The Composing Room: A Short History

Founded in 1927 by Sol Cantor and Dr. Robert L. Leslie, The Composing Room set out to be the cream of the crop in typesetting firms. Described in a promotional piece as "a shop where type is set intelligently for intelligent clients. Also promptly, reasonably, and with true professional enthusiasm. An outfit which plays up the art in every particular, and doesn't and doesn't miss the fun in fundamentals either."

Midtown Manhattan 1930's
Midtown Manhattan
photo: Arthur Rothstein
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection

Located in the heart of New York City, it thrived on the growth of the advertising and printing industry between the wars. The Composing Room 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.

Fifth Avenue approaching 47th Street, NYC.
Fifth Avenue approaching 47th Street, New York City

photo: Dorothea Lange
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection

In 1934, Dr. Robert Leslie, created a small printer's journal. He hired Percy Seitlin as Editor and dubbed it PM magazine. Sponsored by The Composing Room, Leslie and Seitlin utilized its vast network of resources and clients. Described in the October 16, 1939, issue of Time magazine as a 'lively little publication,' PM soon grew to be a voice for a generation of artists, designers, writers, printers and graphic production people.

The significance of this firm lies in the ingenuity and driving force of Dr. Robert Leslie. His life mission, to serve, manifested itself in the education and betterment of the printing and graphic arts industry. Through Dr. Leslie, these endeavors took shape and grew to be an influential force in the history of graphic design. He was mentor to many emigre designers and gave many their first exposure to the US market.

NYTimes Bookfair, 1937.

The New York Times National Book Fair 1937. l-r, Richard Ellis, Bert Wolff, Leon Epstein and Dr. Robert L. Leslie

photo: Alfred A. Cohn

In addition, through PM and later A-D he lifted the expectations of quality work here in the United States, as well as spreading the ideals of European modernism to a generation of designers and art directors. These many designers in turn became clients of the Composing Room, a testament to Dr. Leslie's business sense. This collection of multi-media information attempts to remind today's audience of the importance and impact to the history of graphic design one company and one man's vision can make.

 

 

Video interview
with Dr. Leslie

The New Company [4.1mb]

Dr. Leslie partners with Sol Cantor [2.2mb]

Dr. Leslie discusses the birth of PM Magazine [9.1mb]

Dr. Robert L. Leslie speaks with Professor Herbert Johnson about the beginning of the Composing Room and PM magazine.

Interview conducted at Rochester Institute of Technology, Sept. 23, 1981

 

 

 

 

"Way back when Doc's Gallery was probably the only place in NYC where young designers came into contact with the freshest work being done in graphics and advertising, European emigres were shown regularly. Its contribution to the graphic design community was inestimable."


- Gene Federico

 

 

 

 

 

  

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Please Note: The Doctor Leslie Project was conceived as an MFA Thesis project while attending the Rochester Institute of Technology and is intended for educational research only. The information found within these pages and the compilation of this information is copyrighted 1994 - 2006 Erin K Malone. All data, analysis, text and biographies are copyright Erin K Malone. All images found within these pages are the sole property of their original copyright holders (unless otherwise indicated) and are used here for educational purposes to illustrate and support the information about Dr. Leslie and the Composing Room.