Red Bibles Redux
It's no secret I love red Bibles — I'm talking about the covers here, not the letters inside — and the recent arrival of two new ones inspired me to revisit the topic. So let's begin with a stack of examples, everything I had at hand when the idea struck:
Above: A stack of red Bibles.
From top to bottom, here's what we've got. (1) First, an Eyre & Spottiswoode Royal Ruby Text KJV bound in calfskin with a snap closure — one of the new ones, so we'll see more photos in a moment. Beneath that are two Cambridge REB New Testaments, the beautiful single-column setting now only available with a green flex cover. The (2) top one is bound in burgundy calfskin (stiff) and the (3) bottom in dark red calfskin (flexible). For an interior spread photo, check out the Pocket New Testaments post. Underneath them is (4) the hardback TNIV from R. L. Allan's, bound in red goatskin, and the (5) Cambridge Pocket Cross-Reference NIV in Cabra bonded leather. Next, (6) an unusual Cambridge KJV Cameo bound in the nice, flexible French Morocco of yesteryear, in a strangely mottled red/black pattern. Then (7) another KJV Cameo, this one in burgundy calfskin with a deeply impressed grain, and underneath it (8) an Eyre & Spottiswoode Royal Sovereign Central Reference KJV bound in fine grain morocco, also a recent arrival. A close-up of this text setting is what I used to illustrate the Red Letter Bibles post. At bottom, we have (9) the Cambridge Newtype large print KJV bound in burgundy cowhide.
Now looking at those covers, comparing burgundy to red, we might come to two different opinions about which shade is nicer. And if you prefer the burgundy, well, … you're wrong. Because let's face it, red is breathtaking and burgundy is blah. There aren't enough red Bibles around these days, and in an era of variety marked by lavish and often bizarre experimentation, there's really no good reason that this classic shouldn't be re-introduced.
So for inspiration, let's look at the two Eyre & Spottiswoode editions, newly arrived on my shelf thanks to the good offices of David Farlow. If you were paying attention to his auction links, then you had a shot at one of the Royal Sovereign KJVs. If not, here's what you missed:
Above: The Royal Ruby and the Royal Sovereign — "royal" presumably
because Eyre & Spottiswoode were Her Majesty's Printers.
Above: Bound in red fine grain morocco, leather lined, printed on India paper,
with gilt edges and double line of gilt around the inside cover.
As I mentioned before, when I posted a close-up of the Royal Sovereign's text setting, several of you immediately asked, "What's the Bible in that photo?" Trust me, the text setting is the most pedestrian aspect of the book. This edition has a real opulence about it. The color is perfect, the tightly grained cover feels great in the hand.
When I look at it, I remember the first time I saw House of Cards, the part where all the parliamentarians retreat to the party conference, toting those wonderful red briefcases. I lost all track of the plot paying attention to those things. There's something very British about this shade, if you ask me.
Above: The double gilt lints are visible on the inside cover,
and so is the line edging the outside cover, a nice touch.
Above: The original box.
Above: The title page. It looks like mine was passed by Inspector #5.
Above: A page spread. As you can see, those red letters are a little faint.
The second Eyre & Spottiswoode KJV is the Royal Ruby, a pocket-sized text-only KJV with a snap cover. Some people hate these snaps, but I think they're quite handy for a Bible you're likely to tuck into a pocket or toss into a purse or briefcase, since you don't have to worry about any damage being done to the pages. I have several larger Cambridge snap-cover KJVs, and now this one.
Above: The calfskin cover is nicely grained, though a bit stiff.
Above: It opens more or less flat in the hand, but it doesn't stay that way for long!
Of course, Eyre & Spottiswoode is no more, and so are the heydays of red. I don't understand what happened. Remember when car interiors used to be trimmed in red? Try to find one now. It's hard to think of another shade that possesses both high church liturgical cred and mod sixties swank. Instead of heat stamping unattractive decorative motifs into Bible covers, which is all the rage these days, why not a line of tasteful, classic, impossible-to-mistake-for-blah-burgundy red?
It occurred to me recently that you could sum up my soapboxing here with a simple formula. Take the covers, materials, and production quality of a half century ago and add the design and typographical sensibility of today, and you've got a perfect mix. (But then I realized, the typography I like is from half a century ago, too.) Red covers, unlike red letters, are definitely on the list of things to revive.