Industrial Logos 1 – VEB Bohrmaschinenfabrik Saalfeld


On March 15th, 1957, while working on the industrial fair in Leipzig, Rolf Keller sent a brochure “Halle 20” to his son, Svend Keller. This brochure lists the companies exhibiting in hall 20 of the fair in that year. This hall was dedicated to the East German machine tool producers organized under the organization of “WMW”, a large association of publicly owned (i.e. state owned) comanies.

In the 1957 brochure, Rolf Keller had marked those logos of exhibiting companies that he had designed or re-designed. It turns out that he was involved in the design of the logos of more than half of all those companies.

I am showing here one of the logos. Those of you who are just interested in art might not find this interesting, but some of you might have studied graphic design or might be interested in the history of industrial graphics design.

All of the logos in the book are printed in blue color. Perhaps there where guidelines based on the available printing technology, but I don’t know. Maybe the goal was to produce a common look and feel for all WMW companies.

The logo shown here belongs to a producer of “High duty drilling machines” called “VEB Bohrmaschinenfabrib Saalfeld”. There still is a machine tool industry in the town of Saalfeld, but I do not know if they are connected to that 1950s GDR-company (I am trying to find out). It might be that a company still exists that owns the rights for this logo but I was not able to find out so far.

There are other examples where the legal successors of the state owned companies from GDR times can clearly be identified and in one instance, I even found a company that is still using the logo as designed by Rolf Keller in the 1950s, without any changes, to this day (see the “Aue”-Logo in the blue cirlce here: that also appears in exactly that shape in the “Halle 20” brochure of 1957, marked by Rolf Keller as his design). In other instances, the companies seem to have vanished completely after the German reunification.

One might ask the question what was the purpose of having logos for companies in a state planned economy like that of the GDR. But back in the 1950s, these machines where exported worldwide, so establishing brand names was important since machine tools where a mayor export article and thus an important source of forreign exchange for the GDR.

Such logos seem to have been one of Rolf Keller’s main sources of income. From his letters, we learn that he earned well from designing such logos. For example, in one letter from 22nd of October, 1957, he writes that he got the job of designing one logo for 2000 Mark and three for 1000 Mark each. This was much more that the average monthly income of a worker that, according to the information I could find, seems to have been in the 500 to 600 Mark range at the time.

(In case you, as an organization or individual, are the owner of the rights to this logo and you do not agree with me showing it here, please contact me. I will remove it in that case).


Start of School Greeting Card


A postcard designed by Rolf Keller for Lederbogen Verlag. The text says: Best wishes for the beginning of school. This image does not show the whole postcard; I have cut off the margin (about one cm) around the picture since it had been written on.

I cannot date this card exactly. It does not show the printing license code typical of GDR printed media. The System of printing licenses had been introduce in 1951 (see, so this card should be latest from 1951. A letter by Rolf Keller dated February 23rd 1959 tells us that he started working for Lederbogen in 1945  “… Lederbogen is opening their trade fair stand fort he last time. In March the have to dissolve the company, an old customer (since 45) goes down the drain that way, who brought me 6000 per year on average. Friday morning I am driving to the fair to design the Lederbogen stand.” (“… Lederbogen hält zum letztenmal seinen Messestand offen. Im März muß die Firma liquidieren, ein alter Kunde (seit 45) geht damit flöten, der durchschnittlich 6000 im Jahr einbrachte. Freitag früh fahre ich zur Messe, um den Lederbogen-Stand zu gestalten. ”) I do not know what was the reason for the liquidation oft hat company, it might have been for political reasons since many private companies in the GDR where transformed into state owned ones or integrated into larger state owned companies.

So the earliest date for the card would be 1945. However, the quality of the paper and printing is quite good and there was probably no demand for such cards directly after the war, so I think it is very unlikely that this card is from the immediate post war time. I would therefore date it to around 1950

The motive of the card, however, is older. It shows Rolf Keller’s son, Svend Keller (born in 1928), as a young boy (around 1935) in the Kellerfamily’s apartment in Chemnitz, so probably Rolf Keller used a sketch or photograph from the 1930s as a basis for this card.

