Page 203 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

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RAPHAEL JULIUS
Anton von Schmid,
Royal Printer
and Nobleman
O
v e r
t w o
c e n t u r i e s
ago, on Ju n e 14, 1783, Moses
Mendelssohn wrote to his son’s former tutor, the noted maskil
and future censor of Hebrew books in the Austrian empire,
Naphtali Herz Homberg: “I have heard that the Proops press
in Amsterdam with all its equipment and type fonts is about
to be sold. I was informed yesterday by a Dutchman that the
owner will not ask an exorbitant price if a proper buyer will
appear. It would be worthwhile for you to write regarding this
matter to Joseph Proops whom you know personally.”1
This letter was to have important implications for the devel­
opment of modern Hebrew literature, which was then making
its first hesitant steps. Through the intervention of Homberg,
who was an energetic personality and had good connections,
the press was purchased two years later. The buyer was none
other than Joseph von Kurzbeck, the official royal printer of
Emperor Joseph II. Kurzbeck was already engaged in the print­
ing of books in foreign languages (Greek, Latin, Russian) and
by adding a Hebrew division to his press he fulfilled a desire
of the Emperor. According to Letteris the reason for this move
was quite a practical one: “For it would also bring much benefit
to all parts of his Empire. . . . Many Jews, some six hundred
thousand in number, reside in the Austrian Empire. Many
books are also needed for the higher study of ancient languages
in the capital city. Thus it would be beneficial if the profits
from the sale of these books would remain at home rather than
1. Quoted in the comprehensive Hebrew article by the poet Meir Halevi
Letteris, “Remarks Concerning the History o f Hebrew Printing and Printers
in the Capital City o f Vienna During the Last Eighty Years.” The article,
which is the basic source for our discussion, appeared in the yearbook
Bik-
kurim,
edited by Naphtali Keller and Meir Ish Shalom in 1866, pp. 20-36.
195