Welcome to the Free Library of Philadelphia’s digital collection of Pennsylvania German Fraktur and Manuscripts. The Free Library’ collection 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.
You can read more about the art of fraktur below and can explore these vibrant documents here on our digital collections website.
The manuscript folk art produced by the Pennsylvania Germans is called fraktur after the broken character of the letters in which they were written. Many of the fraktur pieces originated in rural parts of Southeastern Pennsylvania and the surrounding region during the 1700s and 1800s. Fraktur helped German immigrants preserve their rich cultural heritage in a new land.
Most fraktur are personal records, such as birth and baptismal certificates. Fraktur were also used to express religious beliefs or to help schoolchildren with their studies. Fraktur artists often decorated these documents with drawings of flowers, birds, stars, and other figures.
The Free Library of Philadelphia is home to one of the largest public collections of fraktur, highlighting a wide range of fraktur styles and artistic skills and showing how the designs changed over time. Items include some of the earliest fraktur made in America and several examples of the tools that fraktur artists used.
The Free Library of Philadelphia digitized the fraktur collection with the support of a three-year grant from the Barra Foundation. The Pennsylvania German manuscripts, which had not been available to scholars due to poor condition, were conserved and digitized with a Save America’s Treasures grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The manuscripts come from several small communities in Lancaster County and Southeastern Pennsylvania and provide a comprehensive picture of the daily lives of a people whose traditions helped shape our national identity.
Most of the Library’s fraktur collection is digitized and viewable on this site. Each fraktur image is fully transcribed and any text in German has been translated. All of the manuscripts are represented, many cataloged in great detail, with 25 of them having been fully digitized. The entry for each item includes the names of its creator(s), along with the date and place of creation (if known). You can browse our digital collection highlights or search for a specific item.
To learn more about our collection of Pennsylvania German Fraktur and Imprints, please contact the Rare Book Department at 215-686-5416 or email us at erefRBD@freelibrary.org.