Guide | Glossary

    • Acrostic Alphabet

      Acrostic Alphabet, “All your doings and deeds”

      Acrostic Alphabet:

      A poem or verse written so that the alphabet is spelled by the first letter of each line.
    • Baptismal Wish: Taufwunsch
      A religious blessing given by a child’s sponsors at the baptism. Baptismal wishes are rare in North American fraktur due to the more widely used birth and baptismal certificate.
    • Belohnung: see “Reward of Merit
    • Birth and Baptismal Certificate: Geburts-und Taufschein
      A document that includes a child’s name, date of birth, parents’ names, date of baptism, and often the names of the child’s sponsors and the officiating pastor at the baptism. It is the most common type of fraktur in North America. Use of the birth and baptismal certificate began in Europe, where many German states legally required citizens to have church-officiated birth certificates. German immigrants and their families continued and further developed this tradition, even though no official church-state system existed to mandate these certificates in North America. Members of the Lutheran and German Reformed churches — which practice infant baptism — made most of the birth and baptismal certificates. Anabaptists — who did not practice infant baptism — sometimes made birth certificates or waited until after a youth was baptized to make a birth and baptismal certificate.
    • Birth Certificate: Geburtschein, see also “Birth and Baptismal Certificate
      A document that includes a child’s name, date of birth and parents’ names. Anabaptists — religious groups such as Amish or Mennonites who do not practice infant baptism — occasionally made birth certificates, though many preferred to make a birth and baptismal certificate following a youth’s baptism.
    • Bookmark: Lesezeichen, see also “Reward of Merit
      Small drawings done in fraktur style are often called bookmarks. Most were probably made for young students as rewards for doing well in school.
    • Bookplate: Bücherzeichen
      A decorative drawing pasted inside the cover of a book — most often found in a Bible, hymnal or catechism. Bookplates identified the book’s owner, and sometimes gave the date of presentation or the owner’s hometown.
    • Broadside:
      A public notice, song or poem printed on a large sheet of paper. Most were illustrated with woodcuts. Broadsides were inexpensive and very popular among the European and North American working classes from the mid-1500s to the late-1800s.
    • Bücherzeichen: see “Bookplate
    • Calligraphic Lettering:
      Beautiful, formal handwriting.
    • Carmine:
      A dark red powder made from cochineal insects. It was used to make colored ink for fraktur.
    • Catechism:
      A booklet that summarizes the key beliefs of a denomination or sect within the Christian Church. Catechisms are usually written in a question-and-answer format to encourage memorization and reflection.
    • Christmas Greeting: Weihnachtsgruss
      A short poem written to celebrate Christmas. Christmas greetings were usually written in reddish-brown or green ink, and are decorated with flowers or wreathes. They are considered the first Christmas cards made in North America. Members of the Moravian Church — who are renowned for their Christmas traditions — are thought to have made most of the known fraktur Christmas greetings.
    • Confirmation Certificate: Konfirmationsschein
      A document that includes a youth’s name, date of confirmation and the name of the religious community into which the youth was confirmed. The importance of confirmation as a religious rite of passage increased during the mid-1800s, while less emphasis was placed on infant baptism. This trend was reflected by a sharp rise in the production of confirmation certificates.
    • Copperplate Engraving:
      A method of printing in which areas etched away from a sheet of copper are filled with ink. A sheet of paper is then pressed onto the copperplate to reveal a reverse print of the etching.
    • Copybook: see also “Writing Exercise Booklet
      A booklet used to teach handwriting. A proverb or verse was printed at the top of each page, which students could copy.
    • Cutwork: Scherenschnitte
      An intricate pattern made by cutting paper with scissors or pricking paper with a pin. The remaining paper was usually decorated with watercolor and handwritten messages. Cutwork is also called “scissor cutting.”
    • Death Memorial: Denkmal
      A document made in honor of a deceased person. It provides a record of important genealogical information including the deceased’s name and place of residence, dates of birth and death, and the names of the deceased’s parents, spouse and children. Fraktur death memorials are very rare.