Pentecost Greeting Cards

Pfingstkarte 001

While in the US, Pentecost (or Whitsun) is only a church holiday and, as a consequence, only known to Christians, in Germany, where it is called “Pfingsten”, it is a public holiday and since the following Monday (called “Pfingstmontag”) is also a holiday, even non-Christians know it. As a result, people (used to) send each other greating cards, even if the religious connection is not always there, as is the case in these examples. They obviously belong to the same style and series as the New Year greeting cards shown here, designed by Rolf Keller in 1956 for the publisher Lederbogen Verlag.

Pfingstkarte 002

I don’t know where Rolf Keller took the motives for these cards, but it was likely somewhere in the Erzgebirge mountains south of Chemnitz, where he was living.

Industrial Illustration, 1950s


Rolf Keller worked as a self-employed graphics artist working for different clients. He did caricatures for newspapers, newspaper advertisements, layouts as well as illustrations and the kind of work we have seen already in this blog, like the greeting cards and advent calendars he designed for Lederbogen Verlag. However, economically more important for him was the work he did for industrial customers.

In a letter to Svend Keller, dated Sept. 28th, 1957, Rolf Keller writes:

“Relating to business, September was extremely poor. The main reason is that there were no assignments from WMW, since Sch. was absent for 6 weeks to build up an exhibition. Yesterday, the first assignments came in again.”[1]

WMW, actually VVB WMW, was the association of nationally-owned enterprises producing machine tools in the GDR. This citation demonstrates that WMW was the main client of Rolf Keller; the work for them was his bread and butter business. The letters indicate that besids WMW, he had other industrial customers as well. For these companies, he designed logos (an especially lucrative kind of work, according to his letters; I don’t know it he was the one who designed the WMW-logo visible on this leaflet, but it is possible), but also leaflets like the one shown here, the only item of this kind I have at the moment. It shows one of the machines offered by WMW. I do not know what kind of print process was employed at the time to transfer a painting into a print like this, but using such paintings instead of photographs seems to have been quite common in technical illustrations of the time. The painting is signed and shows Rolf Keller’s logo, as well as a “50” that is probably the year. The middle folds shows staple holes, so there must have been at least a cover, if not additional pages. It is well possible that Rolf Keller also did the layout of the whole page, as well as the layout of the back page (listing several machines and parts, together with the respective providers), but I don’t know. Anyway, here is the back side, to give you an impression of what kind of publication this was:


Rolf Keller probably did similar illustrations for catalogues and advertisments as well. He also worked for WMW during the Leipzig industrial fair and seems to have been involved in the design of their stand at the fair, strenuous but well paid work involving night shifts, according to some letters. It looks like the fair stand included hand-painted posters of machines. In a letter dated 13th March 1957, again to Svend Keller, he writes:

“I am quite overworked since everything is night-work. I Paint in most cases from 6 PM until 4 AM. Yesterday and today, however, only until 11:30 PM, but I was there from 8 AM to 9 [?] and I did a lot of sketching despite the strong bustling activity. Then to the accommodation, to sleep for 2 hours. I think you would enjoy the tempera-paintings of the machines. Today I have finished painting the next model of a complicated worm grinder.”[2]

It does not become quite clear here if Rolf Keller actually worked on the fair stand itself. Some of the work on the fair seems to have been the preparation of paintings to be used later, not the direct work on the fair stand. In a letter from 20th of March, 1957, he writes:

“I am now evaluating the things from the fair for Schönfeldt, preparing figures and staffage to it and adjusting diverse things. Strange that everything needs its time and hour to develop to maturity. One time during the fair while working in the night, I was totally desperate because it just did not work. Now, after gaining distance it works nearly effortlessly and the tempera paintings are bit by bit taking shape.”[3]

The “figures and staffage” might have been decoration for the fair stand, for next time, but that does not become completely clear here. The paintings might have been done for catalogues and fliyers, like the one shown here. The fair would have provided an opportunity to get access to samples of all the different machines in one place and without disturbance, something that might not have been possible in the factory. The man named “Schönfeldt”, also mentioned in other letters, is obviously the “Sch.” from the first citation above. He obviously was Rolf Keller’s main contact within WMW.

