Purchase Story

An Updated Guide to Fraktur Artists

A Book Review

Corinne Earnest (1942-2016) called her life’s work Papers for Birth Dayes, the term used to describe fraktur in the estate of prolific fraktur artist Friederich Krebs, whose juvenile son’s upbringing was entrusted to the Earnests’ direct ancestor David Ernst after Krebs’s death in 1815. Russell Earnest points out in his introduction to this third edition of his wife’s work that Taufscheine, or baptism certificates, make up the largest group of fraktur and provide detailed genealogical information often missing from church records.

The Earnests tell us that “fraktur represents America’s equivalent to European illuminated manuscripts.” They have cataloged and illustrated in color more than 1200 fraktur artists and scriveners, with one to three examples of each artist’s work in this updated four-volume edition of a work fi rst published in 1989. In a tribute to his late wife, Russell Earnest explains that Corinne never set out to produce a pretty coffee-table book. Her intent was to identify fraktur artists and scriveners and to provide all that was known about them. Donald Shelley (1911-2006), author of the 1961 book The Fraktur-Writings or Illuminated Manuscripts of the Pennsylvania Germans, called Corinne “the Queen of Fraktur” and passed the mantle of “Fraktur scholar” on to her. The Earnests credit him and their other collaborators, Dr. Klaus Stopp (1926-2006), dean of the school of pharmacology at the University of Mainz, Germany, and author of a six-volume study of printed Taufscheine; and Dr. Don Yoder (1921-2015), professor emeritus of religious studies and folklore at the University of Pennsylvania.


When Corinne Earnest self-published the second edition of Papers for Birth Dayes in 1997, she had recorded over 30,000 fraktur and identified over 500 artists and scriveners as well as German-speaking schoolmasters and a few women who taught in church or in subscription schools. Opting for a broad definition of fraktur, she listed the artists alphabetically, with all the information she had found about their lives and travels, describing the characteristics of their art and handwriting and where some of their works could be found. She also amassed a large library of fraktur literature—books, articles, and newspaper clippings—and a file of letters and photographs of fraktur that had been sent to her over the years. These sources are included in an extensive bibliography at the end of the current fourth volume.

An Updated Guide to Fraktur Artists

Papers for Birth Dayes: Guide to the Fraktur Artists and Scriveners, 3rd Edition by Corinne P. Earnest, Patricia C. Earnest, and Russell D. Earnest Russell D. Earnest Associates, 2019, 1416 pages in four volumes, hardbound, $299 from Russell D. Earnest, PO Box 1132, Clayton, DE 19938 or (www.rdearnestassociates.com).

Corinne was not interested in fraktur-like pictures, even if drawn by major artists; her interest was fraktur containing family information. In addition to Taufscheine she recorded Vorschriften (writing examples) as well as religious texts, bookplates, confirmation certificates, awards of merit, and records in family registers and in Bibles, charting the linguistic transition from German to English. According to Russell Earnest, 80% of fraktur is written in German. Corinne included what she called tag names, the names given artists in earlier studies before their identities were revealed. For example, Friedrich Bandel was the Adam and Eve Artist, and David Kulp was once known as the Bucks County Brown Leaf Artist. Tag and real names are indexed in the appendix when known so they can be found in the alphabetical listings.

This third edition emphasizes the fact that Taufscheine did not exist in Europe. The state-approved church and local officials recorded births so there was no need for Taufscheine.

The updated publication has an informative section on fakes. The Earnests say they have identified fakes of works by Christian Alsdorff , Conrad Gilbert, Samuel Bentz, Martin Brechall, Henrich Otto, Henry Young, David Kulp, Adam Eyer, Conrad Trevits, and others. They describe a faker active in the 1980s and 1990s who created works in the style of Henry Young using old paper on which the German writing is clumsy, so most of his fakes are in English or there is no writing at all. Typically, the men and women in fraktur by Henry Young face each other; in most of the fakes the woman is wearing a yellow dress because yellow brings more money. According to the Earnests, these examples, with Otto-like animals and scarce writing, surfaced in the South in the 1980s. One faker lived in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, and decorated printed Taufscheine with odd-looking birds, crude angels, and clumsy hearts. Another faker copied the work of David Ellinger, a collectible 20th-century artist who signed his copies of fraktur.

The Earnests also warn against “refreshers,” those who repaint faded fraktur. Hattie Brunner (1889-1982) is one of the best known, along with others, some of whom were antiques dealers. They note that there are also fraktur copyists, some of whom signed their work.

Looking at the entire body of fraktur, Klaus Stopp suggested that only 2% to 5% of early fraktur survived. Corinne Earnest partially documented this statistic. In contrast, a significant percentage of Schwenkfelder fraktur has survived, many of them in watercolor. The Schwenkfelders did not generally make Taufscheine.

A compiled list of artists and scriveners whose documented work exceeds 100 pieces shows which artists were the most prolific. There are over 535 fraktur by Friederich Krebs and over 455 by Henry Young. The Earnests believe that Henrich Dulheuer (active circa 1780-86) was the earliest of the itinerant scriveners. He filled in fraktur possibly printed at the Ephrata Cloister in red ink in his flowery writing style as he preached across the countryside, carrying printed Taufscheine with him. There are 183 examples of his work known. William Gross (active circa 1861-89) has over 530 to his credit. He preferred the printed Victorian certificates with angels and often signed his work. He also filled in Bibles in both English and German.

The extensive bibliographies at the end of fourth volume can be used as research tools. They include Internet sources and websites, some of them from museums and blogs.

This edition of Papers for Birth Dayes, updated and expanded by Russell Earnest and Patricia Earnest, will find its way to library shelves and will take the place of the well-worn previous paperback editions.


Originally published in the August 2020 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2020 Maine Antique Digest

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