Fraktur Documents

What is Fraktur?

Fraktur is the term for the illuminated documents created in the 18th & 19th centuries by German speaking immigrants to America. Fraktur is typically associated with Pennsylvania, but it can be found anywhere that large groups of German speaking peoples settled, including my home state of Virginia.  Fraktur actually refers to the “fractured” or printed black letter Gothic font that is used in the documents.  It is printed letter by letter as opposed to being written as continuous script.   Fraktur is a form of calligraphy and some people use the terms interchangeably.

If fraktur documents just consisted of printed text, probably few people would pay attention to them or collect them.   However, fraktur are very often, almost always, embellished with colorful decoration.   Fraktur documents are filled with all sorts of familiar flowers, folliage, and birds.   Some of the flowers and birds are easily recognizable, and some are just fanciful representations.    Most of these images are rendered in primary colors; red, yellow and blue or some easy combination of those.

Most of the original fraktur are Geburtschein (birth certificates) or Taufschein (baptismal certificates).   You also see Haus Segen (house blessings) consisting of scripture or poetry colorfully illustrated.    I create all of these and also marriage certificates.   I am open to creating most any type of fraktur document.   I have seen fraktur posters, flyers, and family trees.

Fraktur Documents

Below are examples of a hand lettered and hand colored Geburtschein , Marriage Certificate and a Haus Segen.  These are my original designs, and are available printed on heavy weight, A4 size paper.  Either one of these designs could be used for a Geburtschein, a Taufschein, a marriage certificate, a Haus Segen, or any similar document. I will inscribe your’s or your loved one’s birth or baptismal record, marriage record, favorite blessing or other similar text on either of the designs shown. The hand lettered and hand colored prints of the original designs shown on this page are $79 each for any of the documents mentioned.  The documents on A4 paper are mounted and matted for a 11″ x 14″ frame.  Shipping is $10, and there is 5.3% sales tax for VA residents.

You need to understand that these are not prints of finished works. I simply print a line drawing of the original design  as a starting point. The paper may be aged or not; your choice. Then I re-ink the lines where I feel it is necessary, add additional art where appropriate, layout and inscribe the fraktur text using calligraphy ink, and then do the coloring with period correct water colors. The hand coloring and lettering will vary from one document to another. No two documents using the same design are going to be exactly alike.

In addition to the hand lettered and hand colored prints of previous designs; I can produce an original, exclusive design; hand drawn, hand inked, hand lettered, and hand colored in any type or style you like. I can create an all original Geburtschein (birth certificate), Taufschein (baptism  certificate), Haus Segen (house blessing), marriage certificate, or a purely decorative work. Actually, I could create a fraktur style document to commemorate most any event.

A completely original small size document (A4 – 8.27″ X 11.7″, 60lb, hot press, Sennelier Ink & Calligraphy paper), mounted and matted for a 11″x14″ frame, costs $149. An large size document will be created on one quarter sheet (approx. 11″ x 15″) of Arches 140lb cold press paper (the best laid cotton paper you can get these days), mounted and matted for a 16″ x 20″ frame, will cost $179. Use the Contact page to inquire about such custom work. I will want to talk to you on the phone about it to make sure I understand what you want. I will then send you a contract with the details for you to sign and return with a check.  I usually provide a sketch of the fraktur design for approval prior to inking and coloring.

Shipping, packaging and insurance on all paper items are $10. Virginia residents must pay 5.3% VA Sales Tax. Please allow two to four weeks for delivery.

Please use this Contact Form if you are interested in contracting for a fraktur document. Make sure to include your phone number so that I can call you about the project.

Geburtschein (Birth Certificate), Taufschein (Baptismal certificate) or Marriage Certificate

Sample Geburtschein fraktur using Design 1
Hand lettered and hand colored sample Geburtschein fraktur using Design 1
Sample marriage certificate fraktur using Design 1
Hand lettered and hand colored sample marriage certificate fraktur using Design 1

Hand colored and hand lettered Geburtschein, Taufschein  or Marriage Certificate print using Design 1 – $79

Please use this Contact Form if you are interested in contracting for a fraktur document. Make sure to include your phone number so that I can call you about the project.

