Johann Jacob Friedrich Krebs


(c. 1749–1815),
commonly known as Friedrich Krebs, produced more fraktur than did any other artist in the Pennsylvania German tradition. Born in Zierenberg, Hesse, Germany,Krebs was a Lutheran schoolmaster in and around Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, from about 1790 until his death. His orders for printed fraktur documents numbered in thethousands, but his overall output includes many handmade examples as well. He also produced
(baptismal certificates) in great quantities with minimaldecoration, as well as some of the best examples of unique fraktur, such as his unusual drawings of Bible stories, illustrations of tales from the Brothers Grimm, andother pieces.Krebs came to America from Germany as a member of the Hessian troops who fought for the British in North America during the American Revolution between1776 and 1782. Although he is reported to have returned to Germany, it seems more likely that he remained in America. In 1787 he began to purchase and embellish printed records of baptism records, and ultimately turned this work into a profitable business, feeding the growing desire of Pennsylvania German Americans to keepfamily records. Eventually, he had his own forms printed, chiefly by printers in Reading, Pennsylvania.Broadsides of Adam and Eve, portrayed as the primary example of the ideal marriage as well as the origin of sin, became popular in Pennsylvania German life.Krebs designed them as marriage records with birth dates for the bride and groom. Sometimes he applied embossed paper designs to his
or he drew onhalf of the certificate and folded it while the ink was wet to duplicate the drawing on the other half.Krebs also produced other drawings, such as portraits of the Prodigal Son, the Seven Swabians, two Turks, a giant clock face, mazes, and other subjects. He alsomade bandboxes, according to the inventory of his estate. When he died in Swatara Township, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, he left hundreds of blank forms for theexecutors of his estate to sell, and others that he decorated, but the presence of another artist’s hand in some of his work reveals that the market for fraktur documentswas strong.
Weiser, Frederick S.
“Ach wie ist die Welt so Toll!”
(“The mad, loveable world of Friedrich Krebs.”)
Der Reggeboge,
vol. 22, no. 2 (1982): 49–88