After the German reunification, some of the companies belonging to WMW where sold. Some of them seem to have gone bankrupt. The machine industry of the GDR was largely targeted at east Europe and the Sovjet Union. When the east German Mark was converted into the west German Deutschmark at a conversion rate of 1 to 1, the industrial products of GDR companies became too expensive for their traditional customers in the east. On the other hand, they were not up to date technologically. As a result, a large part of the east German industry collapsed. The surviving remains of those companies, including some remains of WMW, now belong to different industrial groups. However, after some research I found that documents from WMW, including catalogs and leaflets, have been transferred to the state archive of Saxony, in its Chemnitz branch (see It is very likely that in the inventory of that archive, more works of Rolf Keller await discovery, and I want to try to track them down when I have the time to do so.

I think this is an interesting part of industrial history as well as history of applied art and design. Such old industrial illustrations from the 1950s, showing the technology of 60 or more years ago, have a certain aesthetic appeal to me. If you enlarge the picture, you might appreciate the artistic quality it has. This is not only an old picture of and old machine; it is also a work of art.


[1] German original: „Der September war geschäftlich äußerst mies, ein Monat wie seit Jahren nicht. Das lag hauptsächlich am Ausfall der WMW-Aufträge, da Sch. 6 Wochen abwesend war, um eine Ausstellung aufzubauen. Gestern kamen die ersten Aufträge wieder.“

[2] German original: „Bin ziemlich überarbeitet, da alles Nachtarbeit ist. Male zumeist von 6 Uhr abends bis 4 Uhr früh. Gestern und heute allerdings nur ½ 12, war jedoch von Früh 8 bis 9 [?] Uhr dort u. habe trotz des Riesenbetriebes viel skizziert. Dann ins Quartier, 2 Std. schlafen. Ich glaube, die Tempera-Bilder der Maschinen würden Dir auch Spaß machen. Heute habe ich das nächste Modell einer komplizierten Schnecken-Schleifmaschine fertig gemalt.“

[3] “Ich werte jetzt die Sachen von der Messe für Schönfeldt aus, mache Figuren und Staffage dazu und gleiche Verschiedenes aus. Seltsam, daß doch alles seine Zeit und Stunde braucht, um zur Reife zu kommen. Einmal war ich auf der Messe bei der Nachtarbeit völlig verzweifelt, weil es einfach nicht mehr klappte. Jetzt, nachdem Abstand gewonnen ist, geht es fast mühelos u. die Temperabilder gewinnen allmählich Gesicht.”

New Year Greeting Cards

Silvester und Neujahr 005

A number of New Year greeting cards from 1956, again designed by Rolf Keller for the publisher Lederbogen Verlag, like the Christmas greeting cards I posted here a few days ago. They are in the same style, just showing winterly landscapes.

In a letter to Svend Keller from November 7th and 8th 1956, Rolf Keller wrote that he had been ill and he was getting nervous because of a lot of work he had to (and could not) do, among these “Neujahrskarte für Lederbogen” (New Year card for Lederbogen). So maybe these cards where designed only in November 1956.

Silvester und Neujahr 008

Silvester und Neujahr 006

Silvester und Neujahr 007

The captions read “Herzliche Neujahrsgrüße” (“affectionate regards for New Year”) and “Ein glückliches Neues Jahr” (“a happy new year”), and that is what I wish to everybody!

Advent Calendars 5


This series was intended to comprise four articles. In Germany, the four Sundays before Christmas are know as “Erster Advent” (“First Advent”), “Zweiter Advent” (“Second Advent”) and so on, and this gave rise to the idea to put the material I had into four articles. However, after I had published the last article, more material turned up. So today, we are opening the 24th window of the advent calendars to see what is behind.

