Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Selecting a Bible, Part 2 (Quality Levels)

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

Mass Market Bibles 

Certainly not everyone needs (or wants) a Bible that will last a lifetime. Many enjoy getting new ones regularly. And if that keeps them excited about God’s Word then that is wonderful. There are always new covers and styles coming out. Some are engraved with your favorite sports team logos, or the insignia of a branch of the military. These can make thoughtful gifts and awards. Generally these are not as expensive and thus not as well made (what point if geared to those wanting a new one frequently?). The binding is usually glued with little to no stitching. But, not every tool is a screwdriver, and all bibles will not be used the same way. There are waterproof bibles for your tackle box; pink ones with butterflies for your 8 year old daughter’s birthday and a camo one for your son’s first deer.
Thomas Nelson, and Zondervan, and others manufacture a wide assortment of this variety and are popular among many. I have to say that I was impressed with many of the new vinyl covers that have the look and feel of leather at a much lower cost. These can be embossed with various designs, logos, and colors not possible with actual leather. But, neither will vinyl last as long as leather. Bibles of this sort are readily available at most shops from Walmart to Waldens. The publishers also have online catalogs from which to select as well, simply google their names.

Thomas-Nelson: Thomas-Nelson has some of the most opaque paper available among Bibles (little to no bleedthrough or “ghosting” of the text). Their print tends to be clear and large enough to easily read. If they only took more care in the construction and binding they could have a very good Bible on their hands, but their interest seems to be more on quantity. For a short time, Thomas-Nelson produced the “Signature Series” of Bibles that offered Smyth sewing and calfskin bindings. These were snatched up very quickly and should have shown that there was a market for such. The Bible Publicist for Thomas-Nelson stated that they no longer have any high-end Bibles.
Semi-Premium Bibles  

Most Bible publishers that print mass market Bibles also have a more select edition that would be considered right on the edge of being a premium Bible. Good format, attractive leather and usually a lifetime guarantee. Leather not typically as high a quality or as supple, binding not quite as sturdy, and most often paper backing on the leather. The leathers on some may even be very thin and glued onto cardboard. This, of course, will vary from company and model. These things are not all bad, but may decrease both the lifespan and feel of the Bible. Then too, price of the semi-premium Bibles often overlap with that of the lower end premium Bibles.
Crossway: One exception to this is the Crossway Single Column Reference Bible (available only in the ESV). Generally Crossway bindings have been criticized as being glued and needing to be replaced regularly. Their premium leather (not their “genuine leather”) Bibles, however, are actually Smyth-Sewn. The print is a crisp and legible 10-point font, nice layout, and two ribbon markers. As the name suggests, a single column with the references being to the side. Good grade of soft, attractive, black matte calf skin. The leather is thick and very supple, feeling like a fine pair of elk skin boots I once owned (until the skunk incident, but I digress). The folded over leather edges on the back of the cover does begin peeling loose easily on my sample copy, but can easily be re-glued at home. It is lacking a few features that are common for other Bibles of the same price bracket, (things found on Cambridge, R.L. Allan, and Trinitarian Bible Society Bibles) such as a lack of art-gilt edging (but then, not everyone likes the red under gold), absence of stitching around the edge of the cover to prevent delaminating (which this does seem to need). These may not matter that much considering the other positive qualities of the Bible, but where there are so many positive things among this category of Bibles, little differences are to be noted. Too, the paper is rather thin for a wide margin that advertises 1 ¼ inch margins for note taking. This is not to say this is not a well made or attractive Bible. It is. And it is guaranteed for life. It is by far and above higher quality than the others manufactured by Crossway I have examined. With some tweaking, they could have a true premium quality Bible here. For comparison purposes, for about the same price (retail of $195), one could get the R.L. Allan ESV1 Bible. R.L. Allan is using the bookblocks from Crossway, with printing done by HarperCollins on French India paper, and the binding done at the Queen’s bindery in London. But, Crossway does give free Bible software with purchase (either sign up online for the CD or download it from their site. You must download, however, for VISTA), and the Crossway Bible is MUCH larger than the others in the comparison (6.5 x 9.25 x 1.75 inches for the Crossway versus 5.5 inch x 8.25 inch x 1.25 in the R.L. Allan). Paper weight on the Crossway would be about a 20 pound bond, and on the R.L. Allan between a 24-27 pound. The inside text of the R.L. Allan is identical to Crossway’s Classic Reference Bible. The Crossway Bible you can at least see in a store first before purchasing rather than having to order, though you can return R.L. Allan orders if not to your liking. This would really come down to a matter of personal preference, as one would be well served by either. 

Kirkbride: Kirkbride, the manufacturers of the Thompson Chain Reference Bible, is virtually in a league by itself. A small Indiana company of eleven employees who turn out some 100-120,000 Bibles per year. Their Bibles are Smyth sewn, good 20 pound smooth paper, gold foil gilt edged with legible 8 point font. The genuine leather, vinyl backed cover is rather thin and stiff, however, well made. The inside of the covers have a gilt line (embossed gold line framing the inside of the cover) which is almost a non-existent feature now (attractive, but purely for aesthetics). The fold over edges on the inside of the cover show no desire to come loose (delaminate) due to a special machine that only Kirkbride uses for Bibles called a Freeman case maker. Even with this, you’re paying less than half of what you would on the premium Bibles with a current retail on genuine leather of $89.99 (though hardcover, imitation leather and bonded are also available and less expensive. It is to be noted that the hardcover is glued, however, rather than sewn). Layout is interesting. There are two columns side-by-side with references on the left and right margin. It does have a nice wide long black ribbon marker, although two would be nice and three would be fantastic. Kirkbride prides itself on constantly tweaking their Bibles to try to find best combinations of leathers, papers and linings. For a period of time the text was printed in Korea with some complaints about the quality of printing. These are now only printed in America and are still assembled by hand. These are not lifetime warranted, but does have a manufacturer guarantee against defects. The only thing I found that I did not care for is that the red lettering is a pink and harder to read in my opinion. I generally do not recommend study Bibles, but this one points you to a chain of other passages on the subject rather than man’s comments. This allows the Bible to be its own commentator.

The advantage of the semi-premium Bibles is that these are more readily available at bookstores and in a wider variety of styles, translations and colors. Again, these are generally guaranteed for life, so if one is not concerned with having to find a new Bible in 5-10 years, then these may well fit the bill. While there are some bad translations to be sure, there do not appear to be bad Bibles as such, simply different options available depending on needs and use. So there really is some truth to the old joke that country preachers carry around big family Bibles to have something to protect them with when the dogs come running after them from under the porches while visiting members!


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