Remember Nipper, the little black-and-white dog who sat by the RCA Victor phonograph with his ear cocked inquisitively, listening for "His Master's Voice"?
Well, Ray Harper of west Mobile remembers--to the tune of a collection of 554 of the mixed-breed, part Jack Russell Terrier pup.
Harper started collecting the dogs when he began working for RCA in 1959. As he amassed his collection of Nippers, he built a room onto his house to accommodate the canines, some of which are papier mache, some plastic, some chalk, metal, stuffed or ceramic. They measure anywhere from 1/2" to 3' tall.
The figures, Harper said, were used in advertising or were giveaways that dealers handed out to customers. He didn't really have a reason for collecting Nippers: "It was just something I did," he said.
(Editor's note: Wikipedia and other sites devoted to Nipper and RCA give a history of the dog, slogan and companies connected to the image. EBay has dozens of Nippers listed, with the asking prices ranging from about $5 to $2,000, depending on the condition and rarity of the item.)
Harper hasn't limited his collections to dogs. He has 5 antique automobiles, some with stories attached. A 1915 Model T, his oldest, is what he calls an RCA Depot Hack with Nipper prominently displayed on the side panels. A 1921 Model T belonged to a close friend, and when the friend got cancer, he called in Harper. "I want you to have the car," the friend said, offering it at a price "I couldn't refuse," Harper said. Two weeks after the sale, the friend died.
He also has a 1923 Model T and a 1929 Model A. But one of his favorites is a 1971 Monte Carlo that he purchased in Beatrice, Alabama. "My wife Katherine and I bought a brand new 1971 Monte Carlo when they came out, and we decided that if we ever saw one in good condition, we'd get it," he said.
Ray and Katherine Harper travel around the Southeast to car shows, towing whichever car they want to display. And at one time, Harper was one of a group of antique auto enthusiasts who held a charity event, "It's All About the Kids" to raise funds for survivors or victims of childhood cancers and other diseases.