Beater Bibles 101: Compact ESV in British Tan Bonded Leather

How's this for a change of pace? Instead of a pristine, high-end edition, I'd like to introduce you to a cheap bonded leather Bible with a glued binding, a fairly typical representative of the type with one or two exceptions. This is the original Compact ESV in British Tan bonded leather, superseded a few years ago by the newer, larger Deluxe Compact with sewn binding. 


A thing of beauty? Not exactly. And yet, there is something to it, I have to say. While the materials and construction are unimpressive, this little Bible comes very close to my aesthetic ideal. The color of the cover is right — a mid-brown tan — and the warm gold ribbon is a perfect complement. The size is excellent, too: just 6" x 4" x 0.75", perfect for slipping into a jacket pocket. Back when I worshipped in a church with old fashioned pews, size really wasn't an issue, but now the chairs are stackable and there are move things to juggle in hand, so I really appreciate a pocket Bible.


One of the terms you'll hear collectors use often is "beater," the idea being that for everyday use instead of employing something valuable, you have a cheaper alternative at hand, one you don't mind messing up. If you're into watches, you might wear a Patek on special occasions and a Seiko every day. You get the idea. Personally, I don't subscribe to the theory. The point of quality in my mind isn't to remain intact … it's to hold up better to use. So every Bible is a beater Bible to me, or it's not worth having. 

Still, I don't treat every edition the same. I might use a nice Bible (and that use might equate to abuse in somebody else's book), but I still take care of it and don't expose it to ridiculous maltreatment. No, that sort of thing is reserved for a Bible like the Compact ESV. How do you know a Bible is a beater? When you don't bother to clean off the stains from where you spilled coffee all over it:


Yes, this is probably the nicest smelling Bible I have. Say what you want about the aroma of leