The Planeta Printing Press (East Germany)

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:
Ÿ1898 – Dresden Schnellpressenfabrik founded by Joseph Hauss and Alfred Sparbert.
Ÿ1902 – Company patents the “planetary drive” (source of the Planeta name) for letterpress presses.
Ÿ1910 approx – Company acquires bankrupt stamping and enameling plant in Naundorf (Radebeul today).
Ÿ1922 – First Planeta sheetfed press leaves factory in Radebeul.
Ÿ1932 – Company launches the world’s first four-color sheetfed offset press, the Planeta-Deca.
Ÿ1938 – Company name changed to Planeta.
Ÿ1945 – Factories completely destroyed in war.
Ÿ1946 – Planeta Druckmaschinenwerk virtually ceases to exist.
Ÿ1948 – Planeta makes a fresh start as VEB Druckmaschinenwerk Planeta.
Ÿ1965 – 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.)
Ÿ1990 – 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.
Ÿ1990 – Koenig & Bauer increases its stake in Planeta to 75.2% and renames it KBA-Planeta AG.
Ÿ1994 – Koenig & Bauer acquires the remaining 24.8% interest in KBA-Planeta AG.
Ÿ1998 – Planeta celebrates its centenary.

Portions of the historical chronology adapted from Koenig & Bauer website ( and used with permission of Koenig & Bauer.

Uptown Stamp Show

During a recent visit to Portland OR, I had the opportunity to visit Uptown Stamp Show. The “Show” is actually a stamp shop. I remembered the Linn’s article of August 2016 hailing the March opening of Uptown Stamp Show—bucking the trend of stamp store closings. I wanted to experience this place.

The “Show” is just as the article described—a friendly, informal, small shop that welcomes everyone. Two stamp-show-size tables are covered with green table cloths and surrounded with comfortable chairs. Stock is on shelves on both sides of the office and includes collections, sets, covers, individual stamps and more. The worldwide inventory is extensive.

David Markowitz, the store’s founder, sat at one of the tables and discussed stamps and collecting nonstop with customers. His knowledge is deep, and he shares it generously. He even agreed to be photographed with me (top photo) outside the ‘Show.’ I was a buyer of 14 covers for $14 (see two below) to spice up the look of my worldwide albums. Obviously my purchases were not the financial high point of his day, but my visit to the ‘Show’ was a high point for me. When in Portland, I highly recommend Uptown Stamp Show to you.

The Paintings of Zheng Benqiao (PRC)

Often when I’m looking for something “fun” to think or write about, I leaf through cacheted covers I’ve purchased inexpensively at stamp shows, simply for their visual appeal.

Today I did just that, and was drawn to the 1993 stamps from the People’s Republic of China featuring paintings of Zheng Benqiao. The six stamps of the set were used on two first day covers—three stamps on each. One of the covers is shown above. The beauty of the calligraphy and the use of delicate brushstrokes in the paintings gently, but profoundly, convey a sense of peace and balance in life.

Zheng Benqiao (1693-1765) was from Xinghua, Jiangsu Province, along the eastern-central coast of China. He began life poor, and his father taught him as a child to paint. Through singular application to his studies, he became a magistrate in Shandong Province, but was uncomfortable with the magistrate’s life and critical of the life of government officials. After a little more than a decade as magistrate, he was reportedly criticized for building a shelter for the poor, and he resigned his position. He then began selling paintings to earn a living.

Zheng expressed himself through his artwork. He was adept at freehand ink and wash painting and was eventually recognized as one of the Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou, known for their individualistic and expressive artistic styles. Zheng is best known for his drawings of bamboo, orchids, and rocks. His calligraphic style was influenced by his drawings of graceful orchids and firm bamboo. He stressed the combination of poetry, calligraphy and painting, adding lines from poems to his paintings to more fully express this themes.

And so an inexpensive first day cover becomes a meditation on a philosophy of life: Simplicity—less is more.

For additional information about Zheng Xie see:
China Online Museum

Trees and Houses…I just like ’em. (Great Britain, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, USA)

Why do I collect stamps? The images! Many collectors want to delve into the meaning behind those images—to explore. I do that too, but oftentimes it’s simply the imagery that excites and satisfies me.

I always look closely at stamps featuring houses and trees. Why? I’m just interested in the amazing variety of structures people build for themselves.

And trees—they don’t entice like flowers, but the simplicity of their appearance—trunk, branches, leaves—has more affinity for me. And maybe it’s their size too. Maybe it’s because I climbed so many as a boy and could hide in the cover of their leaves—watching all from above. And maybe too it’s because we children could play with our little cars and soldiers and cowboys in the raised roots of the fat old oaks behind our house.

