The attempts to establish a Jewish printing house in Warsaw

Granted in 1527 to the townspeople of Warsaw by King Sigismund I the Old a privilege de non tolerandis Judaeis forbade the Jews not only to settle there, but even to temporary stay in Warsaw. Since the year 1570, the Jews were allowed to appear in the capital, but only during parliament sessions or other official assemblies. The situation changed only in the 18th century: in the beginning of the Stanislaus period Warsaw and Praga (separate town then) had a total of about 30-40 thousand people, and the Jewish population in the capital was 2519 individuals. By 1792 the number rose to 6750 persons, which made 8.3% of the total population. It was then that the first attempts to establish a Jewish printing house were made.

The first such attempt was made by a person named Leiser Yitzhak. He probably came from Silesia, but before the year 1775 he must have lived in Krotoszyn (Krotoschin) and therefore on documents from the second half of the '70s he signed his name  “Leiser Yitzhak of Krotoszyn (Krotoszynski)”. During the period of the  Delegated Sejm [1] (parliament) in the years 1773-1775 he visited Warsaw very often, providing services to persons connected with the royal court. He also worked on various projects for the parliament concerning tax revenue growth, including the “Stamped Paper” bill, requiring the tax offices in the Crown (Polish kingdom) to stamp each Jewish book made for sale. The stamp tax was 1 silver grosz (or quarter of zloty) per book, so it was a relatively high one. It obviously caused a significant increase in the price of books.

The Crown Tax Commission introduced the bill into effect on June 3, 1775. Shortly after a fight broke out about the lease of this tax, which involved also Leisor Yitzhak himself  he requested from the Commission to grant him the rights to lease this tax, pledging that he would invest profits from it in starting a Jewish printing house in Warsaw. Eventually, the Crown Tax Commission decided at the end of 1775 to deal on its own with the tax collection from Jewish prints.

by Zygmunt Vogel 

Krotoszynski then made attempts at the royal court to acquire for himself and his son-in-law, Jonah Jakubowicz, a printing privilege, for a printing house he intended to build in Goledzinow near Warsaw, where the Jewish population had full rights to settle. Thus, there was a project created for such a privilege in the royal office, which proclaimed that the King, determined to expand the publishing movement for the Jews in Poland, granted Leisor Yitzhak and Jonah Jakubowicz the right to establish their own printing house in Goledzinow and obliged them to establish the printing house, provide it with appropriate technical equipment and employ skilled men to run it.

At the same time, under the provisions of this bill, it was ordered that all Jewish printers operating without royal privileges were to be closed down and it introduced a ban against establishing new Jewish printing houses in the whole Kingdom, as well as a ban against the import of books from abroad and their sell in Poland. Monopoly to provide books for the Jews living in the towns of the Crown and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania would therefore be given completely to Leisor Yitzhak Krotoszynski and Jonah Jakubowicz. They lacked cash to start a business, though…

Leisor Yitzhak, after receiving a draft copy of the privilege, showed it to the rabbis of Mazowsze (Mazovia) region. Three of them: rabbi of Ryczywół, Nowe Miasto and Zarki, drafted and signed a special proclamation to the Jews in Poland (preserved to the present time only in Polish translation). In it, the rabbis praised the King's charity, who deigned to contribute “to the issue of Jewish printing house” in Goledzinow, which – as in the past in the cases of Jewish printing houses in Krakow and Lublin – could print “calendars, Talmuds and various other books”, and then they wished Leisor a success in realization of his goals. They also warned other Jews, under the threat of excommunication, that no one should dare to hinder his efforts in establishing a printing house as well as in “whatever he intends to print”.

The proclamation was important to the interested party not just for its propagandist value, but it was also supposed to help in finding a rich partner, so that they would be able to realize their aspirations. For this purpose, Leisor Yitzhak (as Jonah Jakubowicz was, as it seems, only a figurehead in this project) even composed “Points on partnership over a printing house, for those who would like to join in the privilege of printing given to Leisor Krotoszynski”, in which the author clearly suggested that he was in possession of legalized royal privilege, on the basis of which he would want to enlist a partner, which was simply not true.

Despite numerous endeavors, Leisor Yitzhak was unable to find a partner until the year 1779, which was probably for three reasons. Firstly, he didn't have final, legally binding rights to establish a printing house; secondly, the terms of cooperation presented in “Points” were very detrimental to a potential partner, and also contained too many generalities and ambiguities; thirdly, Krotoszynski was not a very popular person with the Jewish population, who could not forget that it was thanks to his actions that a very high tax was imposed on Jewish books.

