Fraktur — decorated, Germanic manuscripts and printed documents— is one of the most iconic forms of American folk art. The name is derived from the Latin fractura (breaking) and refers to the broken or fractured style of lettering known in German as Fraktur. The anglicized term “fraktur” is used in America more broadly to refer to Pennsylvania German decorated works on paper. The most common type is the Geburts-und-Taufschein (birth and baptismal certificate), which typically includes the child’s name, parents’ names, location and date of birth and baptism, and godparents’ or baptismal sponsors’ names. The popularity of these certificates reflects the importance of baptism within the Lutheran and Reformed faiths, to which the majority of Pennsylvania Germans belonged. Other common types of fraktur made by the Pennsylvania Germans include birth records (used by Anabaptist groups such as the Mennonites, who did not practice infant baptism), Vorschriften (writing samples), Haus-Segen (house blessings), valentines or Liebesbriefe (love letters), New Year’s greetings, religious texts, family records, bookplates, and rewards of merit. Less common are marriage certificates and death memorials. Some fraktur are decorated with Scherenschnitte, or cutwork, a technique that can also be used by itself.
The entire Ursinus College fraktur collection — which numbers more than 125 pieces — is accessible in this gallery. Each record includes an image, transcription and/or translation, attribution, bibliographic references, and any additional information. More fraktur may be added to form a larger database over time in partnership with other institutions, auction houses, and private collectors. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.