In Pennsylvania German country, when you deal with antiques you become familiar with the term “Fraktur”. Short for Frakturschrift, it’s the gothic script used in formal penmanship by the Germanic peoples, brought to Pennsylvania in colonial days by the early German immigrants. Because of these peoples’ love of colorful decoration, many of the manuscript items were decorated with colorful embellishments of birds, flowers, angels etc. Examples of early watercolor decorated Fraktur baptismal certificates, bookplates and other manuscript work sometimes sell for many thousands of dollars, depending upon the skill of the artist and the scarcity of his work, among other factors. At one time, we had a few modest examples in our collection, but have passed them along. Nevertheless, they are often glorious examples of Pennsylvania German folk art. Below are two examples from the estate of a long-time dealer friend of ours.
When it comes to textiles, however, there are not many examples of the use of fraktur. However, during the middle 1800’s, there were some quilts made – many in the pattern called Rolling Stone – whose individual blocks bore names of various people. They may have been friends of the owner or maker, members of a group sponsoring or donating the quilt, or celebrating a particular occasion. In most cases the lettering in the fraktur script was done by an experienced penman, often identified on the quilt itself. Several scholars of quilt history have made studies of so-called “Fraktur Quilts”, most notably Lucinda Cawley of Maryland, who presented an article in the 2004 issue of Uncoverings, the annual publication of the American Quilt Study Group.
We have one fraktur quilt in our collection.
According to one central block, it dates to 1877, which according to Ms. Cawley is later than any other she’s seen. The name in the block with the date is that of the scrivener or penman who lettered the inscriptions, one Edward Dinsh, whose work is found on paper fraktur items from both Lehigh and Berks Counties dating from 1875 to 1879.
The rest of the blocks bear names of Lehigh County residents, mostly from Upper Macungie Township. We have been unable to confirm that they were members of the same church or of any other particular group. We bought this one just because we knew so many of the names: Schmoyer, Grammes, Krock, Schwoyer, Schrader, Schlicher, Becker, Steininger, Lichtenwalner, Haines – including Joseph Haines, owner of a local grist mill which is now a historical site.
We have pictures of more of the blocks, plus other detail pictures of the quilt on this page.
Years ago we also found a pair of patchwork pillowcases (which are much scarcer than quilts), one of which was inscribed in the gothic Fraktur script with the name of it’s Lehigh County owner or maker. These have since been sold to a new home.
If you took German in school before a certain time, you may have learned to read a version of Fraktur; most of the texts were printed in this font before the 1970’s or so. So Bill doesn’t have much trouble reading these and other inscriptions; it’s considerably more difficult however, in old-style German longhand.