Help me pick one free font to represent each decade between 1880 and 1980
September 26, 2010 8:24 AM   Subscribe

Help me pick one free font to represent each decade between 1880 and 1980

I am writing a web application that involves scrolling along a time-line that covers 1880 to 1980. I'm trying to implement an idea that I had; as you scroll along, the header switches font to represent the decade that you're looking at. I need your help in picking the actual fonts to use. It's easy to spot the 60's / 70's fonts, but I have no idea what a font from the 1880s looks like.

Anything with a non-commercial license is fine; I've been mostly looking at but suggestions and links that I can freely download are welcome.

I will put the finished app on projects.mefi when I can!
posted by primer_dimer to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I should mention, so far I have:


I will fill in the rest as they are suggested! Also I should mention that this is for a predominantly North American audience.
posted by primer_dimer at 8:29 AM on September 26, 2010

Are you going for "stereotypes of the era" fonts, or would you like actual fonts designed in that time period? The latter is likely more interesting; you could do a small piece of information about each. For example, check out Akzidenz-Grotesk, which could be your font for the 1890s...
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:34 AM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Gil Sans has always reminded me of 1930s, New Deal-era signage.
posted by BostonTerrier at 8:35 AM on September 26, 2010

posted by DavidandConquer at 8:39 AM on September 26, 2010

Response by poster: sonic meat machine, I think I'm going for "stereotypes of the era", since the fonts are just a bit of eye candy. Period fonts would be cool, but I'm really just looking for a visual shorthand for each era.
posted by primer_dimer at 8:42 AM on September 26, 2010

sorry, forgot to activate the links...

for the 1980's, this reminds me of video games and this one of the
early personal computers
posted by DavidandConquer at 8:42 AM on September 26, 2010

I would probably be leaning toward something like Cooper for the 1970s (god knows how many of my mass-market childhood books had that font) but I tend to go for subtlety. Maybe for the 1920s (1930s?) Broadway Engraved might be a good pick.

You can of course go to and just change "1950s" to "1940s" and so forth to get selections. Another good idea is to look through magazines from the era online, look at the advertisements for recurring fonts, and snip out portions and run them through WhatTheFont.
posted by crapmatic at 8:45 AM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

One of these two for the 1880s or 1890s?

This for the.... 40s? (Sorry, my history is failing me a little).

Actually, OMG, I started looking at the "retro" category on Dafont (it's a subcategory of 'fancy') and there are SO MANY. Especially art deco. It's a gold mine.
posted by kestrel251 at 8:49 AM on September 26, 2010

Coronet is perfect for the 1950s. Think of the cocktail napkins and "Starlite Bowling" alleys of the time.
posted by BostonTerrier at 8:59 AM on September 26, 2010

Oh! and Modern No. 20 is the font for the 1920s. Think of those bank interiors by Edward Hopper and imagine this on the invoices in the file cabinets.
I should be making pancakes for brunch, and instead I'm looking up fonts for you!
posted by BostonTerrier at 9:03 AM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

For the 1900s, I would go with an Art Nouveau typeface.

For the 1990s... how about Chicago?
posted by pluckemin at 9:25 AM on September 26, 2010

I think of courier for the 1990s.
posted by DeltaForce at 9:29 AM on September 26, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions, keep them coming!

Just to clarify, I'm only looking for fonts that are free for non-commercial use - while I'd love to buy licenses, this is strictly a spare-time, no-budget project.
posted by primer_dimer at 9:35 AM on September 26, 2010

My Fonts lets you search by time period.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:59 PM on September 26, 2010

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