangs in the EMI London office today and has become one of the most famous trademarks in the world. The Gramophone Company set up branches all over Europe, Africa, Asia and the Pacific; just after the turn of the century, with patent wars raging in USA, it was the biggest record company in the world, and the leading British company until merger with Columbia to form EMI '31.
The artist roster included Harry Lauder, John McCormack, speeches by Winston Churchill (on the budget of 1909, aftermath of war in 1918), and opera stars Adelina Patti, Dame Nellie Melba, Enrico Caruso. The company had sent recording engineer Fred Gaisberg to Italy in 1902; he heard Caruso and negotiated £100 for ten records, cabling London for approval; the directors cabled back 'fee exorbitant forbid you to record'; Gaisberg went ahead anyway and recorded the world's first million-sellers. Links with Victor in USA assured a flow of US product, with stars like Caruso being leased to Victor in return. Though using an HMV logo (and picture of Nipper) as early as 1900, Gramophone used the recording angel as a record label until 1909 (the name Angel was revived in 1953 as EMI's classical label in USA). In Russia, Egypt, India and Muslim countries, adoption of the trademark took longer, as the dog was considered unclean (in India a variation had a cobra listening to the gramophone); Nipper was also slow to be adopted in Italy, where a bad singer was said to sing like a dog. Berliner saw the picture on a visit to London and asked permission to use the trademark in the USA; Berliner, then Victor and RCA have used it to this day. Victor were also allowed to use it in Japan, selling out its Japanese interest before WWII; the independent Japanese Victor Company (JVC) still uses it. After the merger in 1931 HMV remained the premier EMI label until Columbia took the lead in '50s pop; HMV still had no. 1 hits (Manfred Mann's 'Do Wah Diddy Diddy' '64, Louis Armstrong's 'What A Wonderful World' '68), but on 1 April 1968 it became a classical-only label, though as Andrew Lloyd-Webber's Requiem showed, it could still reach a mass audience. In the '90s EMI seems to have dropped all the famous logos, including Nipper (see EMI's entry).