R. L. Allan’s KJV Ruby Edition in Black Highland Goatskin

Somewhere in one of his many books, management guru Peter Drucker contrasts the leadership styles of Abe Lincoln and Robert E. Lee, trying to account for the against-all-odds success of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. He attributed it to the difference in the way the two men selected generals. Lincoln choose leaders who lacked great weaknesses. Lee elevated those with outstanding strengths. Whether the comparison stands up to scrutiny or not, I can't say — and of course, by the time Lincoln handed the reins over to Grant, he was willing to tolerate certain vices in the interests of success. But the analogy has always struck me as useful. It certainly applies in the world of Bibles.

Some of us are looking for Bibles that don't get anything wrong, whereas others want editions that get one or two things very right. I'm in the latter camp. To enjoy certain virtues, I'll put up with a lot of faults. Nothing is perfect, but some things are more wonderfully imperfect than others. Case in point:


When I told Nicholas Gray at R. L. Allan's that I wanted one of their Ruby Edition KJVs, he gave me a warning: the text setting was older and the impression wasn't particularly sharp. Still, the format was popular with some readers, and I might be one of them. The Bible arrived, and sure enough, there were some irregularities to note (I'll get to them in a moment). But I don't take much notice of them, because the strengths are superlative. 


No doubt you've heard the story of Lincoln's reaction when told that Grant was a poor choice for command on account of his love for whisky. The President replied: "I wish some of you would tell me the brand of whiskey that Grant drinks. I would like to send a barrel of it to my other generals." That's my take on the Ruby Edition. 

The first thing you notice is what it has in common with the Long Primer, its magnificent highland goatskin, full-yapp cover, which is soft, limp, and quite elegant. 


On a smaller Bible like this — which is prone to being carried around, stuffed in briefcases, and generally abused — the extended edges come in handy by protecting the pages. That's not why I like them, though: my thrill comes from the fact that they look cool and feel great in the hand.


The pages have art-gilt (i.e., "red under gold") edges, and the binding is naturally sewn. The Ruby is printed in Great Britain on acid-free India paper by Clay's Ltd. It opens flat easily and stays that way. You get one blue ribbon, nice and thick. Inside, in addition to the references, you'll find a dictionary of proper names, a substantial concordance, maps, and an insert of lined paper for notes. This is a full-featured yet diminutive Bible.


So let's open it up and get the negatives out of the way. First, the print is small. This is a compact Bible, so you wouldn't expect it to be otherwise. I don't know what the exact point size is, but I'd guess it's below 7 pt. The print impression is dark, but there is some variation. Occasionally you'll come across a letter that seems cracked, an ascender or descender with only a ghostly presence on the page. The type looks … old, which is what it is.

If, like me, you grew up with the King James Version, you're probably accustomed to this sort of thing. Settings of the KJV tend to have an archaic look (even the newer ones). 


Assuming you're comfortable with small-print Bibles, you shouldn't have any trouble reading the Ruby. It's free of self-pronouncing text, which is a plus — especially at this size. There will be some patches more difficult than others, I suppose. In that sense, I suppose you could argue it's a metaphor for the translation itself.

My preference for smaller Bibles like this stems in part from what I find convenient in worship. When I attended a church with old fashioned pews, the long benches provided plenty of room for my "stuff." I could bring a full-size wide margin Bible along, knowing I'd have somewhere to put it when I stood. But for the past few years, all my churches have had chairs instead of pews — sometimes nice, plush ones, sometimes the excruciating torture device known as the folding chair (great for mortifying the flesh). This prompted me to bring along increasingly tiny Bibles. Jugging a Bible, a hymnal, and an order of worship, I found it best to travel light.

If you use the KJV in worship, the Ruby would make an excellent choice. Handy enough for use without sacrificing any features.


Let's talk about the size. According to the Allan's site, the Ruby measures 4.25" x 5.75", but the metrics on mine are a little different. The page size is 4.25" x 6", and the full-yapp edge boosts the footprint into Pitt Minion territory, as you can see in the photo above, something in the neighborhood of 6" x 7" — and 1.25" thick. 


The photo above illustrates the difference between the page size and the cover size. While the spines give the impression that the Ruby and Pitt Minion are comparably sized, the Ruby is actually quite a bit smaller. It's not, however, the most compact KJV available from Allan's — that distinction belongs to the Allan's-bound Crystal edition printed by Cambridge (seen on top, below). That tiny wonder measures just 3.25" x 5.25", truly a pocket edition.


