Niemand wird Euch bringen
Das Tischlein, das sich selber deckt,
Doch vereint könnt Ihr’s erzwingen,
Daß das Schicksal fich vollstreckt.
Tischlein, Deck Dich für Alle! Eine Betrachtung

The project

The Wishing Table is a project inspired by Tischlein, Deck Dich für Alle! Eine Betrachtung, a Socialist Labour pamphlet written in 1908 by Joseph Angerbauer. The story is loosely based on the Brothers Grimm tale “The Wishing-Table, the Gold-Ass, and the Cudgel in the Sack” and is told through a New York immigrant’s utopian vision of early 20th Century America.

History of the project

In 2012, while doing genealogical research, I had come across a copyright entry under the name of Joseph Angerbauer in the US Library of Congress. Since Joseph’s son, Joseph Henry, ran a coffee and tea company with his own son Joseph Junior, I thought at first that they had patented some sort of coffee brewing method.

Turns out the copyrighted material was actually a publication. In 1908, my great great grandfather, Joseph Angerbauer, published the pamphlet Tischlein, Deck Dich für Alle! Eine Betrachtung with Selbstverlage Press. Upon further digging, I stumbled upon the title in a collection of Socialist Labour pamphlets on the Florida Atlantic University website: “1,700 items including trade union recruitment pamphlets, war effort pamphlets from both World Wars, economic analysis and commentary from late 19th through mid-20th century U.S. and Europe.” The International Institute of Social History in the Netherlands also referenced the pamphlet. The IISH conducts research and collects data on the global history of labour, workers, and labour relations.

I managed to find a badly battered copy online; within a week I was holding the weathered publication in my hands. The brown pages literally crumbled at the touch so I ordered archival sleeves to store them safely. I scanned each delicate page, putting them all up online in Pinterest in the hopes that someone might have information on the content. The problem is, I don’t speak or read German.

I attempted to transcribe the text myself though eventually I will need to consult a native German speaker. I believe Tischlein, Deck Dich für Alle! Eine Betrachtung can be translated as “Wishing-Table, for you all! A consideration” or “Ritual of Refreshment for all! An examination.” At first, “Wishing-Table” seemed like an odd choice of words? Until I came across one of the Brothers Grimm tales: Tischchendeckdich, Goldesel und Knüppel aus dem Sack or “The Wishing-Table, the Gold-Ass, and the Cudgel in the Sack” (translated by Margaret Hunt, Grimm's Household Tales, 1884. Volume 1. No. 36). In the story, the wishing-table is a magic object. When the owner of the table says “Little table, cover thyself”, the table sets itself, its surface covered with the most exquisite dishes.

Joseph Angerbauer was listed as a labourer in census records and city directories. What compelled him to publish this work let alone write it? Selbstverlage Press was situated in West Norwood, New Jersey, less than an hour’s drive away from Plainfield, his residence. West Norwood is also in close proximity to Englewood, which was the site of the Helicon Home colony, an experimental socialist commune established by Upton Sinclair and others in 1906. Lawrence Kaplan's article, A utopia during the progressive era: the helicon home colony 1906-1907 (American Studies, Vol 25, No. 2: Fall 1984), is a fascinating portrayal of the Progressive era intellectuals and their utopic ideals on child care, homemaking and women's rights of that time. Was Joseph in any way aware of this commune? Was he associated with any socialist parties in New Jersey?

It is through the transcribing and translating process that I might uncover answers.