Musical family in Finland (1915)

This postcard was sent from Helsinki (Swedish: Helsingfors), the capital of Finland, to the Finnish port town of Hanko (Hangö) on February 16, 1915.  At that time Finland was a Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire.  Because Russia was engaged in the First World War, the card had to be cleared by a wartime government censor, as evidenced by a stamp with the words “Пропустить г. Гельсингфорсъ” (“Pass city of Helsingfors”):

Musical family in Finland 4

The card was sent to a Mr. Rickhard Engberg.  At upper right is the word Tullvaktmästaren, which translates to Customs guard master.  That sounds like a combination of customs officer and coast guardsman.  I can make out a few words of the message, but not enough to make sense of it, so I’m hoping for help from my Swedish-speaking readers.  (See a large scan of the back here.)

It would be wonderful to identify this family.  My guess is that the father was either an orchestra member or a professor of music.  His daughter is demonstrating how she plays her cittra (sitra, цитра, zither):

Musical family in Finland 2

Her brother seems to be trying hard not to laugh:

Musical family in Finland 3

On the wall above, you can see a framed portrait of a young woman who may be the children’s mother.  I wonder where she was when this photo was taken.



36 thoughts on “Musical family in Finland (1915)

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    1. I was immediately struck by the pictures hung at an angle as well. I’ve seen other photos from the time period showing pictures hung that way. I wonder if it was to may them easier to see, since they were so far above people’s eye level.

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    1. Yes, amateur photography took off in the years before the war, but interior shots are rare, mostly because of the challenge of lighting. The camera used for this photo was a very good one. I wish my parents had photos from the homes of their grandparents. I don’t think we have a single one.

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  1. The text at the back says:
    “Dear Brother, (Doesn’t have to be a true brother. It’s also an old-fashioned greeting phrase.) A thousand thanks for the letter, I’m glad you thought of me too. It would be a big surprise to me if you came by Borgå sometime when you are in Helsinki. Many greetings to you all. Sigfrid.
    I ask for my greetings to Hagström.”


    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s terrific, Michael, thank you so much! I just looked online to see if I could find a Sigfrid Engberg, and I think I found him (1876-1940) ( His wife was Elin Johanna Lönnfors (1881-1904). I don’t know why she died so young. Their daughter was Astrid Judith Engberg Silfvenius (1901-1988). Astrid had a son who became a neurosurgeon, Herbert Karl Johannes Silfvenius (

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  2. While I have some very old family photos (including some that were made into post cards) it’s true that they were taken either outdoors or in a studio. It never had occurred to me that lighting would be the reason. I suppose I always had assumed the houses were so small it would have been impossible to gather the whole family in that space.

    I’m always quite taken with the details in photos like this — like the candle holder in front of the sheet music, so it could be read at night. We often don’t realize just how different things were a century ago until we see such things.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That little candle holder hardly seems big enough to light up the music, but it must have been. Another detail I like is the tool used to tune the zither, still attached to one of the tuning pegs.

      Lighting is probably just one of the reasons people didn’t often photograph their homes, but it was certainly a major one. In photos of groups of people taken indoors in this period (the 1910s), the sitters are usually looking away from the camera, because the flashes were so explosively bright. I think most amateur photographers didn’t use them yet.


    1. I wondered about those pictures, too! The three smaller ones on the left wall are too small to see clearly. They just look like groups of people. The larger photo on the right wall, just left of the guitar, does look like it could contain a group of musicians:


    2. In this picture with my grandmother Astrid Silfvenius is also her brother Harry Engberg. Harry fought in Finnish independence war 1918 first in Saxby Ordningsfana, later in Nylands Dragonregemente 2.skvadronen. After the war Harry Engberg worked as a assistant for finnish painter Axel Gallen-Kallela and died in Chicago 1926 during Gallen-Kallela’s three-year visit in USA.


      1. Thank you very much, Sam! I received a message from Paul this morning. I’m going to see if I can learn anything about Harry’s time in America. It’s so sad that he died from consumption at just 26 years old.


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