Despite the failure of his previous attempts, Leisor made another effort, this time concerning the legalization of the royal privilege project to launch a printing house. He issued a memorial in this regard at the end of 1779 to the Grand Chancellor of the Crown [2]. In it he informed that he had finally found a wealthy partner, who was ready to spend “several thousand in capital” and thus fulfilled the condition of the provisional release of the royal privilege. He would also like to request at that moment from the Chancellor an official statement that after presenting alleged partner he would finally receive said privilege. Memorial stated also additional postulates of the supplicant, for example the irrational demand that all Jews in Poland used only books printed by him and got rid of any imported books owned. The Chancellor was of course quite right to oppose such absurd demands by Leisor Yitzhak, and informed him that the King would not sign the privilege until he was completely sure that he had one or more partners willing to allocate sufficient financial resources to establish a print shop and provide it with an appropriate technical equipment.

As it soon turned out, the person Leisor meant in his memorial was Johan Antoni Krüger, a wealthy merchant from Warsaw and a Protestant, who, however, did not provide satisfactory financial guarantees and the whole affair returned to its starting point: Leisor Yitzhak still did not have the funds needed to set up a printing house. He further sent petitions, either to the Office or even directly to the King himself but they did not bring the desired results. And they could not bring any as they were filled with general and vague statements and complaints about the unwillingness of officials.

Meanwhile, a formidable competitor appeared who completely thwarted the plans of Leisor Yitzchak Krotoszynski. It was Peter Dufour, who by a Royal privilege of 13 March 1775, already ran a successful printing house and a bookstore in Warsaw. Thanks to an excellent equipment his printing house was capable of publications both in Polish and in foreign languages. In terms of the assortment and types of owned fonts, his printing house belonged among the best equipped in the country. In 1780 Dufour realized (perhaps inspired by the fruitless efforts by Leisor Yitzhak) that publishing Jewish books could be a very lucrative idea, and so he begun efforts at the royal court to be granted appropriate privilege. As an active typographer (printer) he had already a secure position and he also enjoyed favors of powerful protectors, therefore he was able to achieve his goal quite easily – a privilege prepared in the Great Office of the Crown for Dufour was signed by the King Stanislaus Augustus on June 26, 1780. The following announcement could be read in the capital newspapers:
The local printing house owned by Dufour was granted a privilege so that for thirty years they were the only ones lawfully allowed the printing of Hebrew books and musical notes throughout the whole Kingdom. When a suitable amount of Hebrew books for the Jews in the whole Kingdom leaves said printing house it will not be lawfully allowed for any other printer or bookseller (after this privilege is proclaimed) to import books in that language from abroad under the punishment of confiscation and monetary fine” (which was to be 2000 red zlotys [3]).
But the Warsaw typographer was not able to satiate the country's market with the Jewish books published by him. Of the five printing presses he owned at the time, he was able to devote only one, at most two, for publications in Hebrew (or Yiddish) and more importantly, he would not have been able to hire suitable number of qualified Jewish typesetters and printers to satisfy the monopolistic ambitions of his printing house.
Dufour did not enjoy the title of Royal typographer of Hebrew books for long, though. Already in the second half of 1780, Johan Antoni Krüger, a recent “partner” of Leisor Yitzhak Krotoszynski, bought from Hirsch Leibowicz and his son Shmuel Segal a Hebrew printing house in Korzec (Korets), in the Wolhynia region, which was established in 1776 and he moved it to Nowy Dwor, 30 km north-west of Warsaw. Thus a situation was created, where two printing houses competed with each other, one of which had all the necessary documents, and the other essential “know-how” and machinery. Ultimately it was not Dufour, who, after all, had the royal privilege for Hebrew publications, but Krüger who came out victorious from this competition. The advantage he had over Dufour was not even that he was able to quickly start in Nowy Dwor a very well equipped and organized typographic shop, featuring a large and skilled staff and great production capacity, but primarily the reason was, that the owner of Nowy Dwor, Prince Stanislaus Poniatowski, was personally interested in its activities, and such a protection could take away a lot of potential obstacles on the part of royal officials. Eventually, in the beginning of 1781, Johan Antoni Krüger acquired from Dufour his rights to issue Hebrew books, thus obtaining the necessary legal basis for carrying on business in Nowy Dwor, where the powers relating to musical publishing Dufour kept to himself.

For the time being Leisor Yitzhak Krotoszynski disappeared from the scene, but not for long… [TBC]

[1] Delegated Parliament (Sejm delegacyjny) – a form of a parliament, which consists of a delegation chosen from all the members of a parliament, endowed with legal powers prescribed by said parliament. Resolutions agreed on by such delegation would be accepted during a full Parliament session with no right to substantive discussions nor the right of veto.
[2] In the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1569-1795), the four chancellors were among the ten highest officials of the state. Poland (Crown) and Lithuania each had a Grand Chancellor and a Deputy Chancellor, each entitled to a senatorial seat, responsible for the affairs of the whole Kingdom, each with his own chancery.
[3] Red zloty – an old Polish term for a gold coin (ducat), distinguishing a circulating coin of that time from the official unit of account (and currency) – the Polish zloty (in Polish the word “złoty” means “gold/golden”). 2000 red zlotys was approximately equal to 6.9 kg of fine gold!

Translated from Polish by Rochel Joanna Czopnik

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