Dark Shadows Project: Looking at Old English Fonts

In developing an updated font for Dark Shadows one interesting challenge is that there are only two upper case characters to use as a starting point. What is immediately apparent about them is that they fit into the category of “Old English” style fonts, a popular term for a particular style of black letter font developed for the publishing industry in the late 19th and early 20th century. In the days of metal type everyone had a black letter font and although no two were exactly the same, they all shared certain characteristics and were often remarkably similar.

While it was obviously quite difficult to identify the specific Old English font which was used for the D and the S in the original Dark Shadows titles (shown to the left), some research presented many similar fonts of the right period and general appearance, starting with our own classic font Collins Old English, which coincidentally shares the same name as the family the TV series was based around.

While Collins Old English was a good first point of reference, it differs in several particulars from the font in the original titles, particularly in having a somewhat lighter overall weight and having double spurs on the characters instead of single spurs. It also has an overall narrower look than the original titles and also flourishes on the ends of some of the swashes. Those flourishes are very typical of Old English fonts, and are an element which might be desirable to incorporate in a reimagined Dark Shadows font because they make the font look more gothic and more antique than the very plain style of the original titles.

The next step was to do some research and look at some Old English font alternatives in our extensive library of old books on type and lettering. In this my eye was drawn to two examples of metal type from the early 20th century (shown to the left of this paragraph and to the right of the next) and also to one example of a hand lettered Old English style by German-American sign painter and calligrapher Hermann Esser (the last sample).

Of these, Pendleton Old English (above and left) was probably closest stylistically to the original titles, but was much lighter in overall weight, sort of like Collins Old English, while Shaw Old English (right) and Esser Old English (below and left) were closest in weight, but not great matches in every particular of their style and features.

All three of the fonts featured some flourishes, but by this point I had determined that the best approach was to take the titles farther and make them more ornate and fanciful than the originals, so that wasn’t a problem. In overall shape, weight and features Shaw Old English seemed like the best choice for a starting point, with Esser Old English as a secondary point of reference.

One of the determining factors in this was that Shaw Old English included the same kind of ball-style caps on some of the flourishes as the original S, something which none of the other fonts had.  Several questions remained, of course.  Should the D have double spurs like Esser Old English or the single spurs of the original and of Shaw Old English.  Should it retain the longer upper stroke of Shaw and Esser or a shorter top stroke like the original.  And should the interior of the D have two vertical lines or just one like the original.  In most of these decisions I leaned towards  Shaw Old English, with some notable modifications.  You can guess what they are until the next installment.

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