Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Selecting a Bible, Part 3 (Premium Bibles)

*This article is posted with permission from its author, Wayne Goforth, and was published in Preceptor Magazine. 

Premium Bibles 

There are many people who delight in getting a new Bible every year or two. A new style, color, format, etc can be a nice change. Others, though, like being able to use the same Bible for many years, or even a lifetime. It becomes personal, an old friend. After all, one gets use to which side of the page a particular passage is located on, or how far over to open it to get to the book you’re about to cite. Only a very few companies are trying to fill that niche. Like many preachers, I go through a new one about every five years. Not by choice, mind you, but because of falling apart from low quality and heavy use. If there is such a thing as “preacher Bibles” these would be the ones.
So for those of us who like the traditional, simple but well made Bible, what is there available and where do we go? These are not to be found on the shelves of Walmart or even that of most religious bookstores. For the most part, we return to the land that gave us the Bible in English to begin with, to England. Here we can find beautiful, dignified, understated simplicity. Not even all of these are red lettered or have paragraph headings, lest it introduce commentary in so doing. These are Bible purists with a proud heritage. The companies in this category here reviewed are Trinitarian Bible Society, Cambridge and RL Allan. All three manufactured in the UK.

One of the great things about sewn Bibles is the fact that right out of the box, they stay open, and lay completely flat (calfskin may need some breaking in to do this). When you open a sewn Bible, you can see all the way into the “gutter” sometimes seeing even the stitching.
Cambridge has been printing Bibles since 1591, beginning with the Geneva Bible, predating the King James. In the USA, these are distributed through Baker Books. Cambridge still does some of their own printing, others are sent out to Jongbloed in the Netherlands. Cambridge also produces less expensive Bibles, and these too are sewn, even including their paperbacks. Their high-end Bibles are hand stitched. Cambridge has 2 editions, in a variety of covers, of the NKJV, ESV and the NASB available: the Pitt Minion is a compact personal size and the Wide Margin. Same text, but larger Bible. In fact, even the page numbers correspond. The Pitt Minion is a beautiful and handy sized Bible measuring 7.5 x 7.25 x 1, what a pity the text is somewhat small (6.5 sized font) and not as crisp a print as might be desired, but still a fantastic Bible (even at the retail of $129.99 for Goatskin and $79.99 for imitation leather). The name Pitt is derived from the fact that Pitt is the name of the printing building at Cambridge. If you’re looking for a thinline Bible, then this may well be the ideal choice of what you’re looking for. If readability is your main concern, this may not be your first choice. The letters and words are also placed closer together to save space, but at the expense of words running together if you have the least amount of astigmatism. It’s an effort to make it more compact, so that’s the tradeoff. The paper is so smooth and light that it feels like silk. The Cambridge Bible Production Manager attributes this to the fact that they use best quality PDL/Bollore or Tervakovski paper. So particular are they that they even print in the correct grain direction of the paper. Printing presses for high end products are cold-set Timsons - no heat drying process which cockles paper. The Wide Margin has a slightly larger font, about an 8, and of course, wider margin for notes. Because of that, it is printed on thicker paper so as not to bleed through when writing. This Bible measures 7.5 x 9.5 x 1.75. The goatskin retails for $229.99, though less expensive covers are also available including hardcover. Do remember that virtually no one sells these at the full retail price though. The average price I am seeing for these are in the $190 range. The NKJV and the NASB in the Pitt and Wide margin are in paragraph format rather than verse (where a new verse begins a new line) which can make it tricky at first to locate passage if one is not used to it, but should be able to adapt in time. Their KJV’s have many more options available besides just the Pitt and Wide Margin (though it is available in these too). In fact, I keep threatening to go back to the KJV just so I can have the binding and layout design that I want.

