A Spotlight on Special Collections: The Artwork of Pennsylvania Germans-Fraktur

By Joe S. Thu, October 3, 2019

The Free Library of Philadelphia at Parkway Central Library has eight special collections for visitors of all ages to enjoy, either in person through engaging exhibitions and outreach programs, or remotely via digital access. Every month, artifacts and collections will be highlighted in this blog post series, but since October is synonymous with Oktoberfest, it is fitting that we begin with a sneak peak at the Pennsylvania Fraktur Collection in the Rare Book Department

Pennsylvania German folk art is referred to as Fraktur, named for the "broken letters" with which they are written. Beginning in the 17th century, immigrants from southwest Germany transplanted this tradition of decorated manuscripts and printed documents to Pennsylvania that,include writing samples, music bookplates, and religious texts, birth and baptismal certificates, and broadsides, chronicling everyday lives and artistic expressions. Much of the collection can be searched for online

Pennsylvania Germans share a unique dialect, which is still spoken by a few. Their impact on American culture, and on Philadelphia history in particular, cannot be overstated. While Germans constituted one of the largest ethnic groups to immigrate to America, by 1800, they vied with those of English ancestry as the largest ethnic group in Philadelphia, with both populations estimated at 32 to 35 percent of the total 68,000 residents. The Free Library’s collection is a testament to its rich cultural heritage, as it includes over 1000 pieces of fraktur folk art, 177 handwritten manuscripts, and more than 2000 books and broadsides produced by early German printers in America.

Start researching the Pennyslvania Germans Collection online, or come and view examples from the Fraktur collection currently on display. Your journey awaits. 

Bookplate (B├╝cherzeichen) for Maria Fretz
Bookplate (B├╝cherzeichen) for Maria Fretz
Religious Text Written by Abraham Stoltzfuss
Religious Text Written by Abraham Stoltzfuss
Writing Exercise (Vorschrift) (God is a Spirit [Gott ist ein Geist])
Writing Exercise (Vorschrift) (God is a Spirit [Gott ist ein Geist])

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