About the Pennsylvania German Fraktur Collection

About the Project

Penn State's digital project includes Pennsylvania German fraktur as well as broadsides. Broadsides printed in German in North America featured commentaries on political events, devotional hymns, lists of books for sale, prescriptions for medical treatments, and many other topics. Printers, especially in Pennsylvania, with its high number of German immigrants, hoped for a good market when they published documents in this language.

The birth and baptism certificate, or Taufschein, is by far the most common form of fraktur and is unique to Pennsylvania German culture. Although illuminated manuscripts were made throughout Europe, they did not combine the birth and baptism in one document, nor did they include detailed biographical information about the child and his parents, common in Pennsylvania German examples. Printed examples first appeared in 1780, and by 1825 printed birth and baptismal certificates dominated, with blank spaces to be filled in by scribes to personalize the documents. Printed certificates were often hand-colored or embellished with artwork, sometimes by the family.  

Taufschein were personal family records and were not displayed but kept in storage—tucked into books or Bibles, for example. These birth and baptismal certificates offer unique opportunities for genealogists because of the information they contain: name of child, birth and baptismal dates, geographical location, father's name, mother's maiden name, and sometimes the pastor's and witnesses' names.

Other forms of fraktur include Vorschriften, or writing specimens, given to pupils by their teachers as a reward of merit. The subjects of fraktur included religious texts, hymns, and house blessings (Haus Segen). Some took the form of bookmarks, paper cut-outs, or spiritual mazes (Irrgarten).

The study of fraktur involves many disciplines: religious history; local and family history; Pennsylvania folk art; 18th- and 19th-century German lettering; and the history of printing. Fraktur vividly document the transfer of European culture to North America.

History of the Collection

The Pennsylvania German Broadsides and Fraktur digital project brings together materials from three different collections: the general collection of Rare Books and Manuscripts, acquired over many years through gift and purchase; the Allison-Shelley Collection; and the Ammon Stapleton Collection. The digital site includes images from 148 broadsides, German-language newspapers, and manuscript and printed Pennsylvania German fraktur. The collection is organized in a finding aid into series by format. The items themselves are housed by size within their provenance (Allison-Shelley Collection, Ammon Stapleton Collection, and general collections).

Penn State has had a long tradition of German-American relations, beginning with its first president, Evan Pugh, who studied in Germany and received his doctoral degree from the University of Göttingen. Over many years the University has maintained a distinguished record of participation and scholarship in the preservation of the culture of the early German settlers in the state. Librarian Willard P. Lewis collected many books in the 1930s. Also in those years, a group of professors — W. L. Werner, Philip Allison Shelley, Walter Boyer, Maurice Mook, Philip S. Klein, and Albert Buffington — began incorporating German-American studies into the curriculum. In the University Libraries, the late Charles W. Mann Jr., head of Special Collections for over forty years until his death in 1998, oversaw the growth of German-American holdings.

In 1975, Special Collections received the Allison-Shelley Collection as an endowed bequest from the late Philip Allison Shelley, professor of German and comparative literature. The collection documents the influence of German literature and culture in the English-speaking world and contains over 11,000 books and 2,500 manuscripts. The Germans, after the English, were the second largest group to emigrate from Europe to America. The Allison-Shelley Collection documents much of their activity and offers strong research potential for those interested in Pennsylvania's German heritage. 

The Ammon Stapleton Collection contains over six hundred volumes printed in Pennsylvania and Europe in the German language in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Included are specimens from the noted press of Christopher Sauer [Sower] in Germantown, books published by Conrad Beissel's Ephrata Community, a good run of early music instruction books, and many examples from the presses of minor printers in small towns and villages across the state. The collection also contains fraktur, broadsides, and German-language newspapers. The Stapleton Collection was a gift in 1982 from Mrs. Georgianna M. Hartzel, the granddaughter of the Reverend Ammon Stapleton, a pastor and bibliographer from Williamsport, Pennsylvania, who died in 1916.


Project leader: Sandra Stelts, Curator, Rare Books and Manuscripts, Special Collections Library, University Libraries

Research and descriptive work: Anthony Tedeschi, Intern, School of Library and Information Science, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana

Metadata and content providers: Susan Hamburger, Manuscripts Cataloging Librarian; Anne Copeland, Special Collections Cataloger; Ken Robinson, John Hamilton, and Jeff Edmunds, Cataloging Specialists, Cataloging Services, University Libraries

Metadata consultants: Jin Ma, Electronic Resources Cataloging Librarian; Jeff Edmunds, Cataloging Specialist, Cataloging Services, University Libraries

EAD finding aid: Susan Hamburger, Manuscripts Cataloging Librarian, Cataloging Services, University Libraries

Image capture and manipulation: Curt Krebs, Digital Preservation Scanning Technician; Ron Gruici and John Veldhoen, Preservation Department, University Libraries; the late R. Aaron Rottner-Schumacher, Special Collections Library

Digital preservation and imaging consultants: Sue Kellerman, Head, Preservation Department; Larry Wentzel, Digital Preservation Coordinator; Josh Kirby and Heather Solimini, Digital Preservation Scanning Technicians, Preservation Department, University Libraries

Preservation assistance: Diane Kurtz, Collections Care Supervisor; Shaniqua Jones, Preservation Department, University Libraries

Technical support: Linda Klimczyk, Lead Systems Analyst, Department of Information Technologies, University Libraries; Joni Barnoff, Senior Research Programmer; Steve Baylis, Information Technology Planning Analyst, Digital Libraries Technologies, University Libraries

Web site design: Becky Spitler, Bednar Intern for Digital Technologies in the Humanities; Larry Wentzel, Digital Preservation Coordinator; Heather Solimini, Digital Preservation Scanning Technician, Preservation Department, University Libraries

Interactive design: Becky Spitler, Bednar Intern for Digital Technologies in the Humanities, Preservation Department, University Libraries

Scholarly assistance: the late Carola Wessel, German-American Broadsides Project, Göttingen State and University Library, Göttingen, Germany; A. Greg Roeber, Professor of History and Head, Max Kade German-American Research Institute, Penn State University; Ron Lieberman, proprietor, The Family Album, Kinzer, Pennsylvania