I was a young college graduate when I first realized I had a dual identity living in southeastern Pennsylvania, besides being an American citizen. But the importance of being a local PA Dutchman did not astonish me until I went to an Allentown household auction sale of another urban PA Dutchman, eager to acquire some of his family heirlooms. I bid on a colorful, rare, early American decorated PA Dutch folk art baptism fraktur, but was upset that it went so overwhelmingly high, I could not afford it!
A modest antique collector at the time, I quickly asked another antique dealer why this hand done German lettered specimen brought such an amazing price among the local crowd gathered there in Allentown. A veteran antique dealer, whom I knew from other auctions, said to me “You’re PA Dutch, aren’t you?” I replied, “Both my grandmothers still speak the German dialect,” to which he replied, that this decorated birth certificate had remarkable folk art decorations, besides being lettered in a German script, known as Fraktur. He went on to say that this folk art PA Dutch example would bring four times as much as the bidder paid for it among rare high-end folk art collectors at Sotheby’s New York Auction Gallery.
Right then and there, I realized my local citizenship as an ethnic PA Dutchman was more important than any other citizen whose ethnicity was not known for exceptional primitive Americana folk art. Henceforth, I visited local museums that displayed rare PA German folk art and crafts and bought a copy of Francis Lichten’s Folk Art of Rural Pennsylvania, dealing with PA Dutch folk art. No longer a collector of typical antique household objects, I now look at my family’s PA German craft heirlooms with an eye, that they were not common place, but in time would appreciate rapidly in value, becoming far more valuable than any other person’s ethnic heirlooms. Even my uncle Freddie Bieber, who at the time was still making hand split-oak baskets that were very much in demand, was a one of a kind treasure.