R. L. Allan’s NRSV Cross Reference Edition in Black Grained Goatskin

As I've mentioned before, it's not easy to find a quality edition of the NRSV these days. From time to time, I receive an e-mail from someone on the search. These days, I'm recommending R. L. Allan's NRSV Cross Reference Edition (NRSV1*) in black goatskin. It's an excellent setting of the text with a good quality binding, though I'm quite to point out it isn't bound in flexible highland goatskin, but rather a glossier, more rigid variety. If you follow the link above, you'll see it sells at Bibles-Direct.com for £65.00, which works out to just under US $100 at recent exchange rates. Money well spent, if you ask me.


For the uninitiated, Allan's 101: this Glasgow-based firm acquires text blocks (i.e., the papery thing inside the cover) from a variety of publishers, then has them bound shod in quality bindings. Unlike a publisher, Allan's doesn't design or print the interior. In the case of this NRSV (and the Allan's ESV), Collins published the text block, which was then bound in goatskin by Allan's.

I believe — though I haven't seen it in person to confirm — that the text block features the same layout as this Collins hardcover available from Amazon UK, if you'd like an inexpensive companion edition bound in less robust fashion. 


My understanding is that, unlike highland goatskin — which has natural grain, this goatskin is stamped, and the heat involved in that process results in a more rigid material. (By the way, anyone with a better way of explaining the process should feel free to leave a comment.) Still, this is attractive stuff, on par with (though a little different from) Cambridge's stiffer goatskin offerings like the Pitt Minion. If you haven't experienced highland goatskin and thus have no ideal to compare it with, this will do nicely.


The cover features an attractive semi-yapp edge and art-gilt pages. There's just one ribbon, but it's a nice, thick one — a little short for my taste, but those of you complaining about the long ribbons in the Allan's ESV should like this one! It has a sewn binding, of course, and opens flat.


Inside, you'll find one of the best double-column settings of the NRSV I've ever seen, a tasteful combination of serif and sans-serif type that reminds me — especially with those dotted lines demarcating the reference column — of the beloved NIV Bold Print Reference. Every design decision contributes to a clean, readable result, from the line-spacing to the boldface section headings. Collins did an excellent job on this layout. It's really superlative.


Some of you have had the pleasure (or misfortune, as the case may be) of seeing me lecture in person. If you're in that group, you might recognize the photo below. I like this setting so much, I've been using it to illustrate my slides! This photo is also useful to those of you trying to gauge whether the level of bleed-through on this edition is acceptable to you. Click for a larger version, and you'll have a good idea. As always, there's ghosting, but the paper reads as white and the printing impression is dark and sharp enough to provide good contrast.


The thickness of the ribbon comes through in this shot, too. It's not a big deal in the overall scheme of things, but I must confess I appreciate a wide ribbon so much more than the stringy things most Bibles come with. 

In the levitation shot (below), you get a pretty good idea of the cover's flexibility. Not limp by any means, but flexible enough. Typing those words — "flexible enough" — I feel like I'm damning this edition with faint praise. That's not my intention at all. This is the best NRSV I know of at the moment, and it's quite good. But Allan's has really raised the bar with highland goatskin, so I can't help making comparisons!


It's a sign of quality, I think, when a Bible with a more rigid cover can assume one of my yoga positions and recover gracefully. This one does, as you can see.


There's not much demand for the NRSV among the evangelicals who drive the market, and as a result there isn't nearly the support for this translation. If you want a hardback academic Study Bible, you shouldn't have any trouble, but for a quality leather-bound edition, you have to look harder. I'm happy to report that the Allan's NRSV Cross Reference Edition is a great option. Check it out, and your quest might just come to an end.

36 Comments on “R. L. Allan’s NRSV Cross Reference Edition in Black Grained Goatskin

  1. Mark…Would it be fair to say that while the leather on this edition isn’t Highland Goat, it it similar to say, calfskin or genuine leather of days gone by? I have a few older bibles and they seem to be of much higher quality than the french morrocco that we see today. And they are head and shoulders above any “genuine” leather coverings.

  2. I have this edition from Allan and love it! The goatskin feels good to the touch and has just a bit of firmness which makes it very easy to hold with one hand and read. I am pretty sensitive to bleed-through, but this edition has a minimal amount of that – very easy on the eyes. If you use the NRSV, this is the best edition you can buy.

  3. That is indeed a fine looking Bible. I especially enjoy the clean-looking internal layout. How does it compare to the Cambridge Pitt Minions, in terms of physical size?

  4. Mark (Bertrand), I have a question for you: is this Bible edge-lined in leather or any other material, or is it the same crappy plasticised paper in all cheaply bound Bibles? If it’s paper-lined, are you aware of any other R.L. Allan editions that have it also? Thanks!

  5. Also Mark, could you please post a pic or two of the lining, if you don’t mind? Thanks.

  6. To those of you that have queries about the lining in the NRSV, I have a Brevier Blackface, indexed, in French Morrocco. If the NRSV isn’t leather, the lining in mine is quality paper and is glued in very well. It seems to be holding up very well. My binding is pretty stiff, but I believe that is due to the thickness of the boards. I can’t do any yoga with it at all. It did open flat right out of the box though.

  7. I see that Allan’s has the NIV in Brown Highland Goatskin available and with the exchange rate it’s only about $133.00 US.

  8. Jeremiah:
    This is a slightly larger Bible than the Pitt Minion:
    Allan NRSV
    Page size: 8 1/4 x 5 3/8 inches
    Pitt Minion:
    Page size: 6 7/8 x 4 3/4 inches
    It is more readable than a Pitt Minion
    For the inquiring minds:
    The lining appears to be leather in my Allan NRSV

  9. I purchased this Bible months ago. Mark’s review is dead on. Everything about this Bible is top quality — except the goatskin (Not that it is not quality, it is just not like the Highland, or the Cambridge wide margin, or even as nice as the goatskin on the Pitt Minion). I swear, if this was not an Allen, I would think the cover was a fake. Nevertheless, for what is available for those who (like me) prefer the NRSV, this is the best Bible I am aware of. I even had an NRSV rebound at Mechling when I first started visiting this site a couple of years ago. Quality job, but the cover is even more stiff than the Allens. If you want the best quality in an NRSV, go for the Allens, But for a well done and much cheaper binding of the NRSV, check out the Green Bible

  10. Mark, great site. I haven’t discovered anything on your site about the following: “Cambridge ESV Wide-Margin Reference Black Goatskin ES746XRM” due out 1/1/09. Thought I would let you and your readers know just in case you weren’t aware of it. http://tinyurl.com/5pyjp4

  11. Here’s the section in his NKJV Wide Margin review that mentions it.
    “According to Baker Books, the US distributor of Cambridge Bibles, the ESV Wide Margin References should make their appearance in February ’09. The thought makes me giddy. They’ll be available in black goatskin, brown bonded leather, and a gray hardcover. That’s why, as I noted at the outset, I’ve been holding onto this one. If you use the NKJV, you can be happy now, and if you’re waiting for the ESV, this gives you something to look forward to.”

  12. …at least that’s what Christianbook.com states on their site (via a link through Cambridge).

  13. What do you all recommend as a “second best” alternative, if I want an NRSV that is not Anglicized? Would my best option be to get the Standard NRSV (which received a positive review on this site) and then to have it rebound by one of the rebinders linked on this site?

  14. That’s not a bad idea, Miguel. I’ve thought about it myself. The Standard NRSV typesetting is certainly very fine.

  15. I have finally ordered the Allan’s! Does anyone here have experience they’d like to share regarding the Cambridge NRSV Reference w/ Apocrypha?

  16. Does the Allan NRSV include Apocrypha?
    The Cambridge NRSV Ref w/Apoc is nice. A very grained leather, a little rigid. Two ribbon markers, quite a squarish size. the references have the dotted lines as the NRSV above, though the typeface is obviously not all the same. References go right through the apocrypha and link it with the rest of the bible, which is a useful tool. Is rather a nice one, though I wish it were something nicer than French Morocco, but it does provide firmness for something this size.

  17. Many thanks! No, the Allan’s NRSV does not have Apocrypha.

  18. What the difference between the leather of this bible and the leather of the Cambridge NRSV?

  19. To answer the last two questions: No concordance, which makes it nice and thin. The Allan is a grained goatskin, the Cambridge is a French Morocco, and much stiffer. I understand the Cambridge briefly was available in Calfskin, but they disappeared off the market very quickly. Theirs is a pretty bulky item, so that’s a lot of calfskin per unit.
    I just checked with Cambridge regarding the possibility of an NRSV Pitt Minion and they said nothing was in the works. In my opinion, the Allan still reigns supreme for this translation.

  20. I would like to thank you Mark for your excellent reviews. Though my wife might have a different opinion now that I am looking at ESV PSR as well. I appreciate being able to research a product before having to lay out the money. I ordered this bible direct from Allen’s. It is everything your review says. For someone who has never owned a “quality” bible before it far exceeds my expectations. It is a joy to read and study. My only wish is that while the paper is good by bible standards, I would prefer thicker paper even if it meant more size and weight. Service from Allen’s was excellent and the bible made it all the way to Khandahar, Afghanistan in 4 days. Oh and I just ordered and look forward to reading your book!

  21. I am selling on of these. Very good condition. No marking in the text at all. A couple of neat notations on one of the front blank pages. Otherwise like new. Currently out of print. $100 shipped. email if interested: rjcarter3 at juno dot com.

  22. Mark,
    I noticed at Allan’s site that the NRSV will be reprinted in 2011. Any word on if it’s a straight reprinting or will there be changes from the previous printing — multiple ribbons, etc.? Any idea when in 2011 it will be available?

  23. Just received word from Allan’s that the reprint will be highland goatskin with the same text as the binding above and three ribbon markers. Very excited about this news.

  24. Here’s the specifications for the reprinted edition of the NRSV due out in October 2011. It’s priced at £110 and Bibles Direct are presently accepting orders via their web site. Available in black or brown highland goatskin. My precious other half has ordered one as a gift for me, in brown. She’s an angel! If it matches the quality of the Long Primer I presently own, which I have no reason to doubt it will, I will be thoroughly pleased.
    For those possibly considering the Cambridge NRSV with Apocrypha in French Morocco, I would recommend digging a little deeper into your pocket for the Allen. I have the Cambridge and in my humble opinion the quality just isn’t where it should be at the price point.
    Highland goatskin, semi yapp style, leather lined, red under gold pages edges, two ribbon markers, with cross references.
    Page size: 8 1/4 x 5 1/2 inches ( 210 x 140mm)
    Type size: 9 pt

  25. One can’t help but wonder what is going on at Allan’s. Originally scheduled for publication in October, this bible translation has now had its publication date amended twice. The only date presently being given on Allan’s web site is ‘late 2011’. Their production seems to be generally slower than originally predicted for a number of their bibles. Surely it would be in everyone’s interest for them to be more transparent/realistic with publication dates

  26. I just received my NRSV from Allan’s today. I am thrilled that they are doing another run as it is so difficult to find nice copies of the NRSV. They text block isn’t quite as high quality as, for example, the Allan’s KJV Longprimer (or even the ESV reader edition), but given the sorry state of most NRSVs on the market I can’t complain. Thank you R.L. Allan!

  27. Thanks for the review and all the informative posts above. I just received my NRSV in black highland goatskin. It’s my second really nice bible and I’m looking forward to spending lots of time with it. The binding is incredible – I’d say it’s actually nicer than on my other bible, the Cambridge Clarion KJV. This is definitely the NRSV to get.

  28. I recently received my RL Allen NRSV. It’s the one with 3 ribbons. It really is quite beautiful and it will probably continue to be beautiful even with wear. The printing was done by HarperCollins. However, I don’t think you can buy this version with any binding – even paperback – from HarperCollins.
    Before I became a devotee of NRSV, I was an NASB man. I got spoiled on the great references that were featured in NASB reference Bibles. The references in this NRSV are not that great; but they seem to be the best available – short of looking for a study Bible. I ran into this inadequacy right away. 2 Samuel 28:3 has “Saul had expelled the mediums and the wizards from the land.” I know the Torah forbids mediums. I expected the references to give me a good list of passages. Nope. The references give Leviticus 19:31 and Deuteronomy 18:10, 11. Well, In my judgment the best cross reference would be Leviticus 20:27. In fairness, Leviticus 19:31 does reference Leviticus 20:27.
    I also think, if there is a passage, say, in Matthew that is paralleled in Luke, the references should list the parallels. They don’t. The Oxford annotated NRSV shows the cross references; but the Oxford annotated NRSVs are cheaply made.
    One more thing that would make the RL Allen even better is a wider margin.

  29. I recently received a bible and bible cover, they belonged to my great grandfather. The Bible is a red letter edition and the case is black with a light blue cross. I was just hoping to get some information about it. I really didn’t find a lot on line? Thanks.

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