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Photograph - 'Mush-Fakers' and Ginger-Beer Makers
  • 'Mush-Fakers' and Ginger-Beer Makers
    Thomson, John, born 1837 - died 1921
  • Enlarge image

'Mush-Fakers' and Ginger-Beer Makers

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    London (photographed)

  • Date:

    1877-1878 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Thomson, John, born 1837 - died 1921 (photographer)

  • Materials and Techniques:


  • Credit Line:

    Given by Mrs D. Crisp

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level F, case X, shelf 44

Object Type
The photographer John Thomson (1837-1921) used the 'Woodburytype' process patented in 1864 for the images in Street Life in London, including this photograph. This was a type of photomechanical reproduction using pigmented gelatin, usually of a rich purple-brown colour. The process was complicated but remained popular until about 1900 because of the high quality and permanence of the finished images.

Social Class
In the streets of Naples, Italy, children were sometimes bought like slaves from their parents. The parents were promised that the child would be trained in music and returned in two years with the earnings from their work as street musicians. Few children returned, and many were housed in crowded conditions in poorly kept rooms hired for the purpose. However, the boy with the harp shown here had come to England to join his family. In two years he had learned to speak English fluently. He was described by the neighbourhood in which he played as charming and modest.

Real or Posed?
The people in the pictures were arranged or posed by Thomson to form interesting compositions. However, the results were often naturalistic because the subjects and surroundings were always authentic.

Physical description


Place of Origin

London (photographed)


1877-1878 (made)


Thomson, John, born 1837 - died 1921 (photographer)

Materials and Techniques



Height: 10.8 cm, Width: 8 cm

Object history note

Taken in London by John Thomson (born in Edinburgh, 1837, died in London, 1921)

Descriptive line

19thC; Thomson, John. 'Mush Fakers', Street Life of London

Labels and date

British Galleries:

These photographs were first published in 12 instalments in 1877-1878 in a series entitled 'Street Life in London'. John Thomson had earlier photographed in China and recognized London as a remarkable new subject. Together with journalist Adolphe Smith he wrote commentaries on each image. 'Street Life' is among the earliest and most evocative examples of social documentary photography. [14/07/2006]
Gallery 100 ‘A History of Photography’, 2014-2015, label text:

John Thomson (1837–1921)
‘Recruiting Sergeants at Westminster’, ‘Cast Iron Billy’, ‘Mush-Fakers and Ginger-Beer Makers’, ‘Covent Garden Flower Women’
From the series ‘Street Life in London’

These are some of the earliest examples of social documentary photography. The figures were posed by Thomson to form interesting compositions. These included the omnibus driver ‘Cast Iron Billy’, sergeants waiting outside a pub to enlist potential army recruits and the ‘mush-faker’, who sold used umbrellas.

Given by Mrs D. Crisp
Museum nos. Ph.318, 337, 342, 317-1982
[06 03 2014]




Photographs; Scotland; Europeana Fashion Project


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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