Saturday, June 17, 2017

ESV Wide Margin Reference Bible - Top Grain Leather (Crossway) - Review

Wide margin Bibles are a recurring option in most publishers' rotations, much like "red text" editions. Much like those "red text" editions, appreciation of the format is largely contingent on personal taste and usage patterns.

The principle purpose of a wide margin edition is to provide the reader with enough space at either side of the page to annotate the text with his or her notes, essentially creating one's own running commentary or the Biblical text. As such, the format is a favorite among preachers and divinity students, offering ready access to notes, as well as those readers who wish to personalize their Bibles with prayers, devotions, etc.  The marketing pitch is that such a format allows for deeper engagement with the text. There is some truth to that, however, much like religious experience, engagement with the Biblical text has varieties - if one is most accustomed to the Biblical text in a liturgical context, one's deeper engagement with text will stem from some form of recitation or chanting rather than annotation. Nevertheless, wide margin Bibles have their utility and an audience that appreciates them - indeed, some examples of personal annotations in a wide margin Bible demonstrate a fairly elaborate categorization system demonstrative of some series hours spent with the text. You have to give some credit there.

Keeping with the tradition of wide margin Bibles, Crossway has a wide margin variant of their reference Bible format. This version comes in the usual variety of formats Crossway provides (synthetic, genuine leather, Top Grain, and Goat Skin). This review focuses on the Top Grain edition, but its layout is demonstrative of each edition.

Fans of Crossway's Top Grain editions will of course be familiar with the binding. Supple black Cowhide with raised hubs. I've previously mentioned that Crossway has to be given some credit for pushing the contemporary aesthetics of Bible production. Its Top Grain editions are a prime example of this. In fact, it is tempting to go so far as to say that Crossway's Top Grain editions have influenced the increasing tendency of publishers to utilize raised hubs on the binding. Some may disagree - however, I would argue that Crossway's impressive market share has made an impact on aesthetics.

It is common that Crossway takes it on the chin a bit for printing in China, particularly for its Cowhide editions. Two points have to be considered in response.

First, RL ALLAN utilizes a Chinese printer for its (more) expensive Goatskin editions. ALLAN often gets a pass.

Second, Crossway's editions are more often than not printed by RR Donnelly. What's so special about that? RR Donnelly isn't a Chinese printer. It is an international printing powerhouse, often contracted for major commercial commercial projects for companies of massive size and scope. The printing is done at RR Donnelly's various printing facilities in China, which support these other major commercial projects. In other words, Crossway's decision by-passed "cheap" Chinese printers and avoided ties to Amity Printing in China.  The quality shows - this is not a cheap production in any sense.

As with all of Crossway's Top Grain editions since the move to RR Donnelly, the leather is sourced by Cromley (another major player). The leather feels slightly less supple than Crossway's exquisite Verse-by-Verse Reference Bible. The difference is notable - but not negative.

The edition is, in keeping with all of Crossway's Top Grain editions, edge lined to relieve stress on the book block, thereby extending the lifetime of the Bible. The interior lining is, I believe, a synthetic, however, it does not add resistance to the binding. The Bible opens and lays flat at Genesis and executes the Genesis-to-Revelation test marvelously well right out of the box. This is one of those traits with Crossway's Top Grain editions that often goes under appreciated - by and large, you don't have to work these in.

The layout is a genuine highlight in the Wide Margin Reference Bible, following as it does the new reference layout. The "old" reference layout originated in 2001 and was a fairly standard example for the time: center column references, textual notes running the bottom of the page, and brief introductions at the beginning of each book. Crossway's new reference layout removes the clutter. The introductions have been removed, thereby eliminating any potential theological presupposition going into the text. These seems to be Crossway's new philosophy - save for study Bibles, the encounter with Biblical text should be on its own terms as much as possible. The references have been moved from the center column to the bottom of each page in smaller font - again, reduces clutter and influence on the reading of the text. The references are better positioned to serve their function. All told, this is a wonderful layout for a double column text, and is duplicated in the "sleeper hit" Large Print Thin line (Top Grain) and the much vaunted Omega (printed by Jongbloed in the Netherlands).

