Nelson Signature Slimline NKJV in Tan Calfskin

YogaThe picture says it all, right? According to the official site, the Nelson Signature series is “bound in the softest, most supple and durable calfskin,” and you can clearly see the result: a Bible that can bend over backwards — literally. These days, the edition pictured (#2019) goes under the title KJV UltraSlim Bible, but when I purchased it back in 2000, they were still calling it the Slimline Edition, so I’ll stick with that nomenclature. Whatever you call it, this is an excellent Bible — and, I would argue, a historically significant one.

A generation or two ago, the fact that a Bible was printed on India paper with a sewn binding and a calf or goatskin binding would have signaled quality. Today, quality has been redefined as a luxury. We pay a premium to get what it would have been unthinkable to omit not too many years back — and if we do pay, there’s always the chance a well-meaning brother will come along and denounce us for our extravagance. So we’re left with a strange paradox. By traditional standards, most of the Bibles available to us are shoddy productions, but saying so makes us seem superficial.

SpinegrainI can’t put my finger on when the decline happened, or what prompted it. My account of Bible history in the past fifteen years is more biographical than definitive. All I know is this: in the early 90s, I decided to buy a new Bible, and because I’d recently taken an interest in bookbinding, I paid more attention than ever before to the details. Living in the fourth largest city in the United States, I figured I’d have plenty of options to choose from. Instead, in bookstore after bookstore, I found the same tired options. Bonded leather was the mainstay and genuine leather the upgrade. It was like walking into a restaurant and being told that most people eat the “meat product,” but some choose to splurge on “genuine meat.” Really? What sort of meat? From which animal precisely? Nobody knew, and there was no kitchen in back at which to inquire. Eventually, I found a bookseller with a Cambridge catalog behind the counter, and ordered a wide-margin KJV in black Berkshire leather — sight unseen. A month or two passed, long enough for me to forget I’d placed the order, and then it arrived in all its glory. For several years after that, I’d return to the store, ask if I could browse the catalog behind the counter, and then take a chance on another edition. French morocco, calfskin, and eventually goatskin, but it was always a hit or miss proposition, because I’d never seen these things up close and no one else seemed to have, either.

OpenflatFor a while, Cambridge was the only option. Then one day, at a different bookstore, the manager said he had something to show me. I followed him to the glass case in back, where — lo and behold — the Nelson Signature Series resided. No angels sang. I didn’t fall to my knees. But there was no doubt I was impressed. Finally, one of the major publishers had woken up to the need for quality. Only by this time, quality meant luxury.

When I look at most deluxe editions of Scripture published today, they seem to bear a genetic resemblance to the Nelson Signature Series. That thin, supple calfskin with its casual matte finish always says Signature to me, no matter whose Bible it’s on. For better or worse, Nelson set a standard that has sometimes been rivaled but never wholly surpassed.

The current Signature line offers the KJV in two formats — Pocket Companion and UltraSlim — the NKJV in eight, including two study Bibles, and the NCV in one. They’re universally praised. In fact, I’ve received quite a bit of mail asking why, if this blog is devoted to design and binding, I haven’t said more about them! Let’s try and redress the balance.

The first and most important thing to say about this Bible is that the cover is a paragon of flexibility. It’s soft and supple and pretty much any other adjective you want to throw at it. But the superb limpness is more than just a function of the cover material. Added to this, the sewn binding allows the pages to simply flow. I have two editions with similar calfskin covers — a Compact ESV from and a Thinline ESV from Crossway — and while they have similar flex in the covers, the binding itself is stiff (each in a different way), so that you don’t get the same effect in your hand. Both of my Nelson Signatures, the black one pictured here and the tan NKJV I bought for my wife, have a similar limpness that only comes from the combination of a supple cover and a fine binding. I believe this combination accounts for the popularity of the Nelson Signature Series among pastors and teachers.