In spite of my smaller-is-better mantra, I think compared to the Crystal, the Ruby has more soul. It's a superb example of the bookbinder's craft, and despite imperfections the text setting conjures a classic period in Bible design. Beauty in a well-used book is something you appreciate more over time, and the Ruby has plenty.


As I mentioned, there's a block of lined pages in the back for your notes. I've always liked this feature, though when I heard the most recent printing of the Allan's ESV1 wouldn't have lined pages, I didn't exactly weep. My notes are more likely to go in a separate notebook these days. However, I'd like to point out a useful function of lined pages in a Bible. I've used mine to record quotations and the outline of arguments. For example, in one of theologian John Frame's books, I came across a nice summary encapsulated the biblical case for Christ's deity. That's the sort of thing that can come quite handy in conversation, so I copied it onto the lined pages in the back of my Bible. I've noted excerpts from the creeds, confessions, and catechisms, too, using the blank pages to create a biblical vade mecum

The photo below suggests just how flexible the cover is. Inside the front cover, the word GOATSKIN is stamped in small caps:


Inside the back cover, it's stamped OXFORD BINDING.


The natural grain of the goatskin is beautiful, as always. In every way, this little Bible is built to last. If you decide you'd like one, you have a couple of options. The Ruby Edition (103*) is available from Allan's directly, selling for £48.00. If you're in North America, you'll find them stocked at EvangelicalBible.com for $79.75. 

I've corresponded with a number of you who've given the Ruby Edition a try, always with positive results. Still, it's fair to say the Ruby's not for everyone. But if its unique, elegant binding and compact size appeal to you, I don't think you'll be disappointed. 

31 Comments on “R. L. Allan’s KJV Ruby Edition in Black Highland Goatskin

  1. Mark, I purchased the Ruby 103 this past summer and I love it. One thing though; the pages in mine are a cream color, not white like yours, and it doesn’t have the lined paper. Maybe it’s an older edition. Wonderful little bible, though.

  2. Mark is reading my mind again. I went today on the R.L. Allan’s site and bought both the crystal edition and the highland goatskin Ruby. Can’t wait to get them! It was cool to see this review right after ordering them. Guess I chose wisely.

  3. The Ruby was my first Allans edition, the Crystal the second. I even found a vintage Cambridge Crystal on eBay that has highly raised hubs on the spine. Both types are great bibles despite their small size. it is as if they invite you to take one along with you due to their handy size.

  4. Another anomaly I noticed on my Ruby is that it has two ribbons instead of one.

  5. WARNING the print in the Ruby will smear if your hands have the slightest amount of moisture. I was very disappointed when I wiped John 3:3 off the page. Hopefully they will remedy this with a better ink.

  6. Just an update. I did receive my Ruby edition and Crystal edition right around Christmas. I was actually floored by the Ruby. It was even better than I expected. What a great bible edition! The Crystal’s type is small (actually, both are) but very clear. I was not overly impressed by the suppleness of the kid goatskin. The Ruby feels better to me. Both will serve their purpose as great travel and pocket editions. One thing is for certain, R.L. Allan & Sons always deliver. I have been completely satisfied with all my R.L. Allan purchases.
    My Ruby came with one ribbon marker and while we are on the subject of ribbon markers, I wonder if anyone else is noticing what I have noticed… the ribbon markers on every cambridge I own and of course every zondervan I own looks like witches hair (frayed) even after only owning a Cambridge for a short time I noticed how easily the ribbon marker starts to fray.
    On my R.L. Allan editions, not one single problem with frayed ribbon markers so far. I have owned my awesome RL Allan NIV Bold Reference Edition for almost a year now and it has become my daily reader but it’s ribbon markers look like they did the day I took it out of the box. I don’t keep it in the box just so you know. Anyone got any idea as to why RL Allan’s hold up better?
    In time, I will do my own review of my Ruby and Crystal editions on my site but I think Mark’s pictures and review of these beauties is the best of all.

  7. @ Winston,
    Have you noticed the “smear” problem (mentioned previously) with the ink on your edition of the ruby?

  8. Kyle,
    I had a smear problem with an ESV1 from R.L. Allan. Let them know. They sent me a new one.

  9. Mark,
    Wow… I have just discovered the world of R.L. Allen Bibles. It started while I was looking for a nice leather Cruden’s Concordance. From there I found evagelicalbible.com and from there I discovered your blog. Since reading just about everything I could find on R.L. Allen bibles I just ordered an ESV1 in tan and the KJV ruby in highland goatskin that is reviewed here. I’m so excited that I can’t wait to get them in. Thanks for a great site and for your reviews. My wife is already sorry i’ve found this site because the balances in my checking account suddenly dropped. Thanks again and God Bless.

  10. Winston, regarding the ribbons fraying. I used to have this problem with a number of Bibles. I found a solution that works. I tuck the rest of the ribbon a few pages behind the place where I am, so that none of it is exposed after I close the Bible. I haven’t had any fraying problems since doing this.

  11. Other people have mentioned using something called “Fray Check” which is I suppose like a clear glue that binds the end of the ribbon to keep it form fraying. I never tried it but I’m considering purchasing some to take care of any ribbon fraying problems.

    • Ive found 2remedies that really works regarding the fraying of Bible ribbons simply take some clear fingernail polish and brush a small amount on the very end of the ribbons ! Ive dome this method and its been about 17 years since I coated the end of my Cambridge Crystal ! One other method you can use, you must be very careful yet swift pass a lighter flame on low or a simple match pass it quickly to the end of the ribbon and it’ll never again unravel, did it to my Allan long primer it hasn’t unraveled. Yet and its been 1year and a half and there will not be any unraveling anymore whatsoever! try it out!

  12. Kyle,
    It is confirmed, ink smears. It appears I didn’t notice it at first because of the way I was handling the bible when I would read it. I then started holding the bible by putting my thumb on the page and as soon as I moved the thumb away, the ink smeared. I did some tests after discovering this and found that if your hands are clean and dry you should not have a problem but the oil from your hands seems to make it smear. Unfortunate. It seems such a perfect bible for me otherwise.

  13. I received my Ruby KJV edition today in the mail. I also received my ESV1 in British Tan. The Ruby is ultra nice. I checked to see if the ink smeared and fortunately it has not yet. I noticed mine came with two ribbon markers and it didn’t have any lined paper at the back. Overall i’m super pleased with the Bible and cannot wait to start using it. I also love the ESV1 but my favorite translation is the KJV so the Ruby is the crown jewel of the day.

  14. Hi there please could you point me to somewhere that i could buy a new bible, i currently have an old Eyre and Spottiswoode “The Kings Printer” untearable yapp covered King James Version around 7″ by 4.5″. im looking to get the same bible again please.

  15. Well I bought me one and it came toute de suite from evangelical. It arrived yesterday.
    Ok, let me tell you, you are struck by just how compact this thing is, and then by the miniscule font. I’m like, “Ok, why did I buy this thing again? I’m such a poltroon!” But as I started reading out of it last night I really warmed up to it. Yes, the script is miniscule, but with a good light or daylight you can manage just fine. It’s really neat, actually. The yappage is great. This little gem does just beg you to take it along where you planned on going this afternoon, too. I’m glad I bought it.
    Thankfully, my version had no problem with smearing, at least not yet, and mine has both markers and it includes the lined pages in the back.
    I like it so much, I am eyeballing with no small amount of covetousness the Long Primer and the Clarendon editions online today—though someone please intervene at this point because I can’t afford to keep this up!
    Well done, Allan!

  16. At first, I was a little ‘put out’ by the smallness of the font in the KJV Ruby. And it ‘IS’ small. On the other hand, the full-yapp goatskin cover is absolutely superb! Simply a delight to look at and hold in the hand. Mine came with only 1 ribbon. It also came with the blank lined pages, 8 pages of maps, a dictionary of proper names, and a concordance. As I said, at first, the only thing I really liked was the Allan full-yapp goatskin cover. But as I spent more time with this Baby, I must say it has really grown on me. It’s compactness is nice in that it fits perfectly in one of the compartments in my lap-top carrying case. This is a great Bible for traveling, when making hospital visits, and pastoral calls. I do wish the font could be just a little bit larger. But then it wouldn’t be as compact as it is.
    As I said, at first I was overall less than pleased with the Ruby (especially the smallness of the font). But now that I’ve had it for a few months, it truly has grown on me and I carry it with me where ever I take my lap-top. Bottom line: If you have poor vision, best to pass on this one. But if you can read small print, this Bible is worth purchasing simply for the quality of the full-yapp goatskin leather.
    I’ve had no problem with the ‘smearing’ that others have mentioned. And the yellow highlighter I use (GTL Zebra-Zebrite Bible highlighter) does not bleed through at all–and caused no smearing of the text. Only one thing kind of bugs me: On the front Cover emblazoned in gold it says:
    I wish it only and simply said “HOLY BIBLE”. Why they add “and concordance” is beyond me. I mean, are the very limited concordances in most Bible’s really a selling point that needs to be emblazoned on the front cover? Not a big deal. Just questioning the rationale for drawing attention to a minimal concordance. But I’m glad I bought this baby, and look forward to reading it for many years to come. And if you are a bibliophile Bible collector, this is a “must” for your collection.