Perhaps I’m a topical collector. I haven’t organized a collection of either houses or trees, but when I’m ready, my first stop will be the American Topical Association. There I’ll find others who share my interests, as well as the ATA’s comprehensive topical stamp checklists.

Let me know what your favorite stamps are that picture houses and trees.


Bulk Mail Tulips? (Netherlands)

Encountering this series of “Tulip” stamps, I assumed because of the subject, the clean contemporary design, and the PTT POST imprint, that these were from the Netherlands. There was, however, no monetary value on the stamps.

The other bit of information on the stamps was PORT BETAALD (“POST PAID” in Dutch). Further investigation led to the fact that these were used for Bulk Mailing.

I was drawn to these stamps for their beauty—a refreshing approach to bulk mail stamps, which in the U.S. are generally quite bland in design. Perhaps even junk mail can bring a smile to your face, provided the stamp is appealing.

Three Views of Four Seasons (China, Germany, Liechtenstein)

Spring is coming to the Mid-Atlantic (too slowly for me). Has it always been thus?

Some 800 years ago, Liu Shong Nian (1155-1224) approached the seasons in a more contemplative frame of mind.

His exacting watercolor renderings of the seasons are featured on a 2018 Chinese souvenir sheet (from right to left: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter). His seasons express the harmony between nature and human activity.

These are exquisitely detailed miniature paintings, each about 4″x5″. Note the white tree blossoms at water’s edge and the abundant greenery of Summer in the enlarged stamp (top left). And below it, notice snow covering roofs and distant mountains. All is in harmony.

In 2006, Deutsche Post photographically rendered each season as the year unfolded, beginning with a Winter stamp in January. The intent of the stamps was to convey the beauty of personal communication via the ordinary letter. Then and now, electronic mail hungrily devours personal postal communication; however, the beauty of a snow-covered oak, white tree blossoms in Spring, yellow-flowering rapeseed, and a beech forest, combined with the personal touch of a simple letter, impart a truly unique dimension to human messaging.

What a difference 800 years makes—even 10 years! In 2016, Liechtenstein gave us the four seasons on one stamp. Designer Hans Peter Gassner presents the seasons in the four quadrants of the stamp beginning with Winter at top left and proceeding clockwise through Spring, Summer and Autumn. Gassner’s approach to the seasons is totally abstract. Pallets of color dots, circles and squares within a seasonal grid convey the feeling of distinct times of year. And though images of nature and mankind are absent, perhaps that same sense of harmony that Liu Shong Nian conveyed in watercolor, and Germany via photography, is conveyed by this stamp. When I ponder the color fields with a contemplative mind, I can see and feel the beauty of the snow on the distant mountain, a soft Spring rain, exuberant summer flowers, and Autumn’s mature coloring.


My Favorite Gutenberg. (Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary)

As a boy, decades ago, if asked, “Who invented printing?” my answer would have been, “Gutenberg.” Today, if asked, “What did Gutenberg invent?” my answer would be, “The first effective method for printing in volume with movable type.”

So, if Gutenberg didn’t invent printing, why is he so admired? His genius was much like many other “inventors.” He took pre-existing technologies (printing, the press, movable type, ink) and modified each so that they functioned together as a viable system for producing cost-effective multiple copies of printed matter.

It’s likely that the bulk of his inventiveness and labor was devoted to perfecting a system for making and using movable metal type, hence my Favorite Gutenberg stamp is not one that features a portrait of him, but rather features movable type. Besides, no portrait of Gutenberg is known to have been made until 1567, 99 years after his death, so what we see on stamps is an artist’s imagination at work.

My Favorite Gutenberg stamp was issued by Germany in 1983, one of a pair of Europa stamps. That stamp features a piece of cast metal type against a background of Gutenberg’s gothic type letters that can be found in his printing. The stamp focuses on the most significant aspect of the printing method he developed—movable type. And personally, I see in the imagery of one piece of movable type against a background of numerous printed letters as a graphic metaphor for the explosion of knowledge that Gutenberg’s “invention” made possible.

For information about all things philatelic/printing/graphics, check out the Graphics Philately Association.

A Break from Winter Cold. (Niuafo’ao, Macao)

In mid-December I posted “Need a Lift?”, because I sometimes do. At times I need a break from winter cold too. So here are two more sheetlets that do the trick for me.

