A topic of perennial interest at Bible Design Blog has been bookbinding. My own efforts to learn the craft have led to relatively dismal results, though they’ve taught me a great deal about how books are made, and how difficult it can be to make them well. Recently Matthew Everhard took up the challenge, and after seeing some of his early results I reached out to see if he would share his story with us. Fair warning: if you linger over the pictures and follow the links, you may find yourself skinning the neighbor’s couch and trying your hand at a little recreational binding! — JMB
THE COMPLETE IDIOT’S GUIDE TO BIBLE REBINDING
by Matthew Everhard
There is no book called The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Bible Rebinding, but if such a volume is ever to be written, I have a feeling that I may inadvertently be its protagonist.
Let me tell you my story.
I got into Bible collecting as a hobby a couple of years ago, due largely to this very blog. Searching for a new ESV, I came across Mark’s reviews of the (then) new Legacy Heirloom edition by Crossway. I fell in love with the photography as well as Mark’s writing, and began breaking the Tenth Commandment regularly—a sin that I have repented of many times.
Mark’s site, of course, led me to other great editions by Cambridge, Schuyler and the like, including my Wide Margin ESV, which has now become my mainstay. With great paper, goatskin leather, a flexible binding and a gorgeous overall appearance, my Cambridge Bible became the love of my life. (Next to my wife, I should state clearly).
AN IDEA IS BORN
As many of you collectors already know, this is an expensive hobby. Very expensive. As a local church pastor, my income steam is sufficient, but not extravagant. That led me to the idea of Bible rebinding. If you could buy a Bible (cheap) and then cloak it with a goatskin cover, what is there to lose?
Rebinding, of course, can be an excellent way to turn any regular Bible into a super-Bible. My friend Matt Bassford wrote an article about how to get one done in calfskin for as little as $75. But even then, if you start picking up the fancy options, a good rebind can easily set you back triple digits.
So then I had an idea. As Dr. Suess once said, “a terrible … awful idea.” I’ll begin rebinding Bibles myself! After all, how hard could it be?
The tools are simple enough, sure: a razor blade, some Aileen’s tacky glue, a carpenter’s square, a cutting mat to preserve the kitchen table, and a $12 leather skiving knife that I bought from Asia. This dangerous implement is complete with really cool characters that I believe are loosely translated: “Warning: white guy with a sharp blade!”
LEATHER FOR PRACTICE
What about the leather, you ask? Quality leather is the sine qua non of a good rebind. Thankfully, there are a number of great places to order high quality leather, such as eBay or Springfield Leather. The key here is to get a good calfskin or goatskin leather, somewhere in the neighborhood of 1-2 ounces in thickness. Anything more than that will be too thick to fold well, and you will have to use that skiving knife a lot more than you want to. A good uncut, pre-dyed goatskin will run you about $30 – $40, so try not to mess up a lot. (On that ominous note, see more below.)
I am cheap. If I didn’t mention that before, now would be a good time to bring that up. I wanted yards and yards of free leather to use for practice so I could afford to make the predictable beginner’s mistakes. And I found that leather—in my neighbor’s trash one night.
When my block-buddy recently threw away his huge, two-piece soft leather couch, I knew I’d struck gold. My wife Kelly and I brought the couch home—with my friend’s permission, of course—and skinned that thing like a domestic beast bred just for its supple hide.
As a result, I now own dozens and dozens of square feet of rich, red-brown leather that has been worn to a soft comfortable state.
BOOK BLOCKS FOR PRACTICE
With a total investment still under $50, I was ready to begin with one more stop: the church lost and found. There, we have several dozen Bibles that have been missing their owners for many months. I checked through the pile and found a few old beaters that didn’t have any identifying marks, annoying name stamps on the cover, or personal items inside. In fact, I chose some of the ones that really did need repair, so that in the happenstance that the owner reappeared, they would thank me for the work.