PagebleedThe interior layout isn’t unique to the Signature. Nelson chose to use one of its familiar, existing settings, a double column design without references or notes, set in a clean, readable font. This is one of the things I valued about this edition to begin with, since Cambridge settings of the KJV tended to have a more archaic appearance. The pages are printed on excellent French-milled paper. The photo at left illustrates the amount of bleed-through. It’s there, but not to a distracting extent. I find the two ribbons a bit short — marking a spot in Revelation, for instance, results in a quarter-inch stump protruding — but the quality is good, and after a number of years mine haven’t frayed a bit.

Having said all this, I have mixed feelings about the Nelson Signature line. Sure, there’s my usual preference for a single column setting, but I’ll set that aside. For what it is, I think this Signature edition is fantastic, but I regret the precedent the series seems to have set. It’s greatest strength is its greatest weakness in my eyes — that matte-black calfskin. I love the way it feels, but not the way it looks. The fact that this dull-finished stuff has become the sine qua non of luxury today is a disappointment. It has a rustic, casual air, and from what I’ve seen over time, it doesn’t develop a patina so much as it simply dulls.

Do I want to abolish the stuff? Hardly. But I’d like to see the major American publishers offering more classic options in calf and goat, akin to the higher end Cambridge and Allan’s finishes. Instead, it’s as if the only two options out there are the stiff, shiny, vinyl look and the deadly dull matte look. The refinement of the more traditional finish is absent.

To be fair, this is an aesthetic judgment, and I’ve spoken to plenty of people who greatly prefer the more casual, non-gloss finish. My criticism isn’t over the Nelson Signature per se, but of the trend it established and continues to reflect. I’m told that Bible publishing is a relatively small world and the options are surprisingly limited at a result. Hopefully future designers will find ways to break out of the new mold and channel the tradition a bit more.

I don’t want to end in a minor key. Yes, the Nelson Signature legacy redefined the look of quality editions in a way I regret, but the real significance of the line is surely the return of quality. Cambridge is no longer a lone standard-bearer. Most publishers these days have introduced at least one quality edition, though I suspect there are plenty of people in the industry who still doubt the long-term viability of the category. Reading this blog will hopefully change a few minds on that score.

In the future, we may see an entirely fresh set of options. Bonded and genuine leather won’t be the only choices — in fact, they might not be choices at all. What I’d like to see at the bottom is the new polyurethane covers, only with sewn bindings and more well-designed covers to replace the current crop of kitschy, novelty looks. Above that, various calfskins, with goat reigning supreme at the top. That’s my vision, anyway, and while the Signature Series doesn’t charm me in every respect, I doubt the future I’d like to see would even be possible apart from it.

If you use the KJV, NKJV, or NCV, and you want a superb binding with a rock-solid guarantee behind it, you can’t go wrong with the Nelson Signature line. My own experiences jibes with that of many readers here. We may lament the fact that quality is a luxury these days, but I’m just grateful that quality is still an option — thanks in part to the Nelson Signature Series.

39 Comments on “Nelson Signature Slimline NKJV in Tan Calfskin

  1. I actually acquired both the NKJV Pitt Minion in goatskin and the NKJV Pocket Companion Signature in the past 6 months, but, surprisingly enough, haven’t taken the time to set them down side by side and compare the two. Maybe I’ll get motivated enough to do so over the next few days.
    I’ve also been pining for the Nelson Signature Slimline NKJV that you have in this review, but it has been on backorder for some time and Nelson keeps pushing back the restocking date. The latest I’ve seen is mid-November.

  2. Beautiful Bible – some comments, however. I’ve recently discovered that all the Nelson Signature Bibles, and all the Lockman’s calfskin Bibles, as well as all the new Cambridge “edge-lined” Bibles, are not really leather-lined. It is the same material that normally coats the paper used to line cheap Bibles – just a thicker piece of the stuff bonded directly to the leather cover. I even tore apart one of the Nelson Signatures to confirm my suspicions: I was correct. Not leather. Not a one of em. How deceptive of them to market them as leather lined. Most of them all come out of Mexico (except the Cambridges), probably made by Abba Bibles. Another problem with them is what I believe is probably too much tightness in the sewing of the textblock (again, not in the Cambridges. Just the whole lot of other “deluxe” Bibles being made nowadays). It produces a crunched up look in the center crease of the Bible throughout the whole text block, and it “crinkles” when you open and close the Bible/turn the pages or if you run your finger up and down the center crease. Shame on them!

