11 Vintage Photos of Old-Timey Musicians

This week, NPR reported on a study which found that the human brain, regardless of a person’s perceived ability to keep a beat, can still keep time. The findings further underscored a long-running theory that music truly is a universal human language, as old as time and as thoroughly rooted in our brains as the need to breathe.  And while our Music & Audio channel, tends to focus a lot on the technical aspect of making music, like tracking, recording, and producing – the historical importance of music is not to be overlooked.

Today, for Throwback Thursday, we dug up some vintage photos of people making music. Across decades, continents, and languages. Here’s a look at how making music has changed throughout the ages. Kind of makes you appreciate Logic Pro X a little more, doesn’t it?

5493576767_b71d1e71b6_bFirst, let’s start with this exceptional beard, seen on Parish Constable August Ländin, who’s seen in Åkeshov, Sweden, playing his guitar.

Born in 1863, Ländin (and his upstanding facial hair) was photographed multiple times, and can be seen getting up to his usual duties thanks to the Swedish Heritage Museum.

At the time, a Parish Constable (“Fjärdingsmannen” in Swedish) was basically a small town cop. Ländin is even used as the example image on the Wikipedia entry for the position – thought it seems that when he wasn’t enforcing the law, he passed his time playing his guitar.


The Library of Congress doesn’t seem to know much about this image other than the fact that it “shows a street musician playing a hurdy-gurdy.” Street musicians have made money performing for the public since, as far as historians can tell, antiquity. This image is dated betwee n1910 and 1915.

vintage photo street musicians


Speaking of street musicians, this image came from a book called “Street Life in London,” which delved into the lives of street performers. The LSE library describes the photographer, John Thomson, as “a talented and influential photographer, who had spent ten years traveling in, and taking photographs of, the Far East. On his return to London he joined with Adolphe Smith, a socialist journalist, in a project to photograph the street life of the London poor. The volumes were published in monthly parts as Street Life in London, and were an early example of social and documentary photography.”

The book was published in 1877, so this photo was from some time before that, and features Italian immigrants, who often came to London to seek greater work opportunities.

vintage photos of musicians

Look at these cute little musicians. The caption for this image reads “Adelaide Boys’ Band arriving at Central Railway, 14 January 1937, by Sam Hood.” It comes from the State Library of New South Wales. 

vintage photos of musicians

“Two men, seated outside a shanty in Codfish Park, one is playing the banjo, and the other the fiddle, c. 1890s.” writes the Nantucket Historical Association of this jovial-looking photo.


The New York Public Library doesn’t offer a date for this image, but does give the description written on the original version: “B.M. Harcourt” “The girls of the [illegible word] classes are taught to play on musical instruments. The long instrument on the floor is called a koto, a kind of harp. The long handled instrument is called samisen, or native 3 stringed guitar, and is the most popular of Japanese musical intruments.”

vintage photos

Music has also long been a staple on the warfront. Here’s a photo from the Civil War courtesy of the Library of Congress, which pictures a man in a Union uniform, and is dated between between 1861 and 1865. Posing with both a banjo and a sword was an interesting choice.

vintage musicians

The Gimenez family – comprised of Julian (violin), Manuel (piano), and Measio (cello) – were photographed by H. Walter in Leipzig, Germany, though the date is unknown.

vintage music photos

Here’s another family band (halfway across the world from the previous) in Missouri, circa 1890. The photo, which comes from the Missouri State Archives features “the Gill brothers and one sister with some younger children are posed in a backyard with their instruments in front of an organ.”

vintage photos

More great facial hair from Sweden, here’s shoemaker, woodcarver, and fiddler Petrus Norling in Knivsta, “playing the violin in his workshop,” writes the Swedish National Heritage. Norling was born in 1869.

vintage cat photos

And here’s an old ad for some thread that features cats playing musical instruments. Presented without further comment, via the Miami University Library.


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Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and editor for CreativeLive, longtime reporter, and the co-founder of Seattlish. Follow her on Twitter at @mshannabrooks or go to her website for more stuff.