Haus Segen (House Blessing)

Hand lettered and hand colored Haus Segen using Design 2 in a Faux Painted Frame
Hand lettered and hand colored Haus Segen using Design 2 in a Faux Painted Frame

Hand colored and hand lettered Haus Segen print using Design 2 – $79

Please use this Contact Form if you are interested in contracting for a fraktur document. Make sure to include your phone number so that I can call you about the project.

Vorschrift

A Vorschrift is a lettering example usually done by school masters for the use of their students. Below is my Vorschrift Design 2 I did for my own reference, but I will also do a hand lettered and hand colored copy for you. It is available for $59 each.

Vorschrift - School Master Lettering Sample 2
Vorschrift – School Master Lettering Sample (Vorschrift Design 2) in a Faux Painted Frame

Original Fraktur Water Color – Vorschrift Design 2- $59

Please use this Contact Form if you are interested in contracting for a fraktur document. Make sure to include your phone number so that I can call you about the project.

 

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What is an American Longrifle?

Contemporary American longrifle.Contemporary American longrifle.
Contemporary Longrifle in the Style of 1775-1785 Augusta/Rockbridge County, Virginia

“From a flat bar of soft iron, hand forged into a gun barrel; laboriously bored and rifled with crude tools; fitted with a stock hewn from a maple tree in the neighboring forest; and supplied with a lock hammered to shape on the anvil; an unknown smith, in a shop long since silent, fashioned a rifle which changed the whole course of world history; made possible the settlement of a continent; and ultimately Freed our country of foreign domination.

Light in weight; graceful in line; economical in consumption of powder and lead; fatally precise; distinctly American; it sprang into immediate popularity; and for a hundred years was a model often slightly varied but never radically changed.

Legend regarding this rifle which have never been confirmed have drifted out of the dusty past; inaccuracies have passed for facts. Few writers have given more than a passing word to a weapon which deserves a lasting place in history, and it is a pleasure to present herewith the data collected during the past ten years and to dedicate this work to the KENTUCKY RIFLE.”

—- Capt. John G. Dillon, 1924, From his book The Kentucky Rifle

It is hard to beat John Dillon’s description of an Kentucky Rifle, the popular name for the American longrifle. This hints at the fact that there are a lot of names for basically the same thing. There is even some disagreement as to whether you spell it longrifle or long rifle. Generically, we refer to the American longrifle which includes all longrifles made in what would become the United States of America. We refer to longrifles made in specific States or regions by adding the State or region names such as in Pennsylvania longrifles or Southern longrifles; or even Kentucky longrifles, not to be confused with Kentucky Rifles. Remember that Kentucky Rifles is the popular name for all longrifles and is equivalent in use to American longrifles.

Fry & Jefferson Map from 1751 showing great wagon road
Fry & Jefferson Map 1751 showing the Great Wagon Road (red) and the later Wilderness Road (blue)
The Kentucky Rifle has been referred to in print since at least the third quarter of the 19th century. Some believe that the name came from the song “Hunters of Kentucky” by Samuel Woodworth recounting Andrew Jackson’s victory in the Battle of New Orleans in 1812. The song referred to “Kentucky rifles” carried by the riflemen from Kentucky who were prominent in that victory. However, the American longrifle was not just made in Kentucky, it was made in many states along the Eastern Seaboard, including Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia(West Virginia), Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Ohio, Indiana, New York and New England. In fact, the first longrifles carried into Kentucky via the Great Wagon Road and the Wilderness Road were made in Pennsylvania and possibly Virginia. The manufacture and evolution of the American longrifle followed settlers down the Great Wagon Road from Philadelphia into western Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina and then west along the Wilderness Road into Tennessee and Kentucky. In one British officer’s account of the effectiveness of the “over the mountains men” from Kentucky and Tennessee in the southern campaigns of the American Revolution of 1780 and 1781, he described their rifles as having been “chiefly made in Lancaster, and two or three neighboring towns in that vicinity, in Pennsylvania.”

