Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt 1899-1949 by Daphne Garrett

Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt, 1899-1949: A History of the Newspaper and Print Shop of the Texas Wends was printed in 1998. The preface to the book is printed here to give you an idea of the scope and purpose of the book. Copies of it can be purchased at the Texas Wendish Heritage Society Museum located at Serbin, Texas or by going online at www.texaswendish.org.

Digital images of the Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt can be viewed at the Lillie Moerbe Caldwell Memorial Library located in the museum of the Texas Wendish Heritage Society at Serbin, Texas.


Background

The Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt newspaper and print shop, 1899-1949, was the only paper which specifically served the Wends of Texas, and the only shop in the United States which printed in Wendish, a Slavic language. It has been a subject of interest among printers, publishers, journalists, linguists, historians, and Wendish genealogists.

Until 1976 I was not aware of the existence of a unique group of Texans called Wends, whose Slavic ancestors had emigrated from Lusatia (in eastern Germany) to Texas in the 19th Century. I learned of the Wends in 1976 when our family purchased the old Gerhard and Theresia Biehle farmstead in the Wendish community of Warda, ten miles south of Giddings. I began a serious study of the history of the Wends, starting with the Biehle family. My interest in Texas history prompted me to support the Texas Wendish Heritage Society and the new museum which the Society founded in 1980 at Serbin, seven miles west of our farm. I became an active volunteer member, serving on the Accessions Committee, Exhibits Committee, and the Building Committee. In 1985 I became the Museum Archivist and Librarian.

From various sources I heard about the newspaper and print shop which served the Wendish community. Surprisingly, however, for many years following the opening of the Wendish Museum no one donated anything connected with the Volksblatt. As a historical researcher, it became my challenge to research the Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt and try to locate copies of the newspaper, job printing, and artifacts from the print shop. After the Volksblatt closed, a certain mystique developed about the newspaper and shop. Although primarily printed in German, there was a misconception that it was a trilingual newspaper regularly published in German, Wendish and English.

Prior to my investigation, a few researchers had made a limited study of certain aspects of the Volksblatt newspaper but no one had located and examined all of the existing copies, nor intensively sought out samples of the shop job printing. Jack D. Rittenhouse, author of Wendish Language Printing in Texas, had been interested in the special Wendish type characters, other artifacts, and job printing. He did not study the newspaper per se, nor the history of the print shop.

Frank Starr, author of a 1967 Master’s thesis, “The Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt, 1899-1919″, studied the contents of the newspaper during its first twenty years, but did not include the years 1920-1949, the job printing nor the business history of the print shop. John F. Shaw, a student in the Department of Slavic Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, began a study in 1973 of the Wendish language in Texas for a proposed doctoral dissertation. Shaw searched microfilm copies of the Volksblatt newspaper but did not complete a dissertation.

The Project

My project started during a trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1982 to visit Jack D. Rittenhouse, some nine years before he died. Since then I have been piecing together a picture of this unique newspaper and its print shop. The search has taken me to archives, institutions and private homes in Texas, Missouri, and New Mexico; to abandoned log cabins, houses undergoing demolition, and household garbage dumps. Little by little I found samples of the job printing, located pieces of original equipment, and studied fragile collections of the newspaper and the hard-to-read microfilm copies.

The first phase of my research was a survey of microfilm copies of the newspaper. Through the microfilm belonging to the Dolph Brisco Center for American Studies at The University of Texas at Austin, and that of the Texas Room at the Houston Public Library, I became oriented to the format, contents, languages and printing practices of the Volksblatt. At the same time, I made an inventory of the issues included in the microfilm. Later, I examined selected issues of the available originals at the Brisco Texas History Center, The Houston Metropolitan Research Center at the Houston Public Library, and the Texas Wendish Heritage Museum Archives.

