Johann Henrich Otto


Otto was one of the first people to make fraktur birth certificates in Pennsylvania. Born in Swartzerden, near Pfeffelbach, Germany, Otto arrived in America aboard the ship Edinburgh on October 2, 1753. He married Anna Catharine Dauterich, and they had children who were born in Lancaster and Montgomery Counties.Otto advertised his services as a weaver in 1755. He served in the American Revolution between 1777 and 1780. He appears to have taught at the parochialschools of several Reformed Protestant churches, between about 1769 and 1779, at Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania. He moved to Mahanoy Township, Northumberland County, and probably taught at St. Peter’s Lutheran and Reformed Church there.Otto’s earliest pieces of fraktur, produced in the 1760s, are completely hand-drawn, very detailed, and colorful. By 1784 he had baptism certificates printed at the press of the Ephrata Cloister in Pennsylvania, which were decorated with woodblocks of birds he may have designed. The text of these certificates begins with arecord of the child, including the names of the parents, date of birth, date of baptism, and the name of the officiating clergyman. The longer text of these certificatesappears to be a justification of infant baptism among Otto’s Mennonite neighbors, who generally disapproved of the practice.Otto published a variety of broadsides that featured Adam and Eve, as well as spiritual mazes, book-plates, and presentation frakturs. For many years, the figures of birds on his certificates were copied over and over again by other fraktur makers, either by hand or in printed form, as was the style of his text. His sons Jacob,William, Daniel, and Conrad all produced fraktur, as did Conrad’s son Peter. Otto died in Mahanoy Township, Northumberland County, Pennsylvania.