The American longrifle originated in and about Lancaster, Pennsylvania in the second quarter of the 18th century and was made well into the second quarter of the 19th century. Martin Mylin, a German Swiss gunsmith, established a shop outside Lancaster in 1719, and is credited with making the first American longrifle about 1740. Eventually, the American longrifle gave way to more sophisticated, mass produced firearms starting with the Industrial Revolution in America around 1840. However, production of the American longrifle never completely ceased. Gunsmiths were making similar guns throughout the 19th century. Mostly, these were high end target rifles, but there were back country gunsmiths making longrifles for subsistence hunting in the Appalachians well into the 20th century. With the renewed interest in all things early American in the 1920’s and 30’s (the Colonial Revival period) as a result of the American sesquicentennial, there was a renewed interest in the Kentucky rifle. It was during this period that John Dillon wrote his book heralding an ever increasing interest in collecting, and recreating these uniquely American firearms.

But I still haven’t really told you what makes a gun an American longrifle. Well, they are long (usually five feet or more), graceful, slender, exceedingly accurate (by the standards of the day), muzzleloading (gunpowder and a round lead ball covered by a cloth patch were loaded from the muzzle(front) of the barrel), rifled (spiral grooves (furrows) were cut into the bore of the barrel to impart a stabilizing spin on the bullet thereby dramatically increasing accuracy), of relatively small caliber (average was around 50 caliber, decreasing into the 19th century), with either flintlock or percussion sidelock ignition systems, a full length wood stock, and usually a patchbox or grease hole on the lock side of the butt stock. The barrels were almost always octagon (“squared” in 18th century terminology) and tapered toward the muzzle and flared back out starting a few inches from the muzzle. This taper and flare (swamp) was generally very subtle giving way to straight tapered and then straight barrels in the mid 19th century. These guns were primarily mounted with brass fixtures (butt piece, toe plate, guard, side plate, thimbles and nose piece); but some, most notably in the South, had iron mounts; and, very rarely, there was a silver mounted gun. Many of these guns were decorated with baroque and rococo carving and engraving as well as inlays of silver and brass wire and sheet. Some of these rifles were extremely ornate and were one of the first truly American art forms. They are now recognized as a significant form of American decorative art and people collect them as such. This is what has driven the price of the best original flintlock American longrifles well into six figures.

The roots of the American longrifle are in the German rifles, or Jaegers, that were brought to this country by early German settlers and gunsmiths. Among other stylistic changes, the barrels of the Jaegers were lengthened, and the caliber reduced to produce the uniquely American longrifle which made more efficient use of powder and was very accurate at long range. The American longrifle developed to serve the needs of commercial hunters traveling to the frontier and beyond to harvest deer skins for export. These commercial hunters or “longhunters” have long been portrayed as pioneers and explorers of European origin such as Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett. However, there is good reason to believe that as many as half of the early longrifles went to native American hunters who had been using European arms to harvest skins for export to Europe since the first contact with European traders in the 16th century.

There is lots more that I could write about the American longrifle, but the best way to learn about them is to look at them and handle them. On this site you will find photos of some of the better ones that I have made in my Portfolio as well as photos of original longrifles that I and others have owned in the Antique Longrifles Gallery. Look them over good, get some good books on the subject, and seek out original longrifles for study at museums, gun shows, and private owners.

Bibliography

  • The Kentucky Rifle by Capt. John Dillon
  • The Kentucky Rifle in its Golden Age by Joe Kindig Jr.
  • Rifles of Colonial America, Volume 1 & Volume 2by George Shumway
  • Recreating the American Longrifle by William Buchele, George Shumway, and Peter Alexander
  • The Gunsmith of Grenville County, Building the American Longrifle by Peter Alexander
  • The American Rifle: At the Battle at Kings Mountain by C.P. Russell, U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Washington, D.C., 1941
  • Rifle Making in the Great Smoky Mountains by Arthur I. Kendall, U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Washington, D.C., 1941




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Custom Fraktur

Purely decorative contemporary framed fraktur water color of several birds and flowers.
Purely decorative contemporary framed fraktur water color of several birds and flowers.

I offer a number of fraktur works on the Fraktur Documents and Fraktur Paintings pages including printed and hand colored, birth certificates and house blessings. However, I can do a completely custom work for you. If you want a completely orginial birth/baptism or marriage certificate, a house blessing, or a family tree, we can talk about what you want; and I will work up a price for you. I am happy to entertain most any fraktur type work and will give you a fair price.

 

Sample Geburtschein fraktur using Design 1
Sample Geburtschein fraktur using Design 1

See Portfolio/Fraktur for more examples of my work.

To discuss a project and get a quote, use the Contact form to send me an e-mail. I will e-mail or call you back to discuss the project.

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