Christian Mertel

 

Mertel was a fraktur artist. Born in Herborn, Germany, he was the son of John Jacob and Elizabeth Mertel. He came to America aboard the
Crawford in 1773, with fellow passenger John Conrad Trevitz (1750–1830), who became a schoolmaster and made fraktur in Snyder County, Pennsylvania. Mertel followed in his father’soccupation as a blue dyer, a specialist in the indigo-dying of cloth, for a time. By 1793 Mertel had acquired a small tract of land located between Elizabethtown andwhat is now Hershey, in Conewago Township, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, and it was while living there that he made fraktur for his neighbors. He was also ateacher, probably at a school operated by Hoffer’s Brethren Meeting, but his output is primarily of taufscheine (baptismal certificates) for Lutheran and Reformedfamilies. He was raised as well with Reformed church doctrine.Mertel clearly copied elements from the fraktur produced by others, including the printed work of Johann Henrich Otto (1733–c. 1800), and the drawings of hisneighbor, fraktur artist Johann Jacob Friedrich Krebs (c. 1749–1815), but Mertel also developed designs of his own that included images of castles, the Princess of Brunswick, fish, mermaids, lions, unicorns, and a wide variety of flowers. He made fanciful zodiacs, a source of endless fascination to the Pennsylvania Dutch, and he produced a charming song of springtime in which his appreciation for the world around him can be seen. Mertel’s fraktur work was neither highly original nor completely boring. He sent his family and fraktur customers New Year’s greetings that he designed annually and filled with good cheer. Mertel died in ConewagoTownship, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, and upon his death in 1802, his household items included the usual accoutrements of country life, as well as an inkstand, a box of pictures, and a musical instrument.