His Master’s 3D Holograph

The 3D experience of Avatar left me with a curious image in my head the next day. The visual effect was so real with the added dimension that it induced this waking daydream image:

A picture of a man (me, since it was my own personal vision), his face in the glow of a wall-mounted HDTV, his head cocked curiously to the side as if he cannot believe that those are not real flying lizards coming out of the screen toward him.

Nipper hears his master from the grave

The precedent for this vision, some of you boomers may recognize, is the RCA Victor dog-and-gramaphone image–a 1899 painting that came to be known as “His Master’s Voice.”

The dog’s name was Nipper (because he was fond of strangers’ ankles) and he really did respond to a cylinder recording of his owner some years after the man’s death. The brother noticed the odd and poignant response, painted the picture, and realizing its marketing potential (though he couldn’t have had a clue to its staying power) pitched it to a gramaphone company of his day. As ownership changed hands, the iconic image persisted.

You can see a cartoon version of the history of Nipper (as told by the famous dog himself) here.

The Vintage Ads browser for “TV and Electronics” shows many old Victorolas and other models with Nipper’s reduced image in a corner.

I’ve spent far too much time following the evolution of “entertainment centers” over the years as seen in these archived ads. It’s informative to watch the role of plastic (supplanting wood) as it literally re-forms our TVs and radios into “streamlined” devices that must have seemed so futuristic in their day.

The other trend is size. The first TVs and especially radios were massive, heat-and-light generating floor models. One of my first memories as a child was the glowing tubes inside a vertical chest-sized Magnavox (I think) that looked something like this model.

More Nipper Links at The History Chanel, Designboom, and Wikipedia.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Although I have been familar with the RCA Victor dog since a child, I never knew any of the background behind the drawing. Really interesting. He was actually listening to a recording of his friend, wow!

    Thanks, it is true that we learn something everyday.

    Any idea why your visits are not being logged on Nature Blog Network?


  2. I never knew the story either; how poignant.

    My parents and grandparents all had radios like that. I have fond memories of lying on the floor with my head near the radio, listening to The Green Hornet and the Shadow, among others.

  3. Thanks for the story about Nipper.
    I have seen, thru the years, statues of him around Greensboro, at music stores, etc. He is a collector’s item now.

    Yes, as a kid, we had several old TV’s, at different times. The old tubes, you could take tubes to a store that had a tube tester, and test the tubes. Anytime my Dad had to remove the back of the TV, I would look inside, and see a city of tubes, like tall and short buildings, at night.
    The verticl and horizontal controls were a challenge also……we never had a new TV, and what we had was always black and white.
    Imagine my surprise, when I finally saw Porter Wagoner, in color, with those rhinestone suits!!!!!
    And yes, I love those pocket transitor radios from the 1960″s…..and that little earphone…

    Fred, you are always bringing back some good memories !!

    I hope you all are doing ok up in them thar hills of Floyd..