    • Decorator:
      The person who applies colored ink to fraktur and sometimes adds drawings or designs.
    • Denkmal: see “Death Memorial
    • Doctrine:
      The official beliefs taught by a religious group.
    • Engraver:
      The person who etches the text and drawings into a metal plate to make printed fraktur.
    • Familienregister: see “Family Register
    • Family Register: Familienregister
      A document that records the names of a married couple, the date of their marriage, and the names and birthdates of their children. Other notes about marriages and deaths were sometimes added later.
    • Fraktur:
      A word used to describe a diverse genre of decorated manuscripts and documents made in many German-speaking communities of North America during the 1700s and 1800s. Most fraktur were made by Pennsylvania Germans. Fraktur is also the name of the specific style of calligraphic lettering used on these documents. It was a popular typeface in German-speaking parts of Europe from the mid-1500s until the 1940s.
    • Gamboge:
      A dark yellow powder made from evergreen trees. It was used to make colored ink.
    • Geburts-und Taufschein: see “Birth and Baptismal Certificate
    • Geburtschein: see “Birth Certificate
    • Geistlicher Irrgarten: see “Spiritual Labyrinth
    • Genealogists:
      People who study family origins and the relationships between families.
    • Haussegen: see “House Blessing
    • Himmelsbrief: see “Letter from Heaven
    • House Blessing: Haussegen
      A pious request for God’s blessing on a house, its occupants, livestock and farm.
    • Hymn Blessing:
      A poem or verse meant to be sung in praise of God. Most hymns composed in fraktur gave the name of the tune to which the verse should be sung, though few included any musical notation.
    • Hymnal:
      A book of songs to sing in praise of God. Unlike fraktur hymns, hymnals often included musical notation. The Ephrata Cloister is renowned for making exquisite examples of fraktur hymnals.
    • Indigo:
      A dark blue powder made from indigo flowers. It was used to make colored ink.
    • Industrialism:
      The shift from making goods by hand to manufacturing them in factories.
    • Iron Gall Ink:
      A dark purple writing ink made by mixing vegetable tannins — usually from an oak tree — with iron salts. It was the most common ink used throughout Europe and North America until the end of the 1800s.
    • Konfirmationsschein: see “Confirmation Certificate
    • Laid Paper:
      An early type of European paper that was made from a mold consisting of a series of vertical and horizontal support wires. When paper pulp was pressed and dried on a laid paper mold, the impression created by the mold’s wires remained and produced visible textured lines throughout the paper’s surface. The irregular surface often impeded an artist’s ability to write clear lines on the paper. Laid paper was largely replaced by wove paper after the 1800s.
    • Lesezeichen: see “Bookmark
    • Letter from Heaven: Himmelsbrief
      A religious document believed to have been written by God or another divine being. It is often reported that these documents miraculously fell from the sky into a recipient’s hands. Letters from Heaven often claimed to give magical protection to their possessors and blessings to those who published them, while those who disbelieved their claims were promised divine punishment.
    • Letterpress Print:
      A type of printing in which ink is applied to a reversed, raised surface and a sheet of paper is pressed onto it.
    • Liebesbrief: see “Love Letter
    • Lithograph:
      A highly detailed print using the mutually repellant properties of grease and water. The reverse of an image is drawn onto a smooth metal or stone surface using a grease-based material. When placed into a press, the greased areas on the smooth surface attract the ink and then imprint the image onto paper. Water on the surface of the paper washes away excess ink.
    • Love Letter: Liebesbrief
      A sentimental message presented when courting or given to a spouse. Fraktur love letters are often very elaborate. Many feature intricate cutwork enhanced by delicate watercolors.
    • Marriage Certificate: Trauschein
      A document made to commemorate a marriage. Most marriage certificates include lengthy blessings and wishes for the married couple. They are a rare type of fraktur.
