Earlier this year, I reviewed the R. L. Allan's edition of the Oxford Brevier Blackface KJV, concluding that the cover is magnificent and the blackface interior is one of those love-it-or-hate-it propositions, a little too dark for my taste. So it was only natural that I'd take an interest in the less emphatic Brevier Clarendon. Reviewing the list of editions at Bibles-Direct.com, I noticed that the Brevier Clarendon was available in a "brown, buffalo grain calfskin, leather lined in tan." Given my predilection for brown these days, I figured that was perfect.
According to the measurements given on the site, the Blackface is slightly thinner and taller than the Clarendon, but when I stack them next to each other, the proportions look pretty much identical. Inside, the Clarendon offers a couple of advantages. In addition to the type not being quite so black (though it's by no means light), the self-pronouncing feature -- which in the Blackface goes so far as to break the name "Jesus" into two accented syllables every time it appears -- is absent, and brief chapter summaries are added. The cyclopedic concordance, which does double duty (as the name suggests) as both concordance and succinct encyclopedia, is present in both. The pagination is the same, so I assume they're identical.
Above: The Cyclopedic Concordance, offered in both the Brevier Blackface and the Brevier Clarendon, includes photographs, genealogy charts, indexes of miracles, prayers, coins and lists of every conceivable type. It offers a wealth of information ordinarily reserved for Bible handbooks. Quite handy!
Naturally, the calfskin cover doesn't compete with the highland goatskin in terms of limpness. It's more rigid, but still flexible, and somehow that gives it a more vintage feel. The cover is quite thin, with more of a gloss than you find on the goatskin. With use, I imagine it will soften a bit. The overall impression is rather dressy and elegant, maybe a little military in the sense that it always seems to be standing up straight, whereas the highland goatskin has that elegant slouch.
The buffalo grain is beautiful. The last time I saw this patterning, it was on a vintage Cambridge KJV complete with the original gold box, still sitting on the shelf after all these years because the color was a startling turquoise. I'm pretty adventurous, and was intrigued by the idea of buffalo hide, but even I couldn't bring myself to spend the money. With the Brevier Clarendon, the long, intersecting grain runs through a mottled brown surface, a play of dark and light that provides more visual depth than even the most interesting black.
Above: The buffalo grain calfskin provides plenty of visual interest.
Below: The tan leather lining makes for an attractive contrast, especially considering how many brown Bibles seem to have black linings and ribbons these days.
The Brevier Clarendon in brown calfskin lists for £75, which works out to about $147 at this writing. I suspect that many readers preferring the Clarendon setting would spring the additional £10 ($19) for the 5C edition with black highland goatskin covers and full-yapp edges. Out of the box, it will probably be softer and more flexible in the hand. But if you're like me and you'd like something different than basic (albeit beautiful) black, it might be worth the extra time to break in the brown version. I have a stack of new Bibles on my shelf, and this is the one I keep going back to just to look at.
So if the KJV is your primary translation and you're going to be using this edition often, I say do the unexpected. Save yourself a twenty and pick up the unique brown calfskin version, then put some elbow grease into it.
Above: Here, the spine is supported while the rest of the Bible floats. You can see that the calf cover is stiffer than highland goat, which flops right over. If you prefer structure without the cardboard stiffness of so much genuine leather, this edition would be a great choice. Note the red-under-gold edges, showing red as they fan out.
Below: The binding is sewn, of course, and the Bible opens flat as it should. There is only one ribbon, but it's a nice one.
For a glimpse inside at the layout, click on the photo below, which will take you to Flickr where a full-size version of the image is available. The Clarendon is a traditional two-column settings, verse-per-line, with references in the center column. The type is clear and more readable than the Blackface, though it does have the slightly archaic look of so many KJV settings (then again, this is a vintage Oxford setting, so that's not surprising). Again following the tradition, it includes the epistle dedicatory but not "The Translators to the Reader," a statement of principle from the translation team that ought to be included in every copy, if only to clear up modern misconceptions about their work.
Here's a question: how do you take a cover that feels like it would improve and grow more supple with use and fast-forward the process? At the risk of appalling more timid readers, can I suggest a careful regimen of Bible yoga? You know the drill from the photos. The two covers are curved backward to form semi-circles that elevate the spine. Thicker, stiffer covers tend to hold the spine higher, though there are a variety of factors that contribute. With goatskin covers, I have no qualms about the gymnastics -- they flex easily and recover with grace. Calfskin is sometimes more rigid, so I'm careful to see how it performs before dropping it into a split. When I bend the cover, does it stay bent? If a crease develops, can I massage it out? These little tests tell me something about the leather.
With the Clarendon, I found something quite interesting: a fairly rigid cover that flexes like a champ. I can take one side of the cover, roll it into a tight circle (imagine hair curlers) and watch it recover. A little bend remains, so I roll it back to straight -- no problem. All this working of the cover seems to accelerate the softening process, so that it feels better and better in the hand. I think this works with most any quality cover -- including even some of the dubious genuine leathers, though be cautious there.
I knew from the outset that I'd be taking a chance opting for calfskin over goatskin, but the thought of a brown Bible (like the thought of a red one) brings out my inner daredevil. In this case, I was inspired to round up some of my favorite browns -- the tan ESV from Allan's, the pebble-grain Allan's NIV, and the cordovan calfskin ESV from Crossway (with a cover by Abba Bibles?) for a special shoot. A stack of black Bibles is interesting, and if you get the lighting right it can be quite inspiring in subtle ways. But color brings out the character in leather, as you can see from the photo below.
Yes, I'm spoiled. The life of a Bible reviewer is a good one, if a little curious to the outside observer. As I said, for most of you interested in the Brevier Clarendon, the black highland goatskin is probably the way to go -- although there are options in bold- and mid-grain goat, along with French Morocco that might prove interesting, too. But for the daredevils in the bunch, there's the brown, buffalo-grain calf. If you're looking for practical application, there's this: you certainly won't get it confused with anyone else's at church!