  3. I have the KJV Slimline in black and love this Bible, though I use it rarely. I also have the King James Reference Bible in burgundy: love it too! However, I don’t think they make that one any more. Nelson’s Signature Series have always been a favorite of mine. It’s hard to beat the feel of these Bibles in your hands.
    The pictures in your article confirmed that I made the right decision on the Allan ESV I ordered and am anxiously (like everyone else) awaiting. I debated “black” or “tan” but went with the tan. Seeing the “British tan” as you call, it affirms my choice. I was also in a Bible Bookstore today and saw a Cambridge tan imitation leather Bible and really liked the color of it as well. I’ll let you know how I like it when it arrives if you’d like.

  4. Mark, I recently bought from Foundation Publications The Ultrathin Reference Bible, NASB, in black genuine leather ($26.04 on Amazon). It’s head and shoulders above the ESV Reference in genuine leather that I bought this summer. Nicely grained, fairly flexible cover that I can do all of your bible yoga moves without creasing the cover. It has nice bible paper,not India, center column references, concordance,maps, paragraph format. Laid flat right out of the box. All in all, a great value. Just thought I’d let you know about this nice bible that for under $30.00 is a real gem. Am awaiting ESV 1 in black goatskin.

  5. I like the NKJV slimline. I find it more preferable than the Ultraslim. The slimline has more generous word spacing and to me is easier to read. The Ultraslim text is too crowded for me.
    Mark, I purchased the same Bible pictured above (signiture slimline, which I believe is out of print now) over a year ago. However, I completely changed it. I sent the text block to a company in NY to change the gold edges to an art-gilt edging. I then sent the text block to Mexico to be recovered in their calfskin, which is ironic since that’s what it came with. However, I wanted a black outer cover with a blue cowhide lining and blue ribbon markers. I got the color scheme idea from Allan publishers.
    The project came out okay. The art-gilt edging was a little sloppy, but I’m still enjoying the Bible nonetheless. I recently got back my Cambridge wide margin NKJV from Mexico with the same appointments.
    God Bless,

  6. Nick is correct about the signature series and other publishers not using genuine leather on the inside. They use synthetic leather. That why I end up getting many of my Bibles rebound. However, Allan highland goatskin Bibles never get touched. They are just perfect as is.
    I’m also frustrated with Nelson’s overly tight sewing. As Nick said, it produces creases along the gutter. There is no excuse for that.
    God Bless,

  7. I have this exact Bible and use it as my main preaching/teaching Bible. This really is a nice Bible in many ways, especially it’s limpness and feel. And I’m a sucker for tan leather – that’s actually what motivated me to buy it. But after having used it heavily over the last several years, I have 3 complaints, in this order:
    1) The lightness of the print. This is a major fault for such an expensive, and otherwise lovely Bible. In fact, my Pitt Minion NKJV is actually easier to read, even with the much smaller font, simply because the print is heavier black. A Bible this nice ought to be more readable – that’s what they exist for, after all!
    2) The gilt edges look crappy after just a little use. It only takes a little touch of misting rain or a light stroke of the thumb across the edges, and it shows a mark. My edges look like modern art with all of the spots and marks. This Bible really should have gotten the art-gilt treatment.
    3) The center crease issue that the other commenters mentioned. IT sometimes makes a section of pages stand upright and not lay flat easily, due to the crimping at the top edge near the ribbon connection point. This actually affects the use of the ribbon too.

  8. The “center crease issue” — a sort of wavy puckering visible in the gutter — seems to be characteristic of all the contemporary matte calfskin bindings. I don’t see it on Allan’s and Cambridge editions, but every edition using the Nelson Signature-style floppy calf seems to have it, as do the cordovan editions from Crossway. I’ve noted it, but hadn’t thought to much about the source. Is it really due to the spine being too tightly stitched? This is something I wish I knew more about.

