Hi: I can't be of much help as far as history, but I have experience with some of the optics mentioned and can share. Some of what I state the below contradicts what others have said above in this thread, but what can I say, my eyes are clearly seeing otherwise. I have a variety of my comparison tests pulled up on my screen now.
Color bias is all relative, but I find the oldest lenses (Cooke s1 and original Baltars) to be overall cooler in color than anything made later. When I was devising the "ortho" look for "The Lighthouse," Dan Sasaki once mentioned something about the glass types of the era passing more short-spectrum light, i.e.: UV and blue.
(Original) Baltars: "The Lighthouse" "Enclosure"
I like these a lot - the contrast is soft, subtle and open without looking flat. A very beautiful, delicate palate with a subtly cool color, but I wouldn't call it "biased". Smooth, silky skin tones - a hell of a portrait lens. You have to control flares though - I was constantly spot metering bright windows on The Lighthouse - there is a sweet spot where they halate nicely but beyond that they wash out the image. I set my highest limit at +6 reflected for Double-X film. The image circle is relatively large, the 25mm very nearly covers open gate...techically. However, there is a long transition zone before the image edge where the definition falls apart, so "useable image area" is certainly gray and subjective. The museum-commissioned "Enclosure" used full gate Alexa, which I now consider a mistake. I now would not use them beyond Super35.
They have a curved field and pronounced cat's eye/football bokeh. I believe them to be single coated, contrary to someone's uncoated claim above.
I've rented them from Panavision and TCS in New York. It is true that as-is, Baltars cannot be used with a reflex film camera. HOWEVER, Sasaki worked magic and optically spaced our "Lighthouse" lenses to be used for film. They are probably still kept that way (dual-format) - so there's a little secret for you.
Cooke Series 1: "Back Roads" (certain sequences), tested on multiple occasions, used once on a fantasy Claritin commercial!
These were a close second place for "The Lighthouse." I have them earmarked for a certain, future Eggers film for sure. They have a very similar look to the original Baltars, with a natural palette, and the swirly bokeh is almost a perfect match. The contrast is little higher, though, and the color is very slightly warmer, probably a proper "neutral' but everything is relative. Soft flare control is better. Out of focus backgrounds are a bit more "globular" looking, if that makes sense. The biggest difference, though is that the image circle for the 25 and 28mm is smaller than any other lens type I know, so forget about open-gate.
So they are basically an enhanced-contrast, marginally warmer Baltar with an added soft vignette in Super35.
I've only used them digitally, and would have to ask about adapting for use for film, a la "Lighthouse."
Super Baltars: "Brothers", extensively tested.
These are a very different look than the original Baltars. The contrast is much higher like a contemporary lens and the color much, much warmer - enough that overall I would call it a "warm bias." Maybe this is inherent to the design, but I have a suspicion that it could be from the deterioration of Thorium that was widely used in optics of the 50s and 60s. So maybe they were not always this warm - but this is pure speculation.
Despite the contrast, this "macro contrast" does not translate into "microconrast" and skin tones are still very silky and flattering. Still a truly great portrait lens.
"Cat's eye" bokeh is very subtle, but is still there, apparent when you compare to Panavision SS and more modern lenses.
Just a hint of chromatic aberration, but only when compared to Cooke S2s. Much less than Panavision SS, or Cooke S4s for that matter.
My only complaint is that the aperture blades are not truly round, so bokeh is a little geometric. Perhaps this can be fixed for a long project.
Cooke S2 (and s3): "The Witch," "Back Roads"
I picked these for "The Witch" because of the weird, globular, cat's-eye bokeh, before the series1s were rehoused at Panavision. At the time, the "crystal ball" effect on the backgrounds felt "alien" and unsettling to me somehow. This semi-petzval bokeh effect is more pronounced than a Super Baltar, but certainly less pronounced than a Series 1 or Baltar.
Among 1960+ lenses, the color is very slightly cool- very different than its contemporary, Super Baltar. This was a subtle aid for our gloomy look. They have visibly less contrast than a Super Baltar too, also good for that low-contrast movie.
Aperture blades are beautifully round, and most impressively, ZERO chromatic aberration- my least favorite aberration. Plenty of other aberrations though!
For me, skin texture don't quite have the same "shimmer" and magic of a Baltar or Super Baltar though. But this is my personal ju-ju and and hearsay. Please test yourself.
Kowas: Tested only, except for 1/2 of one commercial.
These are an odd duck. They almost behave like lenses that are much older: very cool color, very low contrast and they flare very easily, even more than a 1939 original Baltar, so if you have a moderately bright window in frame, your shadows are significantly lifted all over the image. Despite these traits, they lack the special bokeh of older lenses - focus fall-off is slow, and it looks like you are you using a deeper stop than you really are: the resolution of a 2.8 with the depth of field of a 4 1/2. Because of these things, I kind of consider them the worst of both worlds.
I would even call the contrast "flat."
The weird thing is that, while the color is inherently very cool, the ever-present washout-flares are very warm, so you get a color-crossover effect from shadows to highlights. Good luck with the grade!
This is a drab, very broken down look - I haven't found a project that calls for them yet, especially as I am moving away from the lo-con "Witch" look in general. But maybe one day a match will present itself.
The one plus is that the aperture blades are very round, unlike a Baltar.
Panavision SP: Tested once
I consider this the midway point between truly "Vintage" and "Modern" look, but didn't see anything special about them in my limited "Witch" test. They are comparable to Panavision SS lenses, likewise have some chromatic aberration, but instead are slower, flare more and have very geometric aperture blades, unlike the round SS. I'd rather go one way or the other, decisively toward the Super Baltar or the other way with an SS.
Other menu selections I have tried: Leica R (like), K35 (don't like)
Other interesting off-menu things I have used: Panavision Petzvals (35mm, 58mm, 85mm), a 50mm uncoated triplet.