Scratch-decorated egg

Written by Forrest Moyer on April 12, 2017
Mennonite Heritage Center, Harleysville

Taking a break from immigrant family stories, this week we’re featuring a new acquisition related to the Easter holiday.

You may be familiar with the elaborate scratch-decorated eggs of the Lithuanian tradition; but did you know Pennsylvania Germans had a similar practice of scratch decoration? You can see many examples in a chapter on this topic in Alfred Shoemaker’s book Eastertide in Pennsylvania (1960). Often decorated eggs were made as presentation pieces or gifts from one friend to another at Easter.

This month’s featured artifact is a mid-19th-century decorated egg from the Mensch family of Montgomery County. It was donated last year by Mary Jane Lederach Hershey, a descendant of the family. The egg was dyed a traditional, simple light-brown color and scratched with the initials AH+MB (could this be Mary Jane’s great-grandmother Mary Bower, born 1831, receiving it from friend “A.H.”, circa 1850?). The initials are bracketed with a nice decoration of stars and circular border at each end of the egg. (2016.48.3)

Mennonite Heritage Center, Harleysville

The MHC collection includes a few other decorated eggs, including a couple covered in fabric by Bessie Gottshall Kulp of Vernfield, Montgomery County, who demonstrated this technique at the Goschenhoppen Folk Festival. Here she is pictured in 1967 with an “egg tree” hung with her decorated eggs. Some recent scratch-carved eggs sit on the table. Photo from the Isaac Clarence Kulp Collection.

Mennonite Heritage Center, Harleysville

Alfred Shoemaker also includes a chapter on the Easter egg tree tradition.

Decorated eggs made appearance in Pennsylvania German paper art as well. The MHC collection includes a lovely small drawing of a decorated egg, circa 1800, probably made as a reward of merit for a student by the unidentified schoolteacher known as the “Engraver Artist”. (1988.18.1)

Mennonite Heritage Center, Harleysville

The Winterthur Museum collection includes a drawing from around the same time, of not only decorated eggs but a yellow Osterhase (Easter bunny) leaping–perhaps in the joy of springtime–carrying a basket full of colorful eggs.