  9. I’m assuming the creases in the gutter has to do with tight stitching, it seems logical. However, I’m not really sure either and I would also like to know more about it.
    In my opinion it diminishes the quality of the book and I have found that even after almost a year of use, there really is no improvement, i.e., it doesn’t loosen up or even out over time.
    Maybe it’s a combination of several factors: paper, method of stitching, type of machine it’s done on? I’m really surprised these companies don’t do something about it.
    It’s not consistent across the board, I’ve owned three signature Bibles from Nelson, two had the creases and one didn’t. I have a NASB from Foundation Publications with the Mexico calfskin that also has the creases. However, I’ve seen some NASB Calf’s from Foundation sans the creases. It’s a mystery.
    God Bless,

  10. As for me – I’m done with any Bible with those stinkin’ creases. Absolutely unacceptable. Just shows they care nothing for the end result. Just tryin’ to make a buck. Shame on the Bible industry!

  11. My compact version of this same bible in the NKJV arrived just today and was a let down. While also a Signature Series Bible the leather was very dull with heavily wrinkled grain, not fine pebble finish as the one reviewed but big loose wrinkles. The cover was absolutely limp, the spine of the binding rather stiff so it would not lay flat until well into the center pages. All of the pages had soft wrinkles and an odd lay to them. It retailed for $99 and I paid $74.95 on sale. There is simply no match to an Allan’s bible. It is already packed back up with the return slip filled out. the best I can say is that the type size was quite readable.
    Since Allans’ does not do a NKJV I suppose I’ll go for a Cambridge edition with stiffer cover that at least looks nicely done.

  12. I am at a lost to identify the “crinkling” or “wavy gutter” in the center seam that many in this blog are talking about. I have both the Slimline and the KJ Reference signature series and the “center creasing” is not an issue in either of these bibles. I guess I got “lucky” in that regard. What I do dislike about the signature series is that the print is a bit light. This seems pretty standard. That should be improved if Nelson continues to produce this line. My eyes are getting older and straining while reading is not cool. ;=)

  13. Recieved my Bible today (signature pocket companion NKJV). Disappointed with page layout. It’s actually different from the one reviewed above. The typeface is larger, with the spaceing between sentences narrower, making the page seem crowded and the words more difficult to read.
    Have Nelson recently changed the layout, and if so is it not possible to obtain the older version (in UK)

  14. After much searching, it seems that the NKJV Ultraslim Signature Series seen here is out of print indefinitely. I could not find a single tan copy anywhere. The NKJV Pocket Companion Signature Series is still available in limited quantities at certain retailers, but seems like a different beast entirely.
    My Pocket Companion arrived last week, and it is a dull grainy leather which is remarkably similar in appearance and texture to the newer leather-feel synthetics. It is absolutely nothing like the shiny pebbled look in the photos of the Ultraslim. Hopefully this dull calfskin will develop a bit of a finish over time as my hand oils get worked into it, as I genuinely like the overall qualities of the book.
    In terms of dimensions, the Pocket Companion is slightly chunkier than the Ultraslim, being a bit shorter and narrower while a little thicker. It is still slim enough, though, to not come across as “fat” or childishly proportioned.
    The first one I received had a cover and spine that were poorly glued to the lining, in my best guess, as they were bubbly and wrinkly then the cover was flexed. It was awful, really, and I imagine Tony’s (mentioned above) had this same physical defect … turns out they’re not all like that. A replacement arrived today without that issue, and the first is going back to Amazon.
    The pages crinkle, but mine doesn’t seem to be caused by an overly tight binding as the source is more in the middle of the top and bottom edges of the pages and less from the crease. I’m chalking it up to new paper, at the moment, as it seems like something that will go away with age.
    As for flexibility, this one has been in my possession for a matter of hours and will lay open without closing itself from Exodus to James. Pretty good for an tiny Bible. There are, incredibly, FIVE endpages both front and back, with a stiff “hinge” of some sort glued into the crease between the outermost pairs. Seems like a bit of overkill. There’s also a somewhat childish “Presented to …” page whose future I am debating.
    Again, I like the Pocket Companion fine but this is just a word of warning to those who may pursue one after finding the Ultraslim to now be out of stock: they share very little in common, apparently, beyond the floppiness of the cover and the general quality of workmanship.

