I’ve long forgotten when I first saw the 1969 East German stamp that pictures the Planeta-Variant printing press, an amazing machine that had a significant presence in my professional life. When I first sighted that stamp while still a student, I probably didn’t bother to note the press name in the upper left corner. The stamp is one of two promoting the annual Leipziger Fruhjahrsmess (Leipzig Spring Fair), a trade fair that traces its roots back to the Middle Ages. The famous exhibition logo (at right) designed by Erich Gruner in 1917, is also shown on the stamp. That logo is probably second only to “DDR” in the number of times it has appeared on East German stamps.
In 1980 I accepted a job with the Geo W King Company in Baltimore, a 100 year old firm, that billed itself as a provider of advertising, corporate communications and printing. King had three large-format, 2-color, sheetfed offset presses, two of which were Planetas, as well as smaller single color presses, and a reputation for being one of the finest offset lithographers in the region. Many a publication and poster for the National Gallery of Art in Washington were printed by King.
The history of the Planeta company and press is one that includes many technical advances in printing:
1898 – Dresden Schnellpressenfabrik founded by Joseph Hauss and Alfred Sparbert.
1902 – Company patents the “planetary drive” (source of the Planeta name) for letterpress presses.
1910 approx – Company acquires bankrupt stamping and enameling plant in Naundorf (Radebeul today).
1922 – First Planeta sheetfed press leaves factory in Radebeul.
1932 – Company launches the world’s first four-color sheetfed offset press, the Planeta-Deca.
1938 – Company name changed to Planeta.
1945 – Factories completely destroyed in war.
1946 – Planeta Druckmaschinenwerk virtually ceases to exist.
1948 – Planeta makes a fresh start as VEB Druckmaschinenwerk Planeta.
1965 – Launch of the world’s first unit-type litho press, the Variant 4—a press design that has since become the accepted norm. (Unit refers to the two towers in the center of the pictured press. Each tower, or unit, houses the ink well, cylinders and rollers for a single ink color.)
1990 – Collaborative agreement is signed with Koenig & Bauer, a company tracing its origins back to the first power press manufactured by Friedrich Koenig and sold to The Times (London) in 1814.
1990 – Koenig & Bauer increases its stake in Planeta to 75.2% and renames it KBA-Planeta AG.
1994 – Koenig & Bauer acquires the remaining 24.8% interest in KBA-Planeta AG.
1998 – Planeta celebrates its centenary.
Portions of the historical chronology adapted from Koenig & Bauer website (https://www.koenig-bauer.com/en/holding/history/) and used with permission of Koenig & Bauer.