JAIC 1977, Volume 17, Number 1, Article 4 (pp. 27 to 36)
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Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 1977, Volume 17, Number 1, Article 4 (pp. 27 to 36)


Elizabeth C. Hollyday


The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center was recently given a decorated blanket chest. Adhered to the inside of the lid was the Taufschein, or birth and baptismal certificate, shown in Figure 1, After Conservation, and Figure 2, As Received. The German inscription on the certificate is shown below with its translation. The chest is an heirloom of the Umberger family of Wythe County, Virginia, and is believed to have been made there in the period 1820 to 1835.

Fig. 1. Taufschein After Conservation.

Fig. 2. Taufschein As Received.

1.1 Gott allein die Ehre

Im Jahr Christy: Anno 1805, den 20ten January, ist an dass Licht dieser Welt gebohren Worden, Catharina Der Vater ist Leonhardi Umberger, und die Ehe Frau Elizabetha eine gebohrene Neffin, und die Tauf-Zeugen sind Henrich Umberger und seine Ehe Frau Catharina.

1.2 To God alone the Glory

In the year of Christ, A.D. 1805, on the 20th of January, Catherine was born to the light of this world. The father is Leonard Umberger, and the mother is Elizabeth, nee Neff. The sponors are heinrich Umberger and his wife Catherine.

The Taufschein does not bear the name of the scrivener. However, several other frakturs from this same area have been located with similar overall design, including the pair of turkeys. They are clearly by the same person, a scrivener known locally as the Wythe County “wild turkey artist.”2

In the present case, the Wythe County artist used a medium-weight, laid rag paper with chain line intervals of 1 1/8 to 1 1/16 inches, and 22 laid lines to the inch. The paper today is brown, originally it may have been much lighter. At the widest points, it measures 11 by 15 1/8 inches; there are no deckel edges, and it probably was cut down from a foolscap size (13 by 16 inches). There is a watermark PH near the center of one half of the sheet, a mark that may possibly stand for the Maryland paper maker Peter Hoffman (1779–1864), who inherited the Gunpowder Mills in 1811 from his father.3 In the notebooks kept at the American Philosophical Society of the leading American paper-mould maker of the day, Nathan Sellers, under the date of October 11, 1809, is an order for a mould for Peter Hoffman, the dimensions and chain line and laid line measurements of which were strikingly similar to the mould from which the Taufschein came. These two may have been the same mould. Catherine Umberger's birth at an earlier time poses no dating problem, for Taufscheins were often executed many years after a person's birth.4

The paper as well as other tools and materials used in making the fraktur, i.e., quill, brush, ink and pigments, “sugar candy and gum arabic,” and a knife, would have been obtainable from a local merchant. The Henkel family of New Market, Virginia, for example, had a store where they sold books, paper, and writing materials early in the nineteenth century.5 In 1820 Ambrose Henkel, the printer in the family, published the second edition of his Grosse ABC-Buch (New Market, Va.).

Concerning the scrivener's art, it described posture and the position of the quill, the preparation of a quill (the second, third, and fourth quills of the left wing are to be preferred); the good, clean well-sized paper that should be used; the use of gums and eggwhite as binding agents; the inkwell; sand and paper for blotting; and the knife. The statements about ink and pigments interest us the most. Concerning the making of black ink, Henkel stated: Take 8 ounces of pounded oak apples, 4 ounces of finely rasped logwood; boil both in 6 quarts of water until liquid is reduced to one half, then strain it through a piece of flannel; add 4 ounces of copperas, 3 ounces of gum arabic, one ounce of blue vitriol and one once of sugar-candy to the strained broth; stir well together until all is dissolved; then keep it for use in a well stoppered jar.

To make red ink:

Take 3 pints of good vinegar, 4 ounces of finely rasped brazilwood; boil it quite slowly in a pewter or earthen vessel for about half an hour over a charcoal fire; then add 4 ounces of alum and one ounce of gum arabic (finely ground beforehand). As soon as all has dissolved, strain through a cloth. Keep it ready for use in a well stoppered bottle.

To make green ink:

Take a quarter ounce of verdigris and half as much cream of tartar, and half an ounce of water; mix it well together in a glass.

To make yellow ink:

Take a quarter ounce of gamboge, mix it with an ounce of water; if it turns too thick, take more water.

To make blue ink:

Grate indigo with honey and eggwhite, each as much as you like; then dilute it with water until it is liquid enough. Or take indigo and grate it into gum-water. You may use more or less water depending on whether you want the ink dark or light.6

The colors mentioned by Henkel are the same as those in the fraktur. Since the fraktur pigments were not chemically analyzed, however, it is not known whether these ingredients are the same. The use of oak gall, mentioned by Henkel, may explain some of the deteriorated condition of the Wythe County fraktur. As in so many manuscripts of the time, the acid of this ingredient has eaten into the paper. A second source of deterioration was, no doubt, the acid in the wood of the chest; still another possible source of deterioration was the contents of the chest. Finally, for some time before being adhered to the chest, the fraktur had been folded three times, as in the making of an octavo, to produce the eight sections we see today. At the very least this weakened the fibers and made the folds more vulnerable. Then, as the fraktur expanded and contracted with changes in temperature and humidity, it disintegrated at these folds.

Copyright 1977 American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works