HELP FROM A MASTER
The smartest move that I made was contacting a true master before beginning. Although there are many professionals that do Bible rebinding (Leonard’s Books, AA Leather and others come to mind), I contacted a young artisan from California who does beautiful work—right out of the shed near his home. I’ve written about Diego Caloca here, and you really should check out his stunning work. Diego kindly send me the 40-step pictorial procedure that he uses, and I was glad to follow his lead without reinventing the wheel. He’s made himself available to give me tips and pointers when necessary, and I appreciate the help greatly.
THE WORK BEGINS
One rainy Florida evening, my wife and I set out together to become Bible rebinders. We made our first cuts, and laid our first glue line. Let me tell you that it is much harder than it looks. If there is one rule of Bible rebinding that you should be aware of before you begin, it is this:
There are more ways to make mistakes than there are to succeed.
Believe me, we have made every error one can possibly make. (I think.) We have cut too much off and we have left too much on. We have cut too jagged and too straight. We have made our yapps too short, and we have even made one that looks like some kind of alien creature. We have gotten glue on the gilded page edges, and not enough glue on the liners. If there is a way to ruin a Bible, I’ve done it. I’d show you the pictures, but I’m afraid you’d unfriend me on Facebook.
Logically, I suppose, if we keep learning and making those rookie mistakes, we will eventually improve enough to the point where we can be content with our work. As husband and wife, we have spent several good, quality evenings together rebinding Bibles, which is always better than watching reruns of The Carbanaro Effect.
Will we ever be professional Bible rebinders like Leonard’s or master artisans like Diego? Probably not. But we do hope to improve just enough to show off a few good looking Bibles at our church’s craft show this fall.
And one day, perhaps I can even author The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Bible Rebinding.
* * *
Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville Florida. He is the author of Hold Fast the Faith: A Devotional Commentary on the Westminster Confession of 1647 and a few other shorter books. You can read more by Matthew at AChristianManifesto.com.
With apologies to Baron Munchausen, I have learned from experience that a modicum of hyperbole can be most efficacious. This explains why my feature for the latest edition of Relay, the new online magazine of Worldview Academy, makes the case for reader-friendly Bibles by making the case against reference editions.
No, I haven’t gone (entirely) crazy … I just hope to get people’s attention by calling into question one of those truths we tend to hold self-evident: namely, that the accretion of ‘helps’ in your typical printed Bible are actually, well, helpful.
I took up this theme in my recent interview with The Bible Exchange, too.
“A help is something that assists you in solving a problem you can’t resolve on your own. The goal of help is to fill a gap until you develop the strength to fill it yourself without help. This is why a good teacher, in classroom discussion, doesn’t just give students the answers. Struggling with the problem is one way you learn. So ideally you would know your Bible well enough to find specific passages without help. Because you don’t, there are cross references, concordances, chapter and verse numbers, even thumb indexes if you can’t recollection the order of the books. If these things were just helps, you would rely on them less over time. That’s not what happens. Most of us find, when they are taken away, that we can’t do without them. That’s the definition of a crutch.”
Crazy talk? Maybe. But I find myself questioning more and more whether the helps are really helping. Over the years, I’ve tended to remain on the conservative end of the reader-friendly design spectrum. The section headings are useful, I’d argue. Surely we need the verse numbers. Lose the chapter breaks? Unthinkable. Yet my tendency recently has been to ask just how much I really need even the most basic helps. Even when I find I do need them, I wonder whether I should. Especially then, in fact.
Whatever your view, it makes for an interesting thought experiment. Check out the article and the whole of that interview question and tell me what you think.
Back in February when I shared Randy Brown’s excellent “Why You Need More than One Bible,” I mentioned my desire to bring you more features by talented writers who’ve been influenced by Bible Design Blog. The latest installment is from Matthew Everhard, and it covers a subject of perennial interest to Bible enthusiasts: Jonathan Edwards’s famous ‘Blank Bible.’ Matthew has been doing quite a bit of work on Edwards as part of his D. Min. program at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, so I am especially grateful that he took time out from his scholarship to write this piece for us! — JMB
JONATHAN EDWARDS’S BLANK BIBLE
by Matthew Everhard
Two famous men in Colonial-American history owned Bibles that had literally been cut to pieces and then stitched back together again.
