Watercolor and ink on laid paper
Strasburg, Shenandoah County, Virginia
Circa 1800
Signed: “H. D. pinxit et scripsit.”  for Heinrich Diefenback (1771-1837)
Made for JOSEPH STOVER SPENGLER (1790-1876) & MARGARET SPENGLER (1799-1848)
Children of Philip and Regina Spengler of Strasburg, Shenandoah County, Virginia.
~ 7” x 9”

These unique, vividly illustrated watercolor and ink birth certificates were made for Philip and Regina Spengler of Strasburg, Shenandoah County, Virginia and record the births of two of their children, Joseph (1790-1876) and Margaret (1799-1848). They are attributed to Reverend Heinrich Diefenback (1771-1837), a Reformed minister living and working in Virginia and bordering states at the turn of the 18th century. Joseph’s certificate is signed at the LR Signed: “H. D. pinxit et scripsit” and depicts the Prodigal Son “who wasted all…with riotous Living” with his pack and walking stick surrounded by an exuberantly colored array of large, blooming flowers. Margaret’s portrays a female figure in a garden between urns and tall, brilliant blue flowers.  Of a form frequently referred to as frakturs, these works exhibit striking qualities of artistry, originality, and imagery that completely transcend the term.

Diefenbach was born in Maryland near the town of Hagerstown and moved with his family to Augusta County, Virginia in 1784. He studied theology under Rev. Bernard Willey and Rev. Paul Henkel and traveled widely in Virginia and North Carolina. His first Parish was in Augusta County in 1799-1800. Clearly documenting his avocation as an artist/srivener is an entry in Diefenbach’s journal while in Staunton in 1802 recording that he had made three birth certificates for the Kircoff Family (unlocated).   Diefenback could have produced the Spengler certificates during his ministry in Augusta County shortly after Reginia’s birth, during the 1802 visit to Staunton or on any number of other occasions as he passed through Strasburg which is north of Staunton on the well-traveled Great Wagon Road, the Valley’s principal north – south thoroughfare.

The written text below the images contains elements of English, German and Latin and is indicative of both the overlapping cultures of the Valley of Virginia and the high level of the artist’s education. They read (in part): The Prodigal Son  He gathered all together & took his Journey into a far Country & wasted all his Substance with riotous Living Luke 15.  Joseph Spengler (Son of Philip Spengler Esqr. and Regina his espoused Wife) was born in the Town of Strasburg in the County of Shenandoah in the State of Virginia the 12th Day of November Anno Domini 1790. Joseph Spengler wurde geboren den 12lm Nov. 1790 H.D. pinxit et scripsit.  The second reads:   Margaret Spengler (Daughter of Philip Spengler and Regina his espoused Wife) was born in the Town of Strasburg in the County of Shenandoa in the State of Virginia on the 26th day of March in the year of our Lord 1799, about 1, oclock, P.M.

The certificates are each ~ 7” x 9” and were professionally conserved in 2001 by Chesapeake Paper Conservation, Williamsburg, VA. (Report available)

Provenance:  By descent through six generation of the Spengler Family until 2011. Jeffrey Evans & Associates Auction, Kelly Kinzle Antiques, Private Collection.





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