• Steven Heller

The Chatter Of Type

Through its publications and gallery, the Composing Room promoted the new American design. The Composing Room in New York was no mere type shop. While no other type business was more aggressively self-promoting, none so determinedly advanced the art and craft of type design or made such a remarkable contribution to design history and practice.

What began as a campaign to attract the business of advertising agencies and book and magazine publishers in a competitive market evolved into one of the most ambitious educational program the field had ever known, including type clinics, lecture series, single and group exhibitions, catalogues, and one of America’s most influential graphic arts periodicals, PM (Production Manager), later called A-D (Art Director), which was published bi-monthly between 1934 and 1942. The program, conceived and sustained for almost 40 years by the Composing Room’s co-founder Dr Robert Lincoln Leslie (1885-1986), was rooted in graphic arts traditions yet was motivated by a desire to identify and publicize significant new approaches, even if these rejected tradition. What made the Composing Room so influential, in addition to being a recognized leader in quality hot metal and eventually photo-typesetting, was a commitment to explore, document and promote design approached whatever their style or ideology. Despite his own preference for classical typography, “Doc” Leslie or “Uncle Bob”, as he was affectionately called, gave young designers a platform on which to publicize their experiments.

The Composing Room also became the sponsor for a variety of intellectual and educational endeavors starting with PM and A-D magazines, graphic arts courses, the A-D Gallery, Gallery 303 and eventually the lecture series Heritage of the Graphic Arts in the 1960’s. These brochures and invitations reveal a small assortment of the exhibits and lectures presented in the building of design history.

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