The first, was Thomas Jefferson – more concerned with morality than divinity – who famously edited out the miraculous and the supernatural from Scripture. Hardly an orthodox Christian by any definition, Jefferson simply cut away the portions that he did not like.
The other man was the famous New England Puritan, Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), considered by some to be the greatest scholar that America has ever produced. Edwards’s own rebound Bible had an entirely more sacred purpose – he took copious notes on nearly every major section of Scripture.
The story of this particular Bible is relentlessly fascinating.
WHAT IS THE BLANK BIBLE?
Dubbed by most (including Edwards himself) as the “Blank Bible,” the official title of the manuscript is technically “Miscellaneous Observations on Holy Scripture,” and can be found today in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University. There, you can see it yourself – possibly handle it even – provided of course that the curator is in a good mood, and that you lick the orange Cheetos powder off your fingers before touching it.
The Blank Bible is entirely unusual in construction: it is really two books in one. It consists of a large 9.5 X 7.5 inch blank writing notebook, nearly three inches in girth, into which an entire miniature King James Version of the Bible has been meticulously stitched. Bound in brown leather over board (Mark Bertrand might call it “British Tan”), the book literally looks like one larger volume ate a smaller one for dinner.
Picture something the size of an ESV Study Bible, but fatter at the top than the bottom. From the side view, it looks like a python trying to squeeze down a meal.
The smaller book, a 1653 King James Bible, printed in London by the “Company of Stationers” is a miniscule, double-column AV with both side and center column references, along with some study notes provided by the publisher to boot.
Someone (not Edwards) who was very skilled in bookbinding took apart both original books, first removing their signatures and cutting apart the individual sheets, and then splicing together the larger blank pages with the smaller text of the KJV. Finally, the boundary sewed the newer, larger work together as an irregularly shaped monolith.
Kind of makes me wonder if Leonard’s had anything to do with this. Naaw…
HISTORY OF THE STRANGE APPARATUS
Apparently the Blank Bible came into Edwards’s possession through family: it bears the name and handwritten signature of his brother-in-law, Benjamin Pierpont, and is dated by the same in his own script in 1728. A young candidate for ministry, Pierpont never actually ended up being ordained unfortunately. Apparently, he came into some controversy with the local clergymen having acted “apishly” around the young ladies, and was dubbed unfit for public ministry. Sadly, he died sometime thereafter.
Clearly interested in owning the unique book himself – no others like it exist – Edwards obtained possession of the Blank Bible sometime around 1730, probably through the mediation of Sarah his wife. Whether Benjamin could see that his ministry career was going nowhere and gave it to Edwards himself before he died, or whether it came to Edwards as part of the deceased’s estate is unknown. However it came into Edwards’s possession, it had already collected around 70 of Benjamin’s own thoughts and comments on Scripture. No matter. All the New Hampshire Puritan would do is add another 5,506 entries or so over the next thirty years.
The Bible itself is still in remarkably good condition. Its high traffic wear is from daily use, not at all from neglect or abuse. One theory holds that the current cover is itself yet another rebind. The fact that the signatures appear to have been tightened up against the inner columns, resulting in a smaller gutter, suggests that it was used so much by Edwards that the minister again took it to a professional, who cinched the signatures even tighter, added a newer cover and sewed it up again for a third time. A note in the flyleaf from Edwards himself dating the book to 1748 (almost twenty years after he received it) may support that theory.
SO YOU WANT TO READ IT, HUH?
In terms of its contents, the Blank Bible contains a treasure trove of information for Jonathan Edwards scholars to devour. As a matter of fact, some people are surprised to know that there are thousands of pages of Edwards’s materials that have still never been published. This volume, too, has only recently come into publication thanks to scholar Stephen J. Stein who meticulously transcribed Edwards’s nearly indecipherable handwriting into the 24th Volume of the complete Yale edition Works of Jonathan Edwards (2006).
This is a good news/bad news deal for eager readers, though. The bad news is that if anyone wants to actually read the thoughts of Edwards on various texts throughout the Bible in the published volume of the Yale Edition, they will have to fork over $225.00 claims to do so.
Hmm. Might as well buy a Quentel at that price.