The font is a highly readable 9 pt Lexicon. The paper opacity is high. I am not entirely sure on the GSM. It appears to be in 36-38 range. To this is the added the extra benefit of line matching - between the opacity and line matching, ghosting is not likely to impact one's reading experience.

The words of Christ are printed "red letter" in the New Testament. This is a feature in modern Bibles that I could take or leave, normally leave. As another demonstration of the quality of RR Donnelly's printing facilities, the red print is crisp and clear and does not suffer from looking misaligned with the rest of the text block.

The Bible comes with two black ribbons. The ribbons are typical of both Crossway and Cambridge, namely, notably understated compared with the ribbons provided by other publishers. Crossway's ribbons are functional, and while some reviews have cautioned that one shouldn't get too wrapped up in ribbons, it is worth noting that they are the one somewhat glaring exception in the overall aesthetic experience. Again, it is a quality that Crossway's editions share with Cambridge and the degree to which it impacts the experience largely depends upon how much one values form with function.

The margin area seems pretty standard for wide margin editions. To be honest, I have never been much of wide margin user, but it seems most wide margin users will find this edition sufficient for their needs.

Overall, the Wide Margin Reference edition suitably fulfills its purpose. The major selling point is the use of Crossway's newer reference layout - this said, it will suffice for any wide margin needs.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Schuyler NRSV - Dead Before It Hit the Water?

Approximately two months ago Schuyler began soliciting feedback related the interest in an NRSV. For fans of both Schuyler's publications and the NRSV, this was a moment for which many had dreamt a passing "What If?" but no one seriously thought likely.

Then Schuyler asked.

Then visions of exquisitely bound Goatskin editions of the NRSV with Apocrypha filled the mind's eye. What color schemes would be rolled out? Would an existing text block be leveraged, or would Schuyler craft their own? Would it be Goatskin only, or would Schuyler roll it out in Calfskin as well? And what would it be like, that glorious day, when one held in one's hand an edition of the NRSV that was something other than a hard back (often with glued binding) or bonded leather?

Aficionados of the NRSV gave Schuyler some immediate feedback.

Schuyler followed up with more market research, soliciting feedback from their broader customer base.

The results aren't good. Interest has been notably low. There are two seemingly impenetrable barriers prohibiting any publishing effort of an NRSV. 1) Schuyler's normal customer base is not especially interested. 2) The general audience of the NRSV seems apathetic to anything outside of the normal editions to which they are accustomed (hardcover, bonded leather, glued binding, every bad trait in contemporary publishing really).

At the moment, Schuyler is keeping an eye on how Cambridge's next go around with the NRSV is received. Last time out, Cambridge opted for printing in Belarus (never a wise decision) and some rather poorly done French Morocco Leather. Will the next one be an improvement? We shall see...

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

ESV Reader's Bible - Top Grain Cowhide

The ESV Reader's Bible has had an interesting journey, the full breadth of which I think its publishers perhaps only began to fathom well after it became apparent that Crossway "had a thing going on" with this edition.

At the time of its initial release, Schuyler's Quentel series and the Cambridge Clarion series were getting most of the edition when it came to Bible design. Crossway's Reader's Bible appeared and showed up its more expensive rivals (and at a price point of on average $20 USD for the hardcover edition).

The original release of the Reader's Bible was so well received because it delivered on so much. Maximum legibility, aesthetically exceptional design, and a presentation of the text designed to pull the reader into the world of the Biblical author via jettisoning some of the artificial segregations centuries of convention have applied to the text.

Early on in the Reader's Bible's initial release, there was a palpable demand for more premium production. One year after the initial release, Crossway (in collaboration with LEGO SpA) released the Reader's Gospels, in both hardcover and Cowhide over-board.

With the release of the Six Volume Reader's Bible set, it seemed to many that the promise only hinted at with the initial hardcover release had been fulfilled. In particular, the Six Volume Cowhide over-board readily fulfilled most expectations of what a premium edition of the Reader's Bible would look like.

It is therefore no surprise that Crossway's Top grain Cowhide Edition of the one volume Reader's Bible seems to have flown under the radar. Released concurrently with the six volume set, it was dwarfed by the LEGO produced volumes months before the end of October release. Now, with the stock of the cowhide over board sets having been exhausted, it seems opportune to examine this hidden gem.