  15. Geoff,
    Sounds like similar issues. Had I not been spoiled already by Allans editions it would have been fine. I did get a NKJV in the Pitt Minion format and liked it very much. While the goatskin version is a bit stiffer than an Allans it lays well and is similar in size to the Nelson.
    Had I bought the version Mark reviewed I would have been happier.

  16. Thanks you so much for posting this. I finally decided after several searches it was worth more than $30 to have a Bible that would have apart in less than a year. It took quite a search to find the Signature series, and finally decided it was the one. The Pitt Minion didn’t seem quite right to me. Still seeing a picture of the box and not the Bible itself wasn’t satisfactory (I have just purchased it online, the only option in Bush Alaska). I had to see it, so I used Google and you have the only pictures of it. It is such a beautiful Bible, thank you again for letting me see it 🙂

  17. Currently I have one of the NKJV pocket companion bibles in whatever fake leather like vinal nelson is using I love the convince and size of it however i am wanting to get something that is bound better. I have seen several of the signature nelson’s in tan and love it in fact i almost bought one when i got the fake leather like binding. what i would like to know is for those of you that have both the pocket companion and pit mininon are the about equally readible and pockatable. or is there a similar Cambridge bible in old king jim or ESV that like the companion is basically just text and no references.
    I think i will be getting a slimline that Calvary distribution has as an exclusive from nelson… it is also calfskin sadly no tan but there is a nice black/red that is hand sewn.
    nice thing is it is not as much as signature.
    Isbn is 9780718025861
    I will try to get some photos of the black/black in the book store at church over the weekend.

  18. I found a great price on these in Black Calfskin at Barnes & Noble. $50.00

  19. that has hardcover in parenthesis thought … what does that mean?

  20. I’ve been looking for about 5 months now for the NKJV UltraSlim Bible: Signature Series Edition Tan Calfskin. Like the post above said, I found it indefinitely out of print. But just yesterday I ordered it from Amazon (solomonsmine books) for $90. I went for this bible because I have a friend that’s a minister that’s been using this bible for everything for about a year. The only change I could tell is that it seems like it’s gotten softer. Great shape. He had the black, I love the tan. If I don’t post another comment, you’ll know that I’m out enjoying my new Bible.

  21. I had my Signature series (British Tan Calfskin) for a few years and then suddenly a presentation page fell out one day. I sent the Bible back for a replacement and received one about 10 days later. My new Signature series Bible had nice black ink, two long ribbons, and is almost as flexible as my old Bible. It will soon be just as flexible as I plan to use it often, not put it on a shelf. I did notice the crinkling in the center that has been mention by previous posters, and while it may not be pleasing to the eye, it doesn’t interfere with the main purpose – which is to be read. Generally speaking, I think this is a fairly high quality Bible for the price. Perhaps nicer or better Bibles can be had, but I imagine a bigger price tag goes with them. Not all of us can afford $500 Bibles, so this type will have to do.

  22. I would like to know if you would be willing to sell this bible. Nelson has stopped printing this bible from Belgium. The new signature series is not as soft or nice. If you are willing to sell this bible, I am willing to pay for it. Thanks!

  23. Hi Will, I noticed your post. I have a Nelson Signature 549 Black/Tan Calfskin, Printed in Belgium, like new in box, ISBN-13: 978-0-7180-1825-2 – if you or anyone is interested.

  24. I’m just wondering if anyone knows approximately when these Bibles shifted from “slimline” to “ultraslim” and were manufactured in Columbia rather than Belgium. I’ve been looking everywhere for one of these that was made in Belgium and can’t seem to find one, though the made in Columbia ones are still around for a little while. Thomas Nelson told me they were discontinuing them after the last 80 they have sold, but they couldn’t tell me when production shifted to Columbia. I’m not clear if the shift to Columbia was made 3,5, or more years ago.