These same text types, Pitt Minion and the corresponding wide margin, are also available from both R.L. Allan and Trinitarian Bible Society (KJV only) as well (therefore much of the information given here about the Cambridge Bibles will apply to these as well), but originated with Cambridge. Cambridge would be the “standard setter” in this category of Bibles and would be that with which to compare all others. Both Cambridge and Trinitarian publish the Concord Edition KJV (and is ONLY available in KJV). This is a beautiful Bible of elegant simplicity. It comes in the Pocket, Personal, Wide Margin and Classic Reference Editions (the later is my sample edition in goatskin and retails for $199.99. Though a bit pricey for many, they have an excellent Personal Edition of it in the leather looking/feeling vinyl that retails for an affordable $49.99). No paragraph headings, but does have detailed concordance, dictionary, maps and center column references. The Personal Edition is about the same size as the Pitt Minion. The Classic Reference is about an inch in each direction larger. The Classic Reference is probably the finest King James Bible currently published. One could only wish that other translations were available in this style

R.L. Allan is a family owned business that has been in existence since 1863. Located in Scotland, their specialty is fine leather outer shells. Some are “natural leathers” which means that the leather has not been molded and still bears the unique characteristics of that animal… including bite or sting marks, and where they were cut on barbed wire! As their website states, R.L Allan actually bills your credit card in pounds, but your card will reflect it in dollars (if in the USA). Their text is often the text of other manufacturers such as Oxford, Cambridge, Harper-Collins, etc. They then select their own binder and premium leather covers. The best of all possible worlds. According to Nicholas Gray, director of RL Allan , the Bible publishing community is a close knit family who aid and share with one another. Because of that, there are many similarities between publishers. Mr. Gray compared to work of a publisher to be like unto that of a conductor of an orchestra, pulling the best crafts of other specialists together. Perhaps the same text (bookblocks) and format with only the cover being different between some manufacturers. R.L. Allan is recognized as the best made Bibles to be found. I am examining a copy of the ESV1 in Goatskin, retailing for $210. I have never seen a Bible with such a beautiful cover, milled paper that has little to no bleedthrough, and such a quality appearance. Opening the box smells like you are in a western boot store. The leather is just the right combination of softness and support. I cannot vouch for any edition other than this one, but if this is any indication of their others, one couldn’t go wrong. If Cambridge is the Cadillac of Bibles, R.L. Allan must be the Rolls Royce. Unfortunately this is not available in a NKJV and does not appear to be plans in the near future due to copyrights. One small difference between Allan vs. Cambridge is that Allan has two marker ribbons (three on some editions) in complimentary colors, vs. one red one in the Cambridge. Small difference I know, but with so many similarities, each difference should be noted. These Bibles are virtually works of art, and what Bibles should be.

Trinitarian Bible Society is a London based society since 1831 devoted to the circulation and advancement of the KJV as the best translation, as well as study into the various questions of translations. The society states that they are not “KJV only” but that the KJV is simply the best English translation. They distribute everything from mass market to Cambridge Bibles made just for them with their name and logo embossed on the spine. They have both the Concord and Pitt Minion edition for which Cambridge is famous, but in calfskin, along with many other editions and styles. Cambridge does not market calfskin Bibles under their own name, so with these, you can have a well made, sewn Bible with Cambridge text at a much lower cost. The TBS Pitt Minion retails for $56.40 and the Concord for $99 and the personal sized reference for $45 compared to $79.99 for Cambridge (both being in the French Morocco). The binder I asked to examine the TBS Pitt Minion Bible remarked saying, “not quite as prettied up as the others, but better made.” The calfskin is very durable and attractive, though not quite as supple as the goatskin or French Moroccan. In time it will break in, but until then, the Bible does not stay open on its own as readily due to the stiffness of the leather, but will in time. After handling it sporadically over a couple of week’s period for this review, the Bible now stays open flat no trouble! On the full-sized Concord, the Cambridge does include a detailed dictionary that the TBS does not. This makes the TBS about 1/4th of an inch thinner which is a welcomed tradeoff. The TBS retailing for $99 and Cambridge in the French Morocco for $139.99. Both have a good concordance, and two ribbon markers. Both the personal and full-sized reference edition have an attractive flat matte black binding that also begins a little stiff. If Cambridge is the Cadillac then this is the Chevy of the premium Bibles… same chassis just different body. Another positive note on TBS is that they will not outsource the printing to China due in part to the persecutions of believers. It is rather ironic that many Bibles today are printed in China, yet their citizens can be imprisoned for owning one copy of what they produce. If one wants a KJV, this may be the best choice for the money. Lower price, quality Bible, attractive appearance, a company with integrity. What’s not to love?

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