The Top Grain edition of the Reader's Bible retains the same dimensions as the earlier hardcover and TrueTone models. No need to re-work perfection - the Top Grain edition fits into the hands as comfortably as its predecessors...perhaps even more-so. Featuring extremely supply Cowhide, this volume simply pours into the hand. The closest comparison is a well bound vintage breviary. The edition is designed to be in the palm of your hand for use.

The internal formatting is the same as the previous editions. Again, no need to mess with success. As with the previous editions, the Top Grain edition benefits from the font size and line matching, as well as the extra aesthetic touches that Crossway developed for the original edition. The retention of the chapter numbers and verse ranges at the top of the page is much appreciated and highlights one of the only short comings of the six volume set. While the Reader's Bible was conceived as an edition for prolonged reading of the "unfiltered" Biblical text, the fact remains that a Bible is often utilized in variety of contexts, many of which need the aids of chapter and verse notations in the text. In this respect, the one volume Top Grain Cowhide edition has a leg up on its six volume counterpart. It can be utilized outside of extended reading, though admittedly the lack of a full system of verse and references can still prove challenging in some contexts.

Crossway typically does a solid job on their Top Grain editions. By and large printed and bound by RR Donnelly in China, Crossway's Top Grain editions are an accessible entry point to the world leather binding. Crossway's printer uses Top Grain leather sourced from Cromley, one of the major leather suppliers globally.

Is this perfect? By no means. Crossway's Top Grain editions oftentimes demonstrate a compromise between premium production and more conventional production. The Top Grain Reader's Bible is not a hand bound Bible; there are various points at which one is reminded that one is not dealing with the care and attention to detail found in Crossway's Heirloom line. The corners on the Top Grain edition are a prime example. They are clearly cut a little rough, lacking the finish of the Goatskin or Calfskin editions. Production quality can and will vary - however, this also holds true for hand bound bibles, such as those produced by RL ALLAN.

The above being noted, the Top Grain edition of the Reader's Bible is an optimal reading experience. Is it THE definitive edition of the Reader's Bible? Perhaps not, though I don't think the LEGO SpA set brings us any closer - we may have to wait for a Jongbloed printed edition for the definitive edition. For now, this edition is a hidden gem, one largely overlooked by its potential audience.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Schuyler Quentel Personal Size NASB

The first batch of photos for Schuyler's new Personal Size Quentel NASB are available.

You can find them here.

You can pre-order your copy of the Personal Size Quentel NASB at Now would be about the time to get your pre-order in - prices will go up come June 1st.

Initial reaction:

To a certain degree, the Calfskin editions are more striking - perhaps because of the lower price point, perhaps because it seems Schuyler's collaboration with Jongbloed has led to an exceptional Calfskin that, on appearance, rivals Goatskin.

The only noticeable concern is the lack of a deep red Calfskin. This option was available with the first batch of the KJV Canterbury and sold out relatively quickly. It wasn't brought back for the next run on Schuyler's best seller and it appears it hasn't been rolled up into the Personal Size Quentel.

Now, the lingering question: can you really scale down the Quentel format and maintain the same reading experience? I confess to being a skeptic here. The Quentel reading experience is the result of a number of factors, three of which are text size, layout, and font style. Does the experience suffer when you tweak with one of those? This remains to be seen.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

RL Allan ESV Personal Size Study Bible

It has been a long wait, but it looks like RL ALLAN is getting closer to a new batch of its much loved (and incredibly difficult to find) ESV Personal Size Study Bible.

You can find a pretty detailed video review here:

For those who managed to get hold of this edition, ALLAN's ESV Personal Size Study Bible is a perennial classic in Bible publishing.

What's the reason for the hold up in a new batch? I suspect the migration from the 2011 to 2016 text may have exerted some influence.

At present, it looks like the text blocks are ready and about to be received by RL ALLAN. After that, it is the painstaking process of ALLAN's method of binding that determines the likely release. ALLAN Bibles are meticulously hand bound (as opposed to hand finished) - batches take a long time to come together.

ALLAN is still targeting (or hoping for) a 2017 release of the new edition. I suspect we're looking at an October/November arrival at the earliest.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Greek New Testament, Produced at Tyndale House, Cambridge (Crossway 2017)

Crossway (publishers of the ESV) merits a lot of credit for their boldness. No publisher, it seems, has put so much effort into pushing the development of Bible designs and formatting.