  25. Thomas nelson slimline bibles printed in Colombia hmm what can I say?, I just bought me a Signature British tan bible from there and while there is a small difference between the one made in Belgium (I own a black one from there also), the quality as far as I’m concerned is about the same, the only difference is the tan is of thicker hide, otherwise all is exactly the same, I would say it’s unfair to judge a bible by where it was made, I believe like all arts it grows with time, the quality that is and it is also possible to buy a bad batch as with all things, I’m happy with the bible, the word is the same and the message is the same. We should be glorifying God that we can afford to get these and remember that in Colombia there are those that can only afford a Gideon freely given, what a generation we have become more worried about the cover than the message. I’m very happy with this bible and I praise God for this wonderful gift he has given me. God bless you all

  26. Jules, I would say it’s unfair to assume that people are more concerned about the cover than the message just because they want a quality bible.

  27. John, I stand corrected and I profoundly apologise for the remark I made, but as quality goes I still feel there’s hardly a difference, my apologigies to all…God Bless

  28. Jules, no problem. I appreciate your input regarding the Columbian printing.

  29. Oh how much of an idiot do I feel right now, I stand more than just corrected as I have been comparing the two bibles, the one from Belgium and the one from Colombia, and yes I can now see the difference, in the Colombian the leather seems cracked and not smooth at all, and thinking about it now it would start splitting after a few months so I decided to send mine back from where I got it, I apologise to all for my judgement and absolutely agree that it would be a mistake to buy the ones made from Colombia, they even got the spelling wrong because mine says made in Colombia and not Columbia, I feel like an idiot right now and I would advise to ask first where it was made as I was wrong in my judgement in so many ways, I have asked them to swap for a Cambridge Pit Minion goat skin, and I think from all this I have learnt that I should be more open to good advise and truly apologise for the remarks I made, I suppose it was a defence mechanism that I dint want to admit that I had made a mistake, I thank God that there are people like yourselves giving good advise out there and I must truly say I have learnt my lesson, thank you and God bless you all.

  30. Greetings to all, I have a favour to ask, I’ve been asked for the number on the spine of the Nelson Slimline British Tan bible and to be honest I don’t know where to look? Is it the ISBN no? Could someone please help me on this because I cannot see it, thank you so much and God bless…

  31. Some older Nelson bibles that I have seen have a number on the bottom section of the spine. It’s in plain view so yours probably doesn’t have one. I don’t think that they put one on the signature series.

  32. If it’s less than 20 years old, I’d expect the ISBN to be on the back cover, lower right corner, not on the spine.

  33. Thank you for that, I could not find any numbers at all on the actual bible but on the box I managed to get the ISBN number and style number 3019TN, but you are right there’s no number at all on the signature bibles, thank you for the help though and God bless you all.

  34. I believe the 3019TN (british tan) is ISBN 9780785258247, the black is 9780785258223. They’re still available on Amazon.

  35. Does anyone know where can i buy a KJV bible with the same font as displayed in the pictures above? I love that font and i’ve seen it before in a KJV bible i had long ago but i can’t remember what style bible it was and who published it.

  36. Aaron,
    The “typical” KJV font is sort of a Bookman style. This NKJV is much more modern. It’s similar to the Windsor model of TBS, the Trinitarian Bible Society. If you search on Windsor you’ll find lots of comments and pictures here.
    TBS only does KJV and the Windsor is a 2-column setting as above.

  37. I am looking for this exact Bible as mine has now fallen apart. I bought a new Signature Series Ultraslim but it is slightly larger than my Slimline and the cover is a lighter color. I am open to selling the Ultraslim – new Signature series, or trading for a Slimline Signature in Tan.

    • Did you end up finding a signature series Bible? I am interested in getting one for my mother who would like a genuine Calfskin or goatskin Bible

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