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:

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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: 

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Above: The Royal Ruby and the Royal Sovereign — "royal" presumably 
because Eyre & Spottiswoode were Her Majesty's Printers.

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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.

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Above: The double gilt lints are visible on the inside cover,
and so is the line edging the outside cover, a nice touch.

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Above: The original box.

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Above: The title page. It looks like mine was passed by Inspector #5.

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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.

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Above: The calfskin cover is nicely grained, though a bit stiff.

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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.

11 Comments on “Red Bibles Redux

  1. I did suggest to Mr Gray on a Red Goatskin/Calfskin ESV1… Leather lined in Red of course…

  2. It looks as though the black print as well is faint on the Eyre & Spottiswoode. Other than the red aspect, I’m kinda glad I wasn’t wasn’t a successful bidder on yours or the one Ben Ting got (check his blog). Oh well, they’ll be others!

  3. Nice spread, Mark. I still prefer a good brown cover, but red might make a strong second.

  4. Today I saw Moleskins in that red. Did you get one to go with them?

  5. OK Mark, exactly how many Bibles do you own? Because it looks like you own more red Bibles than all of mine put together!

  6. Mark,
    If you feel that those red letters above (on Red Bible #8) are faint….which bible has the brightest red letters out there?? You are right….red letters nowadays are burgundy or light pink and very difficult to read. Can you point me in the right direction? Btw, the above pix of red letters on #8 is that the same picture as the one on your opening page of this design blog? The one on the opening page seems darker and easy to read….are they the same bible with just different angles & closeups or are they different?
    thanks, Sylvia

  7. Just to be clear:
    red inside=generally undesirable
    red outside=exceedingly desirable?
    I rather enjoy ‘using’ a red-letter Bible (when doing a study/search) but ‘reading’ a black-letter Bible (and I trust the latter is the bottom-line of the post in addition to the theological pitfalls they present).

  8. I’m not sure what you mean by the “opening page,” Sylvia. Maybe you could point me directly to the photo you have in mind. I replied to your other questions via e-mail, but if anyone else is wondering: I can’t really recommend a “good” execution of red lettering, since this can vary from one copy to the next within the same edition.
    And mashmouth, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that red letter editions are undesirable. Some people grew up with that and assume it’s the “right” way — I get e-mail all the time from people suspicious of these “new-fangled” black letter editions — and a lot of vintage 20th century Bibles are only available in that format. But to me it’s less desirable. I like your distinction between using and reading … lots of features are helpful for “using” and get in the way of “reading.”

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