The next phase was to contact the late Albert Miertschin who was a co-worker of J.A. Proske, and who later became one of the owners. I conducted numerous informal interviews with Mr. Miertschin in his home in Giddings during 1982-1990, but many questions occurred to me after it was too late. Through Mr. Miertschin, I found Proske’s youngest daughter, Hattie Proske Hilsberg, and have had many pleasant visits with her in her home in Giddings from 1982 to the present time. Through Mrs. Hilsberg I found Mignonette Pratho Preuss, granddaughter of J.A. Proske, and other descendants.

Thus, I gathered more information about the Volksblatt, its founder, J.A. Proske, his family, and the people associated with the Volksblatt. Gradually I found a few important issues of the Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt which were held by individuals, photographs, artifacts from the print shop, and examples of job printing by the Volksblatt shop.

The third phase of my study was to obtain information from other primary sources, and secondary sources. This study included the business records and equipment of other print shops.

I have attempted to organize the information which I collected in an interesting and readable form, and at the same time write a scholarly report with documentation. A complete history of this unique newspaper and print shop will probably never be written, because the business records have been lost, and a complete collection of all the issues of the newspaper and of all types of job printing does not exist.

Illustrations

The clippings from the newspaper are reproduced from photocopies which I very carefully made from original issues. They are reproduced in their original size except when noted. I used the originals in the Brisco Texas History Center (which were on loan to the Archives of the Texas Wendish Heritage Museum), the Houston Public Library collection which was donated to the Wendish Museum, and the miscellaneous copies donated by individuals to the Museum. In a few cases, I had to use copies from the microfilm when the original of a particularly interesting item was missing. Unfortunately, many highly interesting items were too fragile to photocopy.

The reproductions of job printing are from originals and are the original size except where indicated. The sources of these items are noted in the chapter on job printing. Most of the vintage photographs reproduced in this book were made available to me by Albert Miertschin (before his death in 1992) and Mignonette Pratho Preuss.

Acknowledgements

To those who were especially helpful to me through many years of research, and always so patient with my inquires, I want to give special thanks: To the late Albert Miertschin for sharing with me his recollections of the Volksblatt print shop and its people. To Hattie Proske Hilsberg for sharing her recollections and details of family history. To the late Jack D. Rittenhouse for his concern for my research and his interest in the Volksblatt for many years prior to my involvement. To Migonette Pratho Preuss, granddaughter of J.A. Proske, for sharing the keepsakes saved by her mother, Marie. I am particularly indebted to Joseph B. Wilson for his continuing support of this project, advice concerning the Wendish language, and translation of ”New Year’s Greetings.” Also, his research on the Wendish language Agenda printed by Proske, and his very valuable comments and suggestions in general.

Additional thanks go to author Harold Sterne for penmss1on to reproduce engravings from his book, Nineteenth Century Printing Presses, printer Richard Mauck at the Print Shop of Old City Park in Dallas, Texas for his explanations of 19th and early 20th century printing equipment, and director Don Piercy for the use of the library of the Museum of Printing History in Houston, Texas. Also to individuals who helped in small but important ways, and to my husband, Bob Garrett, who helped with the final computer formatting. And finally, special credit must be given to the archives and libraries previously mentioned.

Conclusion

Although I planned the research and writing of this book as a two or three year project, it has extended to fifteen years. The task was larger than anticipated, and the information was difficult to find. Also, my other research and writing commitments, particularly articles for The New Handbook of Texas and a book, The Art of Decorating Wendish Easter Eggs, delayed this project. The delay turned out to be an advantage, because many photographs, examples of job printing, and further information about the equipment were found during the last few years.

In the future, other researchers might like to make a special study of selected subjects, such as an analysis of the German language as used in the newspaper. A study of historical information relating to Wendish communities and churches would be very interesting. Also, much genealogical information could be extracted from the obituaries and articles, and would be of great value to Wendish genealogists. Due to the very fragile nature of the original issues, research should be done primarily with the microfilm copies.

I believe that this history of the Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt is as complete as possible at this time. It may be that readers of this book know of other samples of job printing and missing issues of the newspaper, or have other bits of information. These should be given to the Archives of the Texas Wendish Heritage Museum for preservation. I hope that specialized studies and future discoveries will add to our knowledge of this unique newspaper and print shop.