    • Neuesjahreswunsch: see “New Year’s Wish
    • New Year’s Wish: Neuesjahreswunsch
      A greeting presented to neighbors or friends at the beginning of a new year. New Year’s wishes were popular during the 1700s.
    • Notenbüchlein: see “Tune Booklet
    • Parochial Schools:
      Country schools run by a local church.
    • Printer:
      The person who designs and sets the typeface for printed documents.
    • Quill Pens:
      Pens made from goose or swan feathers.
    • Reward of Merit: Belohnung, see also “Bookmark
      An award for good academic performance presented to a student by a schoolmaster. Rewards of merit are usually small, colorful drawings that sometimes include a short verse or message.
    • Scherenschnitte: see “Cutwork
    • Scrivener:
      A person who is trained in handwriting. Scriveners composed the handwritten text and often drew the illustrations for fraktur.
    • Scrollwork:
      A patterned design of circles or spirals.
    • Spiritual Labyrinth: Geistlicher Irrgarten
      A religious teaching printed in a geometric pattern and often presented as a maze. The design of the text was symbolic and provided a moral lesson when read in the correct order.
    • Taufwunsch: see “Baptismal wish
    • Todesschein: see “Death Memorial
    • Transcription:
      A typewritten copy of the original.
    • Trauschein: see “Marriage Certificate
    • Tune Booklet: Notenbüchlein
      A booklet of verses and their corresponding musical scores made for students by a schoolmaster. Schoolmasters or traveling “singing school” teachers regularly taught German choral tunes to youth, especially during the winter.
    • Typeface:
      Letters made for a printing press.
    • Umber:
      A brown powder made from clay. It was used to make colored ink.
    • Vermilion:
      An orange-red powder made from cinnabar. It was used to make colored ink.
    • Victorian Sentimentalism:
      A belief that humans are essentially good and emotions should be valued. Sentimentalism was a social reaction against strict Protestant rationality.
    • Victorian Vorschriften: see “Writing Sample
    • Vorschriftenbüchlein: see “Writing Exercise Booklet
    • Watermark:
      A papermaker’s mark. A watermark is a pattern pressed into the paper during the manufacturing process.
    • Weihnachtsgruss: see “Christmas Greeting
    • Wonderfish: Wunderfisch
      A legendary giant fish. It had a human head and swan feet, and is usually depicted wearing a crown and carrying a cannon along with other military paraphernalia. Tales of the miraculous Wonderfish claim that it was caught in Lake Geneva in 1740. The tale of this fish was a popular broadside subject throughout the 1700s and 1800s.
    • Woodblocks:
      A carved block of wood that is used as an ink stamp; also called a woodcut stamp.
    • Woodcut:
      A print made from a carved woodblock. Ink is applied to the raised surface of the woodblock carving, which is then pressed onto paper to leave the reverse imprint of the carved design.
    • Woodcut Stamps:
      A carved block of wood that is used as an ink stamp; also called a woodblock.
    • Wove Paper:
      A type of paper with a smooth surface. Wove paper was initially made by placing a finely woven wire mesh over a paper mold. First developed in the mid-1700s, this papermaking method largely replaced that of laid paper by the 1800s.
    • Writing Exercise Booklet: Vorschriftenbüchlein, see also “Writing Sample
      A booklet of writing samples prepared by a schoolmaster to help young students learn how to write the alphabet. Pre-printed copybooks were largely unavailable, so many country schoolmasters made their own booklets for students to copy. A hymn or Bible verse frequently starts each page of a writing exercise booklet. The first few letters or lines of the verse are usually composed using very elaborate letters. An alphabet and a numeral system are often written after the verse. The student’s name and residence, the name of the schoolmaster and the date the writing sample was made are occasionally included at the bottom of the exercise.
    • Writing Sample: Vorschriften, see also “Writing Exercise Booklet
      A writing model that schoolchildren copied to learn handwriting. Writing samples consisted of a religious passage followed by the alphabet.
    • Wunderfisch: see “Wonderfish