The word fraktur was originally coined in the Sixteenth Century as the name of a printing type face developed in Germany. The hand drawn calligraphy that manuscript illumunators developed to mimic the fraktur type was initially named fracturschriƒten. It would later be shortened to fraktur. The calligraphic form was brought from Germany to America, where it flourished. Illuminators during the Colonial period were often asked to produce individually hand written and illuminated copies of important documents in the process known as ‘engrossing’. Engrossing entailed writing the text out by hand with a few added flourishes and enlarged initial letters. Fraktur was a form of engrossing documents; but whereas the artistic flourishes of the engrossed document took a second place to the text, in fraktur the illuminations were the main feature.
A variety of documents were illuminated by the art of fraktur. The art form appears to have started with school teachers who used it to illustrate their vorschrift or writing lessons. Fraktur was included on all the various types of religious documents including birth and baptismal certificates, death and marriage records. Family Bibles were illuminated by fraktur with the listing of genealogical information. Perhaps the most common of the many types of documents to be illuminated by the art of fraktur was the Taufscheine or birth and baptismal certificate. The taufscheine would normally include the child’s name, birth date and baptismal date and the names of the parents and the witnesses to the baptism of the child. The borders and any available blank space on the taufscheine were most often decorated by the fraktur artist with images of birds, flowers and hearts. Those images were chosen because of their religious symbolism. But in some instances, heraldic symbols would be used for the illumination.
Eventually the completely hand illuminated fraktur was superceded by printed versions. But even though the text and decorative images were printed, the fraktur artist would add color by painting with colored inks on the printed sheet. The artform of fraktur continued to flourish into the mid-1800s.
Fraktur, being a highly collectible form of folk art in Pennsylvania, is difficult to find. Examples of the art can be found, though, in museums and historical society collections.