A tale of two brothers


Meet Siegfried "Fred" Tanzer
Fred Tanzer was instrumental in advancing print in Canada

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

Then there were two; brothers, that is. Besides growing up in the family business, all similarities end. In my previous column (A Tale of Two Brothers part one), I wrote about Eric Tanzer and his leadership role in the graphic arts while recalling a serendipitous life of a man seemingly anointed by the British printing industry as their own secularized Pope (an ideal description from PressXchange’s John Roadnight).

Siegfried, who went by “Fred,” Tanzer was seven years younger than Eric, born in 1913 into a Budapest printing equipment family in what was then known as the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Both learned the print trade working in their father’s firm selling letterpress platens. Fred’s grandfather had also built up a large printing house known as Globus. Jewish ownership of Hungarian publishing was expansive between the two great wars, and It was said that 58% of all “Nyomdák” were Jewish-owned.

Siegfried, Fred Tanzer would soon play a pioneering role in the Canadian Printing scene, often the first to import machines never before heard of in the west (Komori, an example), and go on to develop new markets while confounding his competitors.

In 1931 Eric Tanzer immigrated to England, just before the slow percolation of rising anti-Semitism rose to the boil. But Fred stayed put all the way through the war. How he managed to navigate through the hell of growing Nazi sympathizers, culminating in trainloads of Ashkenazi sent off to concentration camps, is unknown. But somehow, he, along with his family, eluded the Hungarian NKVD and German SS. Daily life would have been soul-scorching, and it’s possible during those turbulent years that Fred developed defences to guard against those who would threaten him or his future.

One example was a conversation between Tanzer and my father, who worked for Tanzer between 1959 and 1964. Discussing the recent resignation of a key employee at the firm, my father asked Tanzer how the company would manage without this man and could [if he] be lured back. “I just tell myself he died, and I cannot bring back the dead,” was Tanzer’s response.

Married in 1946, Tanzer set sail for Israel in 1951. However, he shortly altered course, immigrating to Toronto, Canada, later the same year.

Life in Canada
1950s Canada, a vast open country with a sparse population, embraced largely European immigrants while offering opportunities as boundless as a Saskatchewan sky. Indeed, Tanzer would devour his chance to build a new life in an industry he knew so well: printing. Shortly after arrival, he was hired by the British firm SOAG Canada. SOAG distributed several lines of machinery, including the Printomatic stop-cylinder press, through their sales office in Toronto. A few years later, around 1955, Tanzer seized the opportunity to purchase SOAG’s Canadian operation and changed the name to F.S. Tanzer Ltd.

Tanzer sold the first KOMORI press in North America in 1956.

New To North America
Almost immediately, Tanzer introduced Canadians to many new agencies, some for the first time seen in North America! Among them is Komori Printing Machinery Co., Ltd. (KOMORI CORPORATION today). The first Komori press in the west would be sold by Tanzer when he flew to Japan in April of 1956 and secured the sales rights of what was then a two-colour 39-inch model KW-2.

During that same period, Tanzer received the agency for Hans Müller AG of Switzerland (now Müller-Martini). And he wasn`t done yet. Swiss manufacturer ColorMetal, and the British firm Waite & Saville, with the “Falcon,” fell under Tanzer’s control. Krause-Wohlenberg, the West German builder of die-cutting platens and paper cutters, also proved a strong seller.

However, a much bigger fish was ready for netting, and in 1957, the East German combine of Planeta, Brehmer, and Perfecta became available and added to the burgeoning fold. East German equipment was cheap, and Canadian sales quickly followed. Hostmann-Steinberg inks and other consumables would help round out a sizable stable of offerings.

Tanzer later secured the agency for Albert-Frankenthal (now owned by Koenig & Bauer). Albert was well known for stop-cylinder presses and publication webs in gravure, letterpress, and offset. In 1962 one notable Tanzer sale was to the United Church Publishing House in Toronto. A massive Albert Rotary letterpress web, designed to print books, was installed at their Ryerson Press facility (now home to CITY-TV). The press was a disappointment and not specified for the type of work Ryerson required. Rumours of inducements between seller and buyer clouded the Albert sale as the press cost $650,000 ($ 6 million today). In 1971, the Albert was sold for scrap when no takers could be found.

The East German Polygraph equipment would turn into a windfall in later years as many sheetfed Planeta presses would find homes, mostly in Ontario and Quebec. PZO-6 and PVO-6 (two and four-colour) presses popped up in folding-box and commercial establishments. Then In 1965, Planeta built the Variant, a unitized press, which furthered Tanzer’s penetration into Canadian pressrooms. Planeta’s large-format carton “Variants” were quickly in vogue at many Canadian paper-box plants. Rolph-Clark-Stone Packaging, Toronto Carton, and Howell Litho & Cartons were heavy users of the 55-inch models because of the superior design for board printing. Tanzer would lose control of most of the lines, some to poor sales, and others, such as Krause-Wohlenberg, to competitors, but the East German equipment would remain until Tanzer’s death at 68 in 1980.

My father worked for Tanzer as the province of Quebec’s salesman until 1964, when we relocated to Toronto. Once he brought me to Tanzer’s office on Eastern Avenue, I recall how distant Tanzer seemed as he showed me his Porcupinefish collection. A child in his office was an unwelcome distraction. Tanzer was, however, a much more focused taskmaster and, as my father later told me, difficult to work for. In looking back through time, I can see how Tanzer operated in the background, only embracing the light with an equipment sale that often jolted his competition. Two Planeta P-44 Variants were sold to Commercial Printcraft in Woodstock, Ontario. This ability to upsell eight printing units to one customer in the early 1970s was remarkable, especially for an unknown brand. The sale would keep the competition whispering that it had to be the price when it was just crafty salesmanship.

Working under the radar brought wealth to Tanzer, who also held an interest in a Toronto Knitwear company (Falcon Knitting Mills) through relatives in Europe. Not prone to generosity, surprisingly, in 1969, Tanzer (loaned) a new two-colour Planeta Variant P-24 press to the Toronto Lithographic [training] Institute.

Fred Tanzer
Siegfried Tanzer, centre, at the official opening of the Canadian Lithographic Institute in Toronto.

The differences between brothers Eric and Fred Tanzer are vast. Eric, the warm, pleasant, and generous patriarch of a much larger Pershke-Price agency in Britain, versus Fred, the dark, malevolent younger brother who shunned self-promotion. But one common trait shared was the uncanny ability to find key equipment agencies well before anyone else. Manroland, Komori, and Müller-Martini are three such firms that are today respected the world over. In a mid- 1950s Canada or USA, you’d be hard-pressed to know who these companies were. There have never been two brothers, separated by thousands of miles, who have made such an impact.