  17. I just ordered mine a little over a week ago, I am waiting in anticipation. I have the Allen Longprimer with full yapps and love it. I also have a goatskin NKJV and ESV Pitt Minion from Cambridge and love those as well. I hope to get it today, I will update the blog after.

  18. It was a pleasure to find this site. My family has been buying R.L. Allan bibles for three generations. Quality bibles used to be sold in some Bible book stores. Sure can’t find them now. I have a 7C that I expect to be using for the rest of my life, if I don’t lose it. If the house was burning down, it would be one of the few things I would grab. I love to see well worn bibles that are obviously an important part of peoples’ lives. These bibles are beyond a book. Usually, a book is read once then placed on a shelf as a good memory. The people is fresh and new every time you read a passage over.

  19. I came across this bible on a friend’s table the other day, and, after holding it for a few seconds, decided this was the one. I’ve been searching for quite a while (checking out all the black books I come across at every study for the last few months) but never came across the right size, feel, and font. But the Ruby is beautiful.
    However, I find myself hesitating on one point. I have become quite accustomed to the red-letter bible that I have been using for the last 10 years. As a result of this, I haven’t yet ordered the bible as I search for a version as close as possible to the Ruby–save that it includes red letters. I’m not sure that it exists, but I wonder: any suggestions?

  20. I purchased a Thumb-Indexed Ruby from Allan’s (only semi-yapp) The only gripe I have is that the Thumb-Index cuttings are a little rugged, and because of the way its bound, it doesn’t create a consistent oval shape on the thumb space. Otherwise, this is a superbly bound Bible. The leather is thick and supple, and it comes packed with a decent concordance (which also helps the Bible to lay flat)
    No problems with smearing on this one!

  21. It was mentioned in Mark’s review that there is a variation in print impression. Do Allan’s Oxford Ruby Bibles usually have darker print on the text located at the top and bottom of the page? Does this vary from page to page?
    Any information would be helpful. Thanks!

  22. I finally ordered my first R.L. Allan bible today – the 103 “Ruby”. I originally wanted a black 53 “Longprimer”, but personal budget restraints prevailed. I look forward to sharing my impressions of this beautiful little bible – thanks, Mark, for a lot of good information on this website and for pointing me to R.L. Allan & Sons!

  23. Mark,
    Your reviews are a great service to guys like myself. One thing that I would find helpful though is if in some of your pictures (especially with a bible like the Ruby) you could get a shot with your hand on the open page so as to give us some idea and gage of the size. If not your hand, then perhaps a quarter (coin) or dollar bill. Just a suggestion. Thanks for your remarkable website and the love of Bibles and books that produced it!

  24. CMS +1. Hands aren’t uniformly sized. A dollar bill for smaller bibles and a ruler for larger volumes sounds like a great scale to use.

  25. Based on this review I picked up a Ruby, black, full yapp in highland goatskin for my wife. It is about a year old now, well used and I must say that it is a very, very nice Bible. The text is easily read, the paper is interestingly thicker than the Allan 5 or 6c and exhibits minimal ghosting while the size lends itself to the hand very nicely. I find myself preferring to pick it up as it is easy to leaf through and easy to read. Well done, no regrets.

  26. I just have to tell you that I’ve got a Ruby Bible, owned by my great great grandfather, stamped 1892. It suffered water damage en route to New Zealand in the early 1900s, the leather has hardened, and the pages are wanting to separate from the spine, but it is a little beauty, and if I could use it, I would.

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