by Lisa Minardi 

Fig. 1: Bookplate made for Esther Landis, signed by Samuel Bentz (1792–1850), Lancaster County, Pa., 1826. Watercolor and ink on wove paper. H. 6½ x W. 3½ inches. Collection of Historic Trappe (2020.016.0011). Photo by Michael E. Myers.

First identified in 1986, the fraktur artist and schoolmaster Samuel Bentz produced a large, diverse, and individualized body of work in a distinctive style unlike any of his contemporary fraktur artists. Previous research has focused mainly on documenting Bentz’s work and his career as a schoolmaster. New research into the recipients of his fraktur offers a new perspective on the close-knit world of Bentz’s family, friends, and neighbors in rural Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The following examination of six fraktur signed by or attributable to Samuel Bentz—three owned by Historic Trappe’s Center for Pennsylvania German Studies and three by the Dietrich American Foundation—offers a model for new directions in Pennsylvania German studies. 

Bookplate Made for Esther Landis

This bookplate, made for Esther Landis and recently donated to Historic Trappe, is the basis for all attributions to Samuel Bentz (Fig. 1). It is signed in the lower right corner in German script: “Geschrieben von Sm Bentz” (written by Samuel Bentz); the date of April 13, 1826, appears under Landis’ name. Additionally, her initials, “EL,” are inscribed in black at the base of the urn. 

Prior to this bookplate’s discovery in 1986, Bentz was known by the nickname of the “Mount Pleasant Artist.” The decorative elements seen here are now identified as the hallmarks of Bentz’s work, including the use of bold lettering, urns with striped decoration, and delicate flowers.

This page remains within the original book for which it was made, Der sichere Himmels-Weg oder Anleitung zum Christenthum (The sure way to Heaven or Guidance to Christendom) by August Herman Francke. Little is known about the owner, Esther Landis, due to the presence of multiple women with this name living in Lancaster County at the same time.

Samuel Bentz was born on February 26, 1792, and lived in northern Lancaster County. He appears variously in the Cocalico and Elizabeth Township tax rolls from then on until his death on March 21, 1850, sometimes identified as a teacher. His father, Peter Bentz, worked variously as a Lutheran pastor, cabinetmaker, and farmer; tragically Peter committed suicide in 1818. At this time, Samuel was twenty-six years old and had recently struck out on his own, appearing first on the tax rolls in 1816 as a “freeman”; this designation means he was an unmarried adult, which he remained until his death. Samuel was buried at the Cocalico Reformed Church near Ephrata, along with many other members of his family. Bentz worked in a profoundly local area; all of his known works were made for families living in northern Lancaster County, particularly the vicinity of Ephrata and Brickerville. Other major fraktur artists worked in the same area, such as Henrich Otto and Friedrich Speyer, although Bentz’s work shows no signs of their artistic influence. Bentz does not appear to have influenced the style of other fraktur artists aside from a small handful of copyists, perhaps due to the very local nature of his life and work. Evidently, he preferred marching to the beat of his own drum.

Birth and Baptismal Certificate for Margaret Weidman

This certificate records the birth of Margaret Weidman on October 3, 1793, to parents George and Barbara (Illig) Weidman (Fig. 2). No birthplace is specified, but family history locates Margaret’s birth in Warwick Township, Lancaster County. The certificate also documents her baptism on December 5, 1793, by Emanuel Schultz[e]. A Lutheran pastor, Schultze emigrated from Germany in 1765, married the oldest daughter of Lutheran patriarch Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, and served as the pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in the Tulpehocken Valley of western Berks County, Pennsylvania, from 1771 until his death in 1809. Unlike the bookplate Bentz made for Esther Landis, he did not include the date on which he made this certificate. However, it was no doubt made years after Margaret Weidman’s birth and baptism in 1793, just a year after Bentz was born. The certificate was decorated on wove paper, which generally was not used by Pennsylvania German fraktur artists until about 1820.