The picture above was sent to me by one of my sisters. It is obviously the back side of the “St. Niklas Bahnhof” advent calendar described in Advent Calendars 2. In that article, I had written that the back side was missing from the calendar I have. The text on the calendar is saying that it is showing the city and behind is the village. This “Niklasdort” (the destination of the tram on the front side) can be seen above. The shops here are those of  a cooper and of a blacksmith. The inscription on the big house reads “Gemeindeamt Niklasdorf” (“Municipal Office Niklasdorf”). “Dorf” means village, and “Niklas” refers to St. Nicholas.

Another back side, or rather a photograph of one (probably made from the original design) turned up among the materials kept by my mother. In this case, I do not know to which advent calendar it belongs. This page is slightly longer than A4, if it is original size it might belong to one of the larger advent calendars. In the scanned image above, a part of the mountains and sky is cut off since it did not fit exactly on the scanner available to me at the moment. From the distribution of the pictures I suspect it belongs to the “Christmas Bridge” design shown in Advent Calendars 3. I am not sure because all I have of that calendar is a photograph made directly from the original design. It did not show the numbers of the doors so I don’t know exactly where they were. If they where distributed in a similar way as most of the picture elements in front, along the bride (from top right to bottom left) and along the train (from top left to bottom right), it would fit this back side that also shows such a distribution. However, this is at this time just a hypothesis. If some calendar of this type should turn up in some collection, one could check if this is true, but at this time, I can only speculate. However, this is clearly the back side of an advent calendar.


Rückseite Adventskalender 001

Advent Calendars 4


To round up this series, I am going to show a few more calendars. I received the picture above from a collector. One of my sisters has a copy of this calendar and also sent me a picture of it but since the image I received from the collector is of higher quality, I choose to post the latter instead.

This calendar, showing a city scene with a Christmas market and a church tower, is stylistically similar to the one with “St. Niklas” station, shown two weeks ago, as well as the city scene with “Hotel Blautanne” and the “Turmblick”, shown last week (these three are actually my favorites). According to the print license code, it was printed or published in 1955, so it was probably designed either 1955 or the year before. The publisher is again Lederbogen Verlag. The size is approximately A4.

Behind the train line, we see the inscription “Kinderpost” (“Children’s post office”) on one building. The shops at the market place are “Puppenstube” (“doll’s house”) and “Konsum”. Konsum was a chain of cooperative shops and restaurants in the GDR. “Café Pieps” is “Café Tweet”. There are Christmas market stands “Süßer Max” (“Sweet Max”) and “Naschkätzel” (maybe translatable as “little sweet tooth”). “Rostbrater” is a stand where you can get roasted meet. In the right lower corner we can read: “Remove after Christmas the back side, it will show something nice in addition”. In the left lower corner, you see Rolf Keller’s logo and name. Below we read “Remove the back page after Christmas, it is showing something beautiful”.

A copy of this particular calendar is currently on exhibition in Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz, Schlossbergmuseum (see here), where one can also see other advent calendars from different artists and different times.

The same collector who sent me this picture also sent me pictures of two more advent calendars designed by Rolf Keller, shown below. They are somewhat different from the calendars we have seen here so far. In the first one, the motives are similar to the one above, but the much smaller display window creates a very different impression. We see a “Puppendoktor” (“Doll doctor”, i.e. a shop where dolls could be repaired; in the house where Rolf Keller was living, there actually was such a “Puppendoktor” and this probably gave the inspiration here), “Spielwaren” (“Toys”), and a bakery (“Bäckerei von Meta Schnupp”) and a pub (“Gasthaus zur Zapfe”, a bit surprising on a picture for children).


