About Ed Rondthaler

Edward Rondthaler, 1905–2009, typographer, founder of Photo-Lettering, Inc., chairman of the American Literacy Council, proponent of simplified spelling.

Ed Rondthaler’s life-changing moment came at five-years-of-age when his uncle Bob gave him a toy printing press with rubber letters. His parents presented him with a 3 x 5 Kelsey Press (and an assortment of old metal type) for Christmas when he was ten. There was, as they say, no turning back.

After college, Rondthaler moved to New York and began a series of jobs in printing firms, gaining experience in a fantastic array of printing techniques. In 1932 he found his dream machine at the Rutherford Machine Company: a not-quite-successful step and repeat device originally intended to facilitate the printing of elaborate backgrounds for banknotes. Through ingenuity and perseverance, Rondthaler and his colleague Harold Horman developed and perfected a machine that used photographic technology to compose type. After a few years of failing to sell machines to other typesetters, they launched their own typographic service company. Photo-Lettering entered the lexicon. Creating typefaces on film reduced production costs of manufacturing and increased flexibility for clients, who only needed to telephone in specifications in order for expert compositors to set their headlines. It’s impossible to imagine the advertising of this period without Photo-Lettering. Rondthaler went on, with Aaron Burns and Herb Lubalin, to found the International Typeface Corporation in 1970, another dominant force in the industry and one of the world’s first type foundries with no prior connection to metal type casting.

In 1981, Rondthaler published his book, Life with Letters–As They Turned Photogenic (Hastings House, New York). In it, he mentions working with many calligraphers, including Ismar David, Jeanyee Wong, Bob Boyajian and Paul Standard. Photo-Lettering published these David typefaces: Informal, Classic, Inscripta and Siddur.

Photo-Lettering specimen book
Volume 2 of Photo-Lettering’s mammoth multi-volume specimen book from 1965, showing some of Ismar David’s designs and the terrifying ways they could be distorted for print.

Just before New Year in 1988, Rondthaler sent a note to David. (Note: The 83-year-old Rondthaler still had almost another 21 years ahead of him.)

Note from Ed Rondthaler
A note from Ed Rondthaler to Ismar David, 1987. Ismar David papers, box 1, folder 4, Cary Graphic Arts Collection, RIT.

Dec 31, [19]87

Dear Ismar:
Your card arrived in this morning’s mail and I’m at a loss to say how deeply I’m impressed with its descriptiveness. I cannot get it out of my mind.

While I’m still around I want to tell you, Ismar, that of all artists living or dead, whose work I have ever seen I consider yours to be by far the finest. It moves me in a way that nothing else does.

Very sincerely,
Ed Rondthaler

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