Crossway's successes can be attributed in part to the collaboration between its own internal design department and its printers. Crossway has done some fantastic work with R L Donnely, Jongbloed, and LEGO SpA.

As of late, Crossway's collaborations with LEGO SpA have taken much of the spotlight, and every indicator suggests this will continue.

In November 2017, Crossway releases a new edition of the Greek New Testament, The Greek New Testament, Produced at Tyndale House, Cambridge.

This latest collaboration between Crossway and LEGO promises to provide more scholarly inclined readers with a potentially incomparable edition of the Greek New Testament:

While a few trusted Greek texts are in print, significant advances have been made in Greek translation studies of the New Testament since a standard text was adopted by academics in 1975. The Greek New Testament, Produced at Tyndale House, Cambridge has been created under the oversight of editors Dr. Dirk Jongkind (St. Edmund's College, University of Cambridge) and Dr. Peter Williams (Tyndale House, Cambridge). Together with their team, they have taken a rigorously philological approach to reevaluating the standard text—reexamining spelling and paragraph decisions as well as allowing more recent discoveries related to scribal habits to inform editorial decisions.

The edition will likely inspire discussion - it will be interesting to see just how deep of a re-evaluation the standard text is present in this edition.

LEGO is producing the hardcover and TrueTone edition of this volume.

The initial specs are as follows:

  • Single-column, paragraph format
  • Textual apparatus
  • Smyth-sewn binding
  • 10 pt font

The paper quality will be similar to that of the ESV Reader's Bible 6-volume set.

Admittedly, I have waited patiently for a day when a publisher like Crossway would start producing original language texts in the type of formatting usually reserved for premium editions. The common editions produced by United Bible Society and German Bible Society are poorly bound. Normal use will begin wearing away at the spine hinges in a couple of months - the paper might be archival, but the binding isn't meant to stand up to anything beyond occasional reference.

Therein lay the great promise behind this new collaboration between Crossway and LEGO SpA - the prospect of having a Greek New Testament designed for real use and reading.

Let's hope this is successful and it proves to be the catalyst for a movement to improve the quality of original language editions.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Schuyler Personal Size Quentel NASB - Due June 2017

Keep watching that calendar. Schuyler is set to release its newest entry in the Quentel series with a new variant of the entry that stated it all, the NASB.

The Personal Size Quentel NASB reduces the height and heft of the original.

The specs are as follows:

  • Available in Natural Grain Goatskin (leather lined) and Calfskin (paste off liner)
  • Same Pagination as the Quentel Series – (all page numbers and format will be identical)
  • Approximate font size: 8.5
  • 4.7″ x 7.1″ x 1″ (120 mm x 180 mm x 25 mm)
  • Line Matching
  • 28 GSM Indopaque paper
  • 2 Ribbon Markers
  • Art-Gilt edging (red under gold, blue under gold for Imperial Blue)
  • 9mm yapp
  • Smyth Sewn
You can pre-order here.

As was the case the the Canterbury KJV, there will be a price increase after the stock arrives - the price you see on the website will not be around much longer. 

Once again, Schuyler is producing both a Goatskin and Calfskin edition. The more economical Calfskin editions proved to be a popular seller for the Canterbury KJV. Schuyler seems set to make Calfskin a regular part of its line. Again, this should be expected given how well the Canterbury Calfskin was received. Frankly, Schuyler deserves a lot of compliments for their Calfskin editions. Jongbloed (Schuyler's printer of choice) often times fails to impress with its Calfskin bindings. Schuyler seems to have worked closely with them to produce something as striking as their Goatskin bindings.

28 GSM is by necessity. It is a better of a loss when considering the 45 GSM (1st Edition) and 36 GSM (2nd Edition) of its larger cousins. GSM is always going to be a negotiating point. The trade-off here seems to be for the dimensions and price point aimed at by Schuyler. The Quentel text block is (thankfully) line matched and this should alleviate opacity concerns, thereby retaining the reading experience of the larger Quentel volumes.

We'll see how this one goes - Schuyler could well launch the rest of the Quentel line in a personal size format.