Left: Fig. 2: Birth and baptismal certificate for Margaret Weidman, attributed to Samuel Bentz, Lancaster County, Pa, ca. 1820. Watercolor and ink on wove paper. H. 9¾ x W. 7¼ inches. Collection of Historic Trappe (2020.016.0010). Photo by Michael E. Myers. Right: Fig. 3: Birth and baptismal certificate for Henrich Weidman, attributed to Samuel Bentz, Lancaster, County, Pa., ca. 1818. Watercolor and ink on wove paper. H. 9⅝ x W. 7½ inches. Collection of Historic Trappe (2020.016.0009). Photo by Michael E. Myers.

The occasion for making the certificate remains obscured; Margaret Weidman married John Sheaffer about 1815, so it was not made until well after her marriage. Perhaps it was commissioned at the same time as a birth and baptismal certificate for one of their children. Margaret and her husband had at least six children; she died on May 17, 1873, and was buried in the graveyard of the Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lititz, Lancaster County. The Weidmans were a predominantly Lutheran family; more than 130 Weidmans are buried at the Emanuel Lutheran Church in Brickerville, Lancaster County, including Margaret’s parents, Georg and Barbara (Illig) Weidman. The Weidman family was a strong presence in northern Lancaster County where Samuel Bentz lived and worked. To this day, a town named Weidmansville in Clay Township, Lancaster County, reflects their influence.

Birth and Baptismal Certificate for Henrich Weidman

The fraktur illustrated in figure 3 records the birth of Henrich Weidman, son of Samuel and Christina (Appel) Weidman, on September 21, 1817, and his baptism on March 3, 1818, by William Baetis. His baptismal sponsors were Joseph and Christina Weidman. Once again, no location is specified, but Rev. Baetis was pastor of the aforementioned Emanuel Lutheran Church in Brickerville from 1810 to 1836. The Weidman family were leading members of this congregation, with Jacob Weidman serving as one of the overseers for the erection of a parsonage from 1812–14. Henrich Weidman’s mother, born Christina Appel, was part of a large family with ties to the Zion Reformed Church in Brickerville, just a stone’s throw from the Lutheran Church.

Fig. 4: Birth certificate for John Stoll, attributed to Samuel Bentz, Lancaster County, Pa., ca. 1825. Watercolor and ink on wove paper. H. 9⅞ x W. 7¾ inches. Collection of the Dietrich American Foundation (7.9.HRD.323). Photo by Gavin Ashworth.

This fraktur was likely made about the same time as Margaret Weidman’s certificate (see fig. 2). At first glance, the two may look quite different, but careful attention to the details reveals that they are the work of the same artist who made the signed bookplate illustrated in figure 1. One of the most striking similarities is the use of heavy, bold Fraktur lettering for the text. Another detail that matches on all three fraktur is that when rendering a date, Bentz used ordinal numbers and drew a line with three dots underneath the suffix (in German the ordinal suffix is typically “ten,” whereas in English it is “st,” “nd,” “rd,” or “th,” depending on the numeral). On all three pieces, Bentz used variations of his characteristic flowering vines, stripes, checkerboards, and geometric layout. On the fraktur illustrated in figure 2, Bentz included four tiny round faces flanking the text—an uncommon but not unique instance of this motif. He also occasionally included clock faces, such as the one in a birth record made for John Stoll (fig. 4).

Birth Certificate for John Stoll

This English-language certificate records only the July 8, 1825, birth—no baptism—of John Stoll, son of Jacob and Magdalena (Haldeman) Stoll (Fig. 4). John Stoll became a miller and lived near Ephrata in Lancaster County. He married Elizabeth Bare, died in 1898, and was buried at Wolf’s Cemetery in Ephrata, where his parents, wife, and many other relatives are also buried. This cemetery is the site of the former Steinmetz Meetinghouse, built in 1847 and razed in 1939. The Stolls were members of the Church of the Brethren, also known as German Baptists or Dunkards. This denomination, along with the Amish, Mennonites, and some other German-speaking religious sects, did not practice infant baptism but waited until a person could make an informed decision as an adult to join the church and be baptized. This likely explains why the certificate records only John Stoll’s birth and not his baptism, which likely occurred many years later. Bentz made at least one other certificate that records only a birth, which is also in English and decorated with a clockface.

