William Barry Owen

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   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 London socialite? 

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 Gramophone Company. 

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 College).




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. 

     <--Original 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 painted over. 

Could you score well taking a quiz about Nipper?  Click here to learn more!



Boston, MA  USA