The good news is that the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University has graciously hosted the entire volume digitally, published for free on the internet, alongside a host of other Edwards manuscripts, sermons, and treatises.
WRITING YOUR OWN ‘MISCELLANEOUS OBSERVATIONS’
For some, this unique book will create a desire to replicate a Blank Bible of their own. For those who are interested in creating their own ‘Miscellaneous Observations on Scripture,’ there are options. It may not be feasible to do what Edwards’s Bible managed to do – merge two existing volumes into one. But it may be possible to attempt what Edwards did in spirit at least. Today, high quality Bible publishers have given us a number of options for those who want to work closely with the sacred text: just like a Puritan!
First, consider a wide margin edition. I have written about the glory of these editions elsewhere as has Mark. While you may not be able to pour 5,506 entries into the space just over an inch wide on either margin, at least you won’t have to dip your quill into the ink to write every third letter either.
Second, Crossway is making some really cool journaling Bible options now too. Their new single column journaling Bible improves on the previous edition, now by reducing the text of Scripture down to one column instead of two columns. In this way, confusion between which column of Scripture you are referring to in the lined margin space is eliminated.
If neither of these options work for you, it is still possible to acquire loose-leaf editions of several major Bible translations. Although you’ll never get that sweet leather smell, a three ring binder will give you the ability to add notes as your collection of “Miscellanies” grows.
So, go make a “Blank Bible” like Jonathan Edwards! Just don’t edit out the parts you don’t like as did Thomas Jefferson and become “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”
* * *
Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville Florida. He is the author of Hold Fast the Faith: A Devotional Commentary on the Westminster Confession of 1647 and a few other shorter books. You can read more by Matthew at AChristianManifesto.com. A devoted fan of Bible Design Blog, Matthew has a growing collection of goatskin Bibles thanks to Mark’s informative work.
“The Blank Bible.” Ed. Stephen J. Stein. Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University Online. Works of Jonathan Edwards. Vol. 24. http://edwards.yale.edu/archive. Accessed April 2, 2015.
All pictures courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
When you graduate from creative writing school, along with your diploma you receive a poetic license, a picture ID card that gives you the freedom to speak with unearned authority on whatever subject catches your fancy. I’ve used mine extensively over the years. (This is a true story: a publisher once told me I didn’t have the right kind of degree to have have written the book I’d just written. “Au contraire,” I said, sporting my sophistication. I have the kind that lets me pontificate on every subject under the sun.)
If you harbor any doubts about this predilection for pontificating — though if you’ve read this far, it’s hard to imagine you do — check out the interview I did over the weekend for the Bible Exchange. They asked a lot of good questions about Bibles, and threw in some curve balls covering everything from desert islands to future fiction to favorite color. And I swung at every pitch, naturally.
Here’s the link: The Bible Exchange: “17 Questions with J. Mark Bertrand”
I’d like to thank Paul Tanca and Bobby Hanson for making it possible, and Matthew Everhard and Randy Brown for helping out. Also, special thanks to everyone who suggested questions! There were some great ones in the mix that got me thinking.
I love the idea of digital books much more than the current reality. As I’ve written, the form of digital books still leaves a lot to be desired compared to the printed specimen. That won’t always be true, however. It’s a new technology, and the focus so far has been much more on convenience than quality. Just look at the way most e-books handle typography.
The reason I get excited about 2k/Denmark’s BibleOn app is that they are trying to bring to bear the typographic know-how developed over years of designing print Bibles. I have several Bible apps on my phone, but BibleOn is the one I open when I want to sit and read. Now 2k/Denmark has launched a Kickstarter to fund the future development of the app.
The video gives you a glimpse of 2k/Denmark, so it’s worth watching whether the idea of Bible apps excites you or not.
I would have shared this with you sooner, but I’ve been on the road. In fact, this is my first and last day back at my desk before leaving for another speaking engagement. There’s more I would say about BibleOn if I had the time. I will save that for another post. For now, check out the Kickstarter and if you like what you see, get behind this thing. I snagged one of the early bird slots — I want one of those type specimen posters for my wall!
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