{2-538.} Mining

Between 1711 and 1770, the pace of change in Transylvanian mining was slow as well. The mining of salt continued in time-hallowed fashion. The only major development was negative: in the 1720, floods swept through the salt mines at Szék, halting production, and the mining town did not recover for centuries. Nor did the methods of transporting salt change, although there were stormy debates in the diet regarding the number of shippers and their exemptions, and about the carting of salt by taxpayers performing communal work. The mining and marketing of salt was a monopoly of the Treasury. The only change in this essentially unaltered situation was that while the Treasury had once been an agency of the principality, it was now integrated into the imperial administration, and decision on the allocation of revenues was made in Vienna. Transylvania's estates were less disturbed by this than by the fact that they could no longer trade freely in salt.

Precious metals and iron remained the mainstay of the metal mining sector; other metals were not mined in significant quantities. Among precious metals, gold predominated, and production showed a slow increase: from 34,949 weights (a weight, or nehezék, being the equivalent of a sixteenth of an ounce) in 1720 to 49,450 in 1730, 52,159 in 1740, and 59,856 in 1750. In 1760, some 82,311 weights of gold were sold on the open market, and another 7,110 weights were expended on smelting equipment. Around 1770, the amount of gold sold had risen to 88,483 weights. Thus between 1720–24 and 1770, gold production increased by a factor of three, with over 60 percent of the growth registered in the last twenty years.

Several factors serve to explain this change. The more intensive exploitation of precious metal deposits — or, at least, the disposition to reopen mines closed by the war — dates back to the first decade of the 18th century. Transylvania's military commander at {2-539.} the time, General Steinville, was energetic not only in his official duties but in entrepreneurial pursuits as well. He obtained several mining leases in Zaránd County, at Tresztia, Hercegány and Kristyor; after his death, the mines passed into foreign hands or were closed down. In general, mines tended to be exploited in stops and starts, and seldom at full capacity. Yet, even in these circumstances, there was a steady increase in gold production.

The mining laws of 1747 were an important factor in the rapid increase in production during the 1750s and 1760s. The court of mines at Zalatna was formally recognized by the diet as the judicial forum for all miners and was authorized to issue mining permits. Appeals against its rulings had to be directed not to the royal bench, but to the Treasury, and from there to the emperor by way of the imperial Bergkollege. (The royal bench would only hear appeals in cases involving privileges.) These laws regulated many aspects of the miners' life. Small-scale mining entrepreneurs and their employees were obliged to reside in villages proximate to the mines and crushing mills. They were allowed to keep one or two cows. If they wanted to build a house, a site would be provided by the landowner. If that plot came with some fields outside the village, they had to pay an annual fee of four forints; if not, the fee for access to cultivable land, pasture, or woodlot was two forints. Miners were exempted from the poll tax and paid no tax on their draught horses, but only on their other livestock. They were allowed to sell their houses if they moved.

Since these provisions were likely to attract peasants into mining (and invite abuses), the law specified that villeins and cotters could not sign up as miners without their landowner's knowledge and consent, and that newly recruited miners had to pay a one forint tax. The provision did not apply to miners recruited from abroad, for 'Transylvanian mining needs foreign workers, and they must not be scared off'.[4]4. Diaet, Minutes of the 1747 Diet. To protect the legal status of miners, a further provision forbade their arrest on the mining sites and access roads without the knowledge of the court of mines.

{2-540.} These modest but significant improvements in the circumstances of miners probably contributed to the growth in production in the 1750s and 1760s, particularly in the case of small mining operations. In the same period, major entrepreneurs also began to show a lively interest in Transylvania's precious metal ores. The first shaft of the gold mine at Nagyság was opened in 1747, and by 1767 there were seven shafts. The Tresztia gold mine was taken over by Steinville in 1712, and its previous owners, the Gyulay family, only got it back in 1734; a major shaft was opened in 1764. András Hadik, Transylvania's military commander and head of the Gubernium, had the mine at Kisbánya (Torda County) surveyed by experts and reopened, then took charge of the enterprise; he retained 36 shares for himself, 16 for his wife, and gave away the rest.

Like many salt and precious metal mines, the iron mine at Vajdahunyad had been in operation for hundreds of years. In 1725, after the death of the wife of Mihály Apafi II, ownership passed to the Treasury. At the time, the Treasury showed little active interest in mining, and it put the estate out on lease, first to J. G. Steinhilbert von Thalheim (for twelve years, at an annual rent of 18,000 forints), then to M. Ph. Hoffnungswald, initially for 13,000, later for 14,000 forints per year; only in 1754 did the Treasury assume direct control over the mine. At this time, iron was mined at Vajdahunyad along three shafts, two of which belonged to the Treasury and were worked by twelve villein-miners. In the older and bigger shaft, miners took out the ore on their backs, while in the other shaft, the ore was removed by a horse-powered mechanism. The third shaft belonged to a private landowner. Back in the 1670s and 1680s, the total annual output of the smelters at Vajdahunyad was no more than 300 metric tons; in 1754, a smelter was built, at Toplica, with a capacity of 1,000 tons a year. Unlike salt mining, which was a Treasury monopoly, the mining of metals was open to private enterprise, but only in the early 1770s did entrepreneurs begin to seriously exploit these opportunities.