You might need to look carefully to spot this city’s roofline gargoyles and grotesques, but you don’t need eagle eyes to spy this monumental white terrier.
Sitting atop a storage building in Albany’s North End is a four ton, 28-foot tall steel and fiberglass statue of Nipper, the canine mascot of RCA, the now-defunct consumer electronics behemoth.
According to the Albany Institute of Art and History, Nipper came to be perched atop the crenellated parapet in 1958 following renovation of the dilapidated concrete warehouse for use by RTA, an appliance distributor specializing in products by RCA. The statue was fabricated in Chicago, shipped in five sections by rail, and attached to a metal frame on the roof with the aid of a 10-story crane.
Nipper is the largest of the four monumental terriers that once sat atop RTA’s distribution centers headquarters, and the last dog to still exist on the building upon which he was originally installed. There were once enormous Nippers peering over the skylines of Chicago and Los Angeles, but those that have since been demolished or removed. The smaller terrier that once sat atop the Baltimore headquarters has since been moved.
He is based on a real nineteenth century terrier owned by Francis Barraud, a painter residing in Liverpool, England. The dog was named for a tendency to nip at visitors’ heels. One day Barraud saw the Nipper listening intently to a windup cylinder phonograph and decided to capture the moment in a painting. He then attempted to sell the image rights to a number of companies, including the Edison Bell Company in Menlo Park, New Jersey. In his letter to the management, he noted that the dog in the painting was listening to an Edison Bell cylinder. “Dogs don’t listen to phonographs,” was the curt reply.
On May 31, 1899, Barraud stopped into the the Maiden Lane, London offices of The Gramophone Company. He was intending to borrow a brass horn upon which to model a new version of the painting. The store manager mentioned that, if Barraud replaced the machine with a Berliner disc gramophone, the company would purchase the rights. The deal was finalized, and the image went on to become one of the most successful trademarks in merchandise history. It has been used by a long succession of companies, including the Victor and HMV record labels, HMV music stores, and the Radio Corporation of America after their acquisition of Victor in 1929.
Unlike his Baltimore cousin, the Albany Nipper never had his head cocked to the bell of a gramophone. He has always been listening to the wind. The RTA facility closed its doors in the 1980s, but the affection Albany residents have for Nipper has kept him in place through the building’s changes in ownership.
This article was originally written for Atlas Obscura, but has not yet been published.