The Jandaya Parakeet on this recent sheetlet from Niuafo’ou just can’t be contained by the stamp and has to extend its tail onto the selvage. I can’t think of another sheetlet so starkly white–selvage there only because this parakeet needs more space and demands exuberant framing.

This 2018 souvenir sheet from Macao features the painting “Bright and Fragrant Flowers” by the contemporary Chinese artist Ieong Tai Meng. The subtle and sensitive brushstrokes and coloring reflect centuries of Chinese artistic tradition.

So if you need a break from the cold…or a lift…contemplate these stamps.

Light and Color in French Morocco

Color gradations artfully employed by stamp designers always attract my attention. Think of Great Britain’s long-running Machin series or Israel’s Twelve Tribes definitives from the 1950s. But the five stamps of French Morocco shown here, from the Townscapes series of the late 1940s, are perhaps my absolute favorite. The stamps were designed by Camille Paul Jooso (1902-1986) and engraved by Pierre Gandon (1899-1996, see an earlier post about Gandon’s Sarah Bernhardt stamp).

When I see these stamps, the acclaimed French artist Henri Matisse (1869-1964) comes to mind as does his lifelong quest for, as he told the art critic Pierre Courthion (1902-1988), “the clarity of light.”Matisse travelled often, including two stays in French Morocco in 1912-1913, not to see different places but “to see light, to restore, through a change of its quality, the freshness it lost as a result of being seen day after day.”To me, these stamps powerfully convey that clarity of light through their sensitive  design, exquisite engraving, brilliant color selection, and masterful printing. They are a marvel!

The other quality within these stamps that brings Matisse to mind, is the complex patterning of the terraced townscape. Matisse’s paintings, beginning in the early 1900s, abound with the patterns of textiles, with the objects they cover being visually flattened and converted to an overall decorative image. The Terraces stamps convey that same flattened decorative quality. Kudos again to the stamp designer and engraver for achieving such complex and enticing imagery.

Forgive my dream, but I can easily imagine Matisse looking out his hotel window in French Morocco at the scene we experience viewing these stamps…and being delighted just as I am.

1 & 2. Schneider, Pierre, et al. Matisse in Morocco, Exhibition Catalog, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, 1990, page 31.

WWI Beckons (Great Britain, Slovenia, Ireland)

For five years many nations have been marking the 100th anniversary of the years of WWI with postage stamps. We’ve forgotten most of those issues, just as that war is a thing of history to us—with no personal meaning. Today’s mass murders trouble us greatly, as they should, and yet WWI accounted for some 15 to 19 million military and civilian deaths—averaging more than 10,000 a day. And like all war, it didn’t have to be.

Those WWI commemorative stamps generally feature photographs of military personnel and monuments, but a few affected me.

In 2017 Great Britain issued a set of six WWI commemoratives. The four above spoke to me. The shattered red poppy told of peace shattered by war. Private Lemuel Thomas’ life-saving Bible was for me an ironic image. How many millions on both sides of this tragic conflict professed true faith in the Bible? The tombstones in Belgium, at stamp size anonymous, whisper wasted lives. And Isaac Rosenberg’s poetic words from Dead Man’s Dump of 1918, “Earth has waited for them, All the time of their growth,” testify to the human tragedy. (Rosenberg, an Orthodox Jew from Gloucestershire, was killed in 1918 after returning from a night patrol near Fampoux, France, most likely be a sniper.)

This year Slovenia issued a visually haunting interpretation of that endless field of tombstones. The ethereal shape created by the varying light and dark crosses are a mist of millions of lives lost…most now forgotten.

Also this year Poland, whose designers are known for graphic directness, presents us with the choice that faced nations 100 years ago: flowers or explosives. That choice continues to face us. Too often the decision is disastrous.

Ireland’s literary approach to Armistice Day is twice strong. Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae’s 1915 poem is familiar to many of us, and is always worth a reflective read:
  In Flanders fields the poppies blow
  Between the crosses, row on row,
  That mark our place: and in the sky
  The larks, still bravely singing, fly
  Scarce heard amid the guns below.

Finally, from Thomas Kettle’s 1916 poem To My Daughter Betty, the Gift of God:
  Died not for flag, nor King,
  Nor Emperor, But for a dream,
  Born in a herdsman’s shed, And
  for the secret Scripture of the poor.
Kettle, a Member of Parliament, joined the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and died in 1916 on the Western Front.

Consider these stamps. Click the links above and read these poems in their entirety. Tell me what you think…and feel.