Mandolin Orchestras of the Past

Mandolin Orchestras

A mandolin orchestra is an ensemble of plucked string instruments similar in structure to the string sections of a symphony orchestra. There are sections for first and second mandolins, mandolas, mandocelli, classical guitars, and basses (originally mandobasses but now more likely to be double basses).

Most mandolin orchestras are community-based and are supported by a core of professional musicians and teachers with a passion for plucked string instruments and music. These groups are found in nearly all major cities in the western world, as well as Japan, Korea, and South America. Mandolin orchestras were very popular in the early 20th Century and every city and town and many schools had one.

Who were they? Known and Unknown Mandolin Ensemble Photos From The Past

If you have photos and information about mandolin orchestras of the past, please contact us.

Ivers Mandolin Orchestra

This picture was take in 1921, probably in Adams, Massachusetts, and shows my great-grandfather Joseph Ivers (center), great-grandmother Mary Ivers (center holding the Gibson F-4), and several other relatives including my grandfather, and several great-aunts. One of...

Toledo Mandolin Group

Photo taken on Vance Street in Toledo, OH, 1907 The mandolin player is Mr. Dobek, the uke player's identity is unknown (Editor: I believe it's actually a classical guitar.). Four of the others are my uncles on my mom's side of the family. The rest are their buddies...

Unidentified Group

This picture was given to Dave Betts by Antonina Nigrelli as a Christmas present (2008). Do you know anyone in this picture? (received 12/2008)

St. Mary’s Academy Mandolin Group

Guitars, mandolins and the occasional banjo were popular with music students at St. Mary's Academy (Portland, OR) in 1893. (Photo from the online version of The Oregonian: Oregon Live. A big THANKS to Michael Tognetti for spotting it!) (received 4/2009)

Boy Holding a Mandolin

Carte de visite of an unknown boy holding a mandolin. Note the studio was in Milwaukee. Any of you Milwaukee folks recognize him? (received 7/2009)

Dayton Mandolin Orchestra

This is the original Dayton Mandolin Orchestra, circa 1910. Charles B. Rauch, the first Dayton Mandolin Orchestra director, also owned and operated the Dayton Instrument Co. where he made Dayton mandolins. His shop is gone now and we know very little about him after...

Clifford-Essex Bass Mandolin (Mandobass)

This is a rare Clifford-Essex Bass Mandolin (mandobass). In 1965, I was playing upright bass with a folk group called "The County Set". I went to John Alvey Turner's shop with the banjo player to buy some banjo strings. While we were there we started chatting and Max...

Unidentified Group

Editor: This photo is an eBay purchase. The seller called it a "vintage 1940's photograph - mandolin orchestra - mandola, mandocello, mandolon" (received 4/2012)

A Worker’s Union Mandolin Orchestra

This photo is from a union newspaper in Chicago. I believe it was the ILGWU or Amalgamated Clothing Workers, but I’m not sure. The woman sitting lower right is my aunt, Edith Katzman, and I still have that mandolin. I played for a short time but never got very good....

Santa Lucia Mandolin & Guitar Club

The caption says: Kurt Whippler, Founder and Director #3393-2 In the picture margin: America's Exposition, San Diego, California, May 29 - Nov. 11th, 1935 John Sirigo, Official Photographer The picture was taken from the Organ Pavilion, which is still there to see....

A Vermont Mandolin Orchestra?

I found this picture behind another picture. It was being used for its cardboard! The picture that was in front of it was a portrait of my 3rd great grandfather who was a civil war veteran. I know of no one in my family who was in a group like this. My dad who is 87...

Ada Foster and Band

These photos were owned by my great grandmother Ada Foster. Editor's note: "Every one a Gibson!", including the mighty Style "U" harp guitar! Bronwyn O'Brien (received 05/2014)

Nell Wilson Pond

This picture picture was taken in Orange, Texas around 1900. My grandmother was a talented musician who played piano, gave voice lessons as well as playing violin and mandolin. She was a featured performer at the Orange  Opera House, provided piano accompaniment to...

Milwaukee Mandolin Orchestra

This photo is of the Bonne Amie Musical Circle (now the Milwaukee Mandolin Orchestra), the oldest fretted-instrument music organization in the United States, in 1908. (received 4-2016)