By the end of the 1540s parallelly with the spread of protestantism, there appeared a growing need to read books in native, Hungarian language. After the short-lived printing shop at Sárvár-Újsziget in Western Hungary it was the press Hoffgreff-Heltai in Kolozsvár (Claudiopoli, Klausenburg, Cluj-Napoca, R) the aim of which was to produce books in Hungarian for the new reading public, richly illustrated with wood-cuts.
The town of Kolozsvár on the two banks of river Szamos is one of the oldest settlements in Transylvania. After the Mongol invasion the Hungarian kings invited German settlers into the town. Since the 14th century it had the privilege of a free royal town, with a growing number of Hungarian inhabitants. According to an agreement in 1458 the Germans and the Hungarians took part parallelly in the governing of the town. By the 16th century, when the printing press of Georg Hoffhalter and Gáspár Heltai was founded, Kolozsvár was a flourishing town with a large number of craftsmen and tradesmen, both an economic and cultural centre.
Both the German (Saxon) and the Hungarian inhabitants adopted first the Lutheran confession, however, later the Hungarians tended to Calvinism, and to Antitrinitarianism. It was just Ferenc Dávid and Gáspár Heltai, a prominent priest of the town who became also religious and cultural leaders. As a consequence of the rule of Prince János Zsigmond who favoured antitrinitarianism, a significant part of Kolozsvár adopted this new confession. It was in this changing religions situation that the printing press was founded.
The actual founder of the press in Kolozsvár was Georg Hoffgreff. In 1542, together with Valentin Wagner, the school-master of Brassó, and later a printer himself, they attended the University of Wittenberg. It can be taken for certain that in 1549 Hoffgreff was learning and working as a printer in the office of Johann von Berg and Ulrich Neuber. He may have known about the bible-translation of his compatriot Gáspár Heltai, and also his intention to have his translation and some other books printed in Hungarian. Perhaps that is why Hoffgreff acquired mostly Roman letters abroad, and frakturs only in a lesser quantity. It seems that Hoffgreff and Heltai had major role in establishing the convention, that throughout the hand-press period Hungarian language books were almost exclusively printed with Roman and Italic types - similarly to Latin texts -- , while German texts in fraktur. After acquring the printing types and the other equipments, it was in 1550 that the printing shop began its work. Hoffgreff soon began to cooperate with Gáspár Heltai, and for some years they were leading the office as companions, sharing the equipment. Their publications were carefully printed, and in many cases the author or compiler was Gáspár Heltai himself. Still, there were times when - from unknown reason -- Hoffgreff was leading the workshop alone. From this time Sebestény Tinódi's Cronica should be mentioned, printed with musical notations (RMNy 109), proving Hoffgreff capacity as a printer.
Hoffgreff's companion in leading and owning the printing shop at Kolozsvár was Gáspár Heltai (Helth) (1510?-1574) a priest, a prominent personality in the town, and also an author of books in Hungarian language. According to reliable sources he was studying in Wittenberg from 1543 as a student of Philip Melanchthon. Returning to Kolozsvár, he became the Lutheran priest of the town, and took part in founding the printing shop together with Georg Hoffgreff. He apparently had a sense for enterprises, and as a printer-publisher he had definite ideas about his cultural programme. Almost half of the books produced in the Kolozsvár press were the prosaic works, either original, or translations by Heltai. He very seldom needed the help of patrons, it seems that his book-publishing and printing activity was profitable. In the meantime Georg Hoffgreff died, and he was leading the office alone. He translated into Hungarian Aesop's Fables (RMNy 219), published parts of the Bible, translated by himelf and his companions. Later, when he adopted antitrinitarianism, he published his book Háló equally criticizing Catholics, the Pope and Calvinism (RMNy 288). From the 1570s his press issued a number of historical songs taking their subject from Hungarian and Antique history. His last, great achievement was the Chronicle about the deeds of the Hungarians (RMNy 360). After his death his widow continued his work, and the office remained in the possession of the Heltai family for more than hundred years.
