Victor Records owner hopes to entomb the bones of iconic ‘Nipper’ in the city that made the dog famous – The Philadelphia Inquirer

Graham Alexander, a musician and entrepreneur who owns the rights to various RCA Victor music brands, wants to create a memorial in Camden.
The image of a cute little mutt named Nipper, cocking his head to hear “His Master’s Voice” emanate from a vintage record player, once belonged to a Camden company that for much of the 20th century made the music, radios, phonographs, and TVs that helped introduce America and the world to new forms of home entertainment.
In 2014, an entrepreneur and musician who was born and lives in Camden started buying up the rights to Nipper as well as to former RCA Victor brands such as the Victor Talking Machine, RCA Camden, and His Master’s Voice.
And now Graham Alexander owns some of Nipper’s bones, too.
“I imagine you want to see them,” he said inside the Victor Vault, his live music venue, archive, and recording studio on the White Horse Pike in Berlin Borough, Camden County.
Alexander also has an office in Camden City and two home audio equipment assembly facilities elsewhere in the county — a modest, updated version of the RCA Victor operations in Camden that employed tens of thousands of South Jersey and Philly area residents for generations. The company was bought by General Electric in 1986; a successor firm, L3Harris Technologies, is still in business in the city.
“I want Camden to be recognized as a founding player in music and home entertainment, and I think the remains of Nipper help enhance that connection,” Alexander said. “Our company’s mission is to make clear that the recorded music industry was born in Camden.”
Alexander gestured toward a black box containing 11 small, bright white pieces of bone. He received them two months ago in exchange for a donation to help provide care for a descendant of a veterinarian who helped exhume what were believed to be Nipper’s remains in 1950.
A team excavated the spot where the dog was said to have been buried in a garden at Kingston upon Thames, Southwest London, England; the remains were identified as belonging to a mixed breed canine.
“I’m confident the bones are Nipper’s,” said Alexander, who is raising money to build a memorial garden on the Victor Vault property, where he will inter them. He hopes to eventually create a more substantial memorial in Camden, where Eldridge R. Johnson founded the Victor Talking Machine Co. in 1901. He sold the company to the Radio Corporation of America in 1928.
“Nipper symbolizes the value of the art of recorded sound, and the human connection it makes,” said Ivan Munoz, the brand manager for Alexander’s Victor Talking Machine Co. In addition to the live entertainment at the Vault, the company produces music in various formats and also assembles home and personal audio equipment for direct sale to consumers.
The company also maintains an archive that includes thousands of master recordings. Many date from the earliest years of the 20th century, when the tenor Enrico Caruso and, eventually, pop, rock, jazz, and blues musicians came to Camden to make the records that would be played on the “Victrolas” the company built, helping to create the recorded music industry in the process.
» READ MORE: Old RCA building used by Camden schools to become offices, with a hint of its early days
“The Victor Talking Machine Company and successor RCA in Camden dominated the communications-electronics industry worldwide,” said Frederick O. Barnum III, author of a company history titled ‘His Master’s Voice’ in America.
“The logo of Nipper is second only to Coca-Cola as the most recognized corporate logo on the planet,” he said.
“Nipper’s bones are an artifact with impact,” said Alexander, who would like his company to someday have a significant impact on the city as well. But successive developers spurned his efforts to locate some of his operations in what had been Johnson’s office building at Front and Cooper Streets. It’s now home to the headquarters of EMR Eastern, a metal recycling company.
Alexander noted that only three buildings — one an eight-story vacant shell where a condominium plan famously fizzled — survive from what had been a sprawling RCA Victor complex near the downtown waterfront.
“There’s not a lot left,” he said.
However, two museums in South Jersey, including one in Camden, as well as two in Delaware, have significant collections of Victor and RCA Victor material, including early “Victrola” record players, radios, TV sets, recordings, advertising materials, and Nipper paraphernalia.
Jack O’Byrne, the executive director of the Camden County Historical Society museum in the city’s Parkside neighborhood, was taken aback when he heard that Alexander had purchased the dog’s bones.
» READ MORE: Lofty plan to honor the musical legacy of Camden’s Victor building is scrapped. A recycling firm is moving in.
“What?” he said. “I guess you can’t make that up.”
Added O’Byrne: “There’s nothing wrong with reinterring the bones and showing the remains greater respect or have them in a more appropriate place of honor.”
At the RCA Heritage Program Museum in Rowan University’s Campbell Library in Glassboro, “we have three-foot-tall Nippers that greet you at the front door, and Nipper cups, plates, jackets, cigarette lighters. You name it,” said associate director Richard Reindl.
Nipper’s appeal lies in the fact that “he’s a cute dog, with a unique expression on his face, and he became the most recognized symbol of the industry,” said Reindl, who worked for RCA Victor and successor companies for 40 years until his retirement in 2013.
“I commend Graham for bringing [Nipper] to a place where the name and the picture of him is appreciated,” he said.
Nipper died in 1895, years before he would become a global icon thanks to the posthumous paintings made of him by the artist Francis Barraud, who inherited the dog after his brother Mark (Nipper’s “master”) died.
Legends about the image suggest that it was painted from life as Nipper listened to his owner’s voice on a recording and that Mark Barraud’s coffin was the surface beneath the dog and the phonograph in the painting.
But in his book, Barnum cited remarks made by the artist himself: “It had suddenly occurred to me to have my dog with an intelligent and rather puzzled expression, and call it ‘His Master’s Voice.’”
In an email exchange, a Barraud family member, who asked that her name not be published because many family members had assisted the collaboration between Alexander and the donor, confirmed that the bones Alexander obtained were from the 1950 exhumation.
“I can confirm that my ancestor’s nephew … guided the original 1950 excavation and that this excavation turned up remains … We have confirmed that the gentleman who donated the 2022 remains was descended from a veterinary member of the 1950 excavation team,” the family member said in the email.
“We are incredibly excited to see an American ‘His Master’s Voice’ Memorial.”
“Bringing Nipper home to America is a good idea,” said O. Lytle Hoover, a retired RCA marketing executive. Nipper “had the magic of being able to make everybody love him.”
Like other supporters of Alexander’s project, Hoover said Camden would be the most logical resting place for the remains.
“We’re very proud to have this memorial garden at the Victor Vault,” Alexander said. “Of course, we’d be interested in reinterring the remains in Camden should the opportunity present itself someday.”


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