A tale of two brothers


A Tribute to Eric Tanzer
Iconic graphic arts equipment distributor helped launch Roland presses in the UK

BY : Nick Howard, C.E.A., President, Howard Graphic Equipment Ltd.

On a rainy, cold January morning, I spied a short man wearing a three-quarter dark grey overcoat and clutching a plastic shopping bag. It was 1985, and I found myself in England’s Gateshead printing plant of Her Majesty’s Stationary Office – better known simply as HMSO. I happened to be inspecting a machine that had been put up for sale due to HMSO’s ceasing of all telephone directory printing. I recognized him immediately as Eric Tanzer, the legendary director of the United Kingdom’s largest graphic arts machinery distributor – the Pershke-Price Service Organization (PPSO).

For decades it would have been near impossible to find anyone involved in the UK printing scene who didn’t know Tanzer. From machine minders to directors to machinery dealers, a good percentage either dealt with or heard stories about him. I knew him through my father, as Eric had a brother, Siegfried, who once employed my dad in Montreal.

On that aforementioned morning, Tanzer was amidst a group of men near a giant MAN directory press, and I missed the chance to speak with him. Luckily, a few hours later, we both found ourselves at the Newcastle airport departure lounge waiting to board a flight to London. I took the opportunity to introduce myself and have a chat. We talked about his brother, my father, whom he fondly remembered, and a myriad of other topics lost to memory. However, I do remember how genuinely warm and sincere he was, speaking in the soft voice of a horse whisperer.

In the Presence of a Legend
Eric Tanzer, like many other European Jews born in the first half of the twentieth century, led a tumultuous life. He was born in Budapest in 1906, in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Tanzer learned about the printing equipment business through his family’s distributorship firm, “Globus,” which represented a variety of printing equipment, including the famous German “Rockstroh Victoria” art platen.

Deciding to immigrate to England, Eric arrived in 1931 and met a Luxembourg businessman, Pierre Bausch. Straightaway Eric was offered a job in the newly incorporated Price Service & Co., financially associated with another machine dealer, Frank F. Pershke. Through this opportunistic meeting, Eric was offered a position as a salesman. Pershke’s fledgling business, which dates to 1908, also represented the Victoria platen along with other lines, including Albert-Frankenthal. Although Pershke’s name was on the door, a good portion of the ownership was held by Pierre Bausch. As fortune would have it, Bausch had a daughter whom Eric married in 1934.

Life in England would at least leave some of the horrors beginning to take place in Hungary in the distance, and through the depression years, both businesses sputtered along to the end of WW II. Germany’s first post-war print exhibition, BUGRA, was held in Leipzig in March of 1947. Germany was still in shambles, and the Nuremberg Nazi trials had just ended; at the same time, escalating tensions between the Allies and the USSR would soon lower an “Iron Curtain” across Europe. Germany would soon be severed into East and West. Tanzer and Pershke attended that exhibition to do some new business. They would find an opportunity at a perfect time. BUGRA-47 would change everything.

Faber & Schleicher AG had taken space at BUGRA. They are one of the oldest Offset press manufacturers in the world, eclipsed only by Harris-Seybold-Potter in the USA, and George Mann & Co. Ltd. in England. Their brand, “ROLAND,” is still used today. The first rotary sheetfed offset would leave their Offenbach factory in 1911, quickly followed up by more advanced designs in one, two, and, by 1950, a four-colour “Ultra” version. The five-cylinder design was unique. A module (often referred to as a “machine”) would incorporate a user-friendly upper and lower printing unit while printing on one common-impression cylinder. The resulting design would become a worldwide favourite of both pressmen and owners alike. However, in 1947, ROLAND struggled to rebuild among the ruins and other German manufacturers.

A deal was struck at BUGRA that would last an incredible 55 years, ending with Man Roland Germany taking over the UK agency. Perhaps, and it’s just conjecture, Tanzer may have considered the Planeta range of presses. However, in the mid-1930s, Planeta had agreed to license two of its designs, the “Quinta” and “Tertia,” to the English firm George Mann & Co. Mann had been selling their “Fast Three” and Fast Five” versions of the Planeta all over the UK and British Empire, and Tanzer would have known that importing German-built originals would have ended in court. Besides, at the war’s end, the Planeta factories were stripped of machine tools as reparations to the Soviets. Many East German firms had faced similar fates, which gave West Germans, such as ROLAND, a distinct advantage.

Letterhead from Price Service & Co. Ltd. (1950s)

As excited as the two men were to win a major dealership, they soon found that a British import license was needed. Surprisingly, it would take four years to get one, and in 1951, the same year as the first DRUPA trade show, ROLAND presses started to pour into Britain, with the very first sale made to Ben Johnson Limited of York. Britain wasn’t thrilled with anything made in Germany so soon after the war, and it’s a credit that Tanzer could sell against British makers such as Crabtree and Mann.

In 1951 the American “Miehle” company caught wind of the happenings in the UK and jumped at the chance to work a similar deal with ROLAND, thereby covering a large portion of the English-speaking market. The Miehle/ROLAND relationship would last 39 years.

The Union between ROLAND and Tanzer, the Most Successful in History

The results of the United Kingdom’s success with ROLANDs reached as far as Japan, China, and Hong Kong. The models “Favorit,” “Parva,” “Rekord,” and “Ultra” were best-sellers throughout the world. Our firm sold so many Rekords that we lost track.

I doubt early acceptance of the ROLAND would have been as dramatic without Eric Tanzer. Britain’s love affair with ROLAND offsets made other regions take notice and catapult ROLAND into the premier position, if not the top-selling rank, over the next 40 years. As many have mentioned, Eric Tanzer met the right press manufacturer at exactly the right time.

Eric Tanzer
Eric Tanzer in 1992

Eric Tanzer loved to entertain customers at the symphony or opera but never in a nightclub. He jogged regularly, was fluent in English, French, German, Hungarian, and Russian, and ultimately changed the way graphic arts equipment was sold. It was said that after his retirement in 1992, loyal customers still insisted on only dealing with “ET.”

I was fortunate to catch up with Tanzer again in the early 1990s. We were both staying at The Drake Hotel in Chicago and reacquainted over lunch. Tanzer, in his eighties, still spoke in those soothing tones of a “horse whisperer.” His unmistakable kindness and amazing ability to remember the intricate details of each customer solidified his place in the global printing industry. Eric Tanzer died in his sleep in 1996 at the age of 89. An outstanding human being and printing equipment salesman. Above all, truly a gentleman!