Fig. 5: Bookplate for Barbara Kempter, attributed to Samuel Bentz, Lancaster County, Pa, 1836. Watercolor and ink on wove paper. H. 5¾ x W. 11 inches. Collection of the Dietrich American Foundation (7.9.1327). Photo by Gavin Ashworth.

Bookplates for Barbara and Maria Kemper

Pasted in the front and back of this tune book are double bookplates made for Barbara and Maria Kemper in 1836 (Figs. 5 and 6). Barbara’s bookplate is pasted inside the front cover, flanking the title page, and is in English. Maria’s is pasted inside the back cover and written in German. In keeping with standard conventions, Bentz used a Roman style font for the English-language text and Fraktur for the German-language inscription. Similar examples of this are found on gravestones and indeed on the title page of this book, which gives the title in both English and German—The Union Choral Harmony, consisting of Sacred Music (Der Union Choral Harmonie, enthaltend Kirchen-Melodien). There are also subtle differences in the decoration of the two book-plates—a pair of small yellow birds are perched in the flowers on Barbara’s bookplate, while Maria’s has only flowers—but overall, the two bookplates appear quite similar other than Bentz’s choice of language and font.

Printed by Francis Wyeth of Harrisburg in 1833, the tunebook was written by Henry C. Eyer (1797–1879). An accomplished composer who also served as a state senator from 1843–45, Eyer was deeply connected to fraktur via both his father, Johann Friedrich Eyer, and uncle Johann Adam Eyer—both well-known fraktur artists and schoolmasters. Bentz made these bookplates in 1836, just three years after the tunebook was printed; although he was only forty-four years old at the time, these are some of his last known dated fraktur.

Fig. 6: Bookplate for Maria Kemper, attributed to Samuel Bentz, Lancaster County, Pa., 1836. Watercolor and ink on wove paper. H. 5¾ x W. 11 inches. Collection of the Dietrich American Foundation (7.9.1327). Photo by Gavin Ashworth.

There are multiple women named Barbara and Maria Kemper at this time in northern Lancaster County, but it was most likely sisters who jointly owned this tunebook. There is a Kemper family graveyard in Ephrata Township. Intriguingly, the tombstone of a Barbara Kemper (1779–1843) buried there includes the name “C. Bentz” at the bottom right of the inscription. This location is typically where the gravestone maker might include his name, albeit on rare occasions. The estate papers for Samuel Bentz, who died in 1850, include a payment of $144.2 to one Christian Bentz for making a pair of gravestones (“pair” referring to a head and foot stone). New research into “C. Bentz” uncovered yet another connection. On February 6, 1848, Margaret Bentz, eldest daughter of C. Bentz, Esq., of Elizabeth Township, and David Kemper of Ephrata were married.

Additional examples of fraktur by Samuel Bentz are in the collections of the Free Library of Philadelphia, Lancaster History, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Winterthur Museum.

1. Frederick S. Weiser, “Samuel Bentz, the Mount Pleasant Artist,” Der Reggeboge: Journal of the Pennsylvania German Society vol. 20, no. 2 (1986): 33–42.

2. The book is the 20th American edition of this title and was printed in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, by Wilhelm Wheit in 1823 and distributed by Jacob Schweitzer. 

3. A local provenance is suggested by the book’s history of ownership in the collection of Arthur Feeman Jr. of Jonestown, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania. See Pennypacker Auction Centre, Three day Antique Auction from the private collection of Arthur Feeman Jr., Jonestown, Pa., Reading, Pa., October 12–14, 1981, lot 146. 

4. This birth record was made for Catherine Styre, born in 1835; it is in the collection of the Rare Book Department, Free Library of Philadelphia, frk00676. 

5.  Lancaster Intelligencer, 22 February 1848.

This article is the ninth in a series featuring the Dietrich American Foundation’s collection, intended as a type of crowd sourcing exercise, where responses and information shared by readers can inform the research. New information will be provided over the course of the series. Contact details are in the author bio below. For information about the Dietrich American Foundation, visit

Lisa Minardi is the executive director of Historic Trappe and a contributing author to In Pursuit of History: A Lifetime Collecting Colonial American Art and Artifacts, ed. H. Richard Dietrich III and Deborah M. Rebuck (Yale University Press for the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Dietrich American Foundation, 2019). Please send comments/queries to