The Hoffgreff-Heltai office was especially rich in wood-cut ornaments. These are unique cuts, some of which can be connected to the activity of Jacobus Lucius, a native Transylvanian himself. Some of the decorative elements were apparently purchased abroad, as his fine series of decorated initials are „speaking” German: each letter is decorated with the figure of the respective animal, e.g. A (Adler). Some of his ornaments are functioning as printer's device, some are decorated with the crest of the town Kolozsvár. In the equipment there was also a series of illustrations for calendars, and another to illustrate the Gospels. Some of these ornaments and illustrations survived and can be traced in books printed in Kolozsvár in the 17th century.
Following the death of Gáspár Heltai the founder, the printing shop in Kolozsvár ceased its activity for some time. However the vidow could soon overcome the difficulties and took over the leading of the office. Between the years 1575-1582 the office was lead by the widow Gáspárné Heltai. It was the chronicle about the deeds of the Hungarians (Chronica az Magyaroknak dolgairól, RMNy 360) where her name first occurs in imprint, at the beginning of 1575. The printing of the chronicle was the last of Gáspár Heltai's works in late 1574, but he died before having finished it.
In these years the press produced - instead of Bible editions, chronicles or religious works - mostly Hungarian translations of foreign histories or Hungarian historical songs. The reason of this change in the profile may have been the order issued by the Transylvanian Prince István Báthori, in which the publishing of religious or polemic works was restricted. One of the most significant products of her press was the Herbarium (RMNy 413) by Péter Melius Juhász. It is the first medical botanic work from 1578 which preserved the names and name variants of more than 1200 plants, thus contributing to the development of Hungarical botanical thesaurus. The widow of Heltai had a good commercial sense in issuing a great number of popular historical stories as well as poetical-historcal songs of modest outlook. The former care no longer characterized the products of the printing shop although there was certain increase in illustrations and book ornaments. Folllowing the death of the widow in 1582 the office went into the possession of her heirs and from 1583 actual printing work was directed by Caspar Schespurgensis.
Gaspar Heltai the younger (1586-1611) was not a printer by profession but a member of the town council. Probably the printing shop continued to be lead by learned printers throughout the first decade of the 17th century. However, the supposition that Jakab Klöss later printer in Upper Hujngarian Bártfa (Bardejov, SK) was previously, between 1591 and 1597 in the Heltai office, can not be documented.
During the period of Gáspár Heltai jun. there were some significant scholarly works published, like the legal handbook Syntagma by János Baranyai Decsi in 1593 (RMNy 719) an early attempt to conform Hungarian laws with Roman laws.
The theological work of the Unitarian bishop György Enyedi in Máté Toroczkai's edition and published by Gáspár Heltai jun. Under the title Explicationes in 1598 (RMNy 836). It should be noted that although the Heltai-press was traditionally protestant-oriented, Gáspár Heltai the younger has also printed books on commission for Catholics, e. g. in 1599 the Cathecism of Petrus Canisius translated by Vásárhelyi Gergely (RMNy 860).
Until the death of Gáspár Heltai the elder neaely a hundred books are known and further 115 printings from the later times. There was a 17-year period between the caeasing of Sárvár-Újsziget press and and the founding of Gál Huszár's press at Óvár when the Heltai Press at Kolozsvár was the only printing shop in the Carpathian Basin issuing Hungarian-language literature. In the later decades many of the Hungarian popular stories published by the Heltai press were reprinted by other Hungarian printing shops.
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Borsa Gedeon: A legrégibb magyar perikopás könyvek illusztrációi I. (Heltai). In. Könyvtörténeti írások I. Bp. 1996. 166-173.
V. Ecsedy Judit: A régi magyarországi nyomdák betűi és díszei 1473-1600. A kolozsvári Hoffgreff-Heltai-nyomda. Bp. 2004. 66-81., 313-363.
Jakó Zsigmond: Újabb adatok Hoffgreff György kolozsvári nyomdász életéhez. Magyar Könyvszemle 1965. 159-163.
Varjas Béla: Heltai Gáspár a könyvkiadó. Bp. 1973. (reneszánsz füzetek 24.)