The idealized world shown on this calendar is not very realistic. This is even more so on the next calendar that also differs from the other ones in its close up view. There is a Christmas star, similar to the ones we have seen in several other advent calendars, and again a moon. However, this time it is not the crescent moon with a face but a full moon with the “man in the moon”. We have to read the inscriptions to the left to understand why the children in the picture are so excited. These signs read (from top to bottom): “Nikolaus” (St. Nicholas), “Christkind 2x klingeln” (Christ child, ring twice), and “Heinzelmann, 3x klingeln” (“Heinzelmänchen” are another type fairy tale character, although they don’t have any connection to Christmas). The sign on the door reads “Sandmann wohnt jetzt Nr. 7”) (Sandman now stays in no. 7). The inscription on the mail box reads “Wunschzettel” (wish lists). In some areas of Germany, the Christmas gifts are thought to be brought by “Weihnachtsmann”, a figure akin to Father Christmas or Santa, in other areas it is Nikolaus (who, however, has his own day on December 6th), in other areas it is the “Christkind”.

Unfortunately, I am not able to date these two calendars. There is a code on the second one, but it seems to follow a different system from the ones I know, and does not include the year. If the system was changed, this calendar must be from a different year, but I cannot say if it is older or younger than the other ones. I have once seen this one offered on ebay as “around 1950”, but I don’t know if that is true. These two calendars seem to be similar in style, so they might have been designed around the same time. My mother told me that the house and the garden door on this calendar resembles the house and garden door in Grüna near Chemnitz where Rolf Keller stayed in the 1930s and where his son Svend Keller spent part of his childhood.


Note the similarity of the cat shown here to the one on the roof of the gas station on the first calendar shown last week.

The last calendar I want to show is a larger one (about 25 x 35 cm). The “Turmblick” and “Weihnachtsbrücke” shown as postcard sized copies last week must also have been of this larger size according to the caption on the pictures. This calendar is, unfortunately, heavily damaged, but I am showing it anyway. I have shown the motive already in the last picture of last week’s article, in a black and white photography that seems to have been made after the original design for the calendar. Showing the calendar itself gives us an idea about the colors. The code on the back side shows the year 1957 as the year of print or publication. There is also the “L” logo of Lederbogen Verlag. The black and white photograph of this calendar shown last week was probably indended to be sent to Rolf Keller’s son Svend Keller, who had been imprisioned as a political prisoner (see last week’s article). The fact that this photograph was made although Svend Keller was released in 1956 indicates that the design was made in 1956.


Some of the “doors” are missing, so we can see some of the motives on the back side. A squirrel, a chimney sweeper, a horse. The back side is probably similar to the one shown for the second Calendar in the first article that shows similar motives.

The calendar shows some of the recurring motives also seen in some of the others: snow, a christmas star (on one of the missing doors), a crescent moon with a face, trains, a christmas market and christmas tree, a bridge, a horse cart, old style houses and buildings, churches and church towers, mountains. If you compare the different calendars, you may find some additional recurring motives. Last week, I had already written about the probable meaning of the “toy collections” in some of the calendars, e.g. in the “Winter” calendar shown in the first article and the “Weihnachtsbrücke” shown last week.

On the bottom, we read:

Unterm Deckblatt wohlverhüllt                      Under the front page, well covered

Zeigt sich nach dem Weihnachtsfest            After Christmas becomes visible

Noch ein völlig neues Bild                             Another totally new picture

Wenn du Dir’s ausschneiden läßt                  If you get it cut out for you

The instructions for the removal of the back page on the back side contain a drawing in this case (and some very early artistic attempts of me or another child):


Picture advent calendars like these have largely disappeared. Today, shops are selling advent calendars where you find a piece of chocolate behind each door. The special joy of finding a different and unpredictable picture behind the little doors every day is something children of today are missing. In a time where children are overfed with images from the internet, from TV and from games, the sensitivity required to appreciate such old style advent calendars is probably no longer there. These advent calendars are part of a sunken world of the past.

We forget most of what is happening in our first years of life, but I still vividly remember these advent calendars from my earlier childhood. And looking at them again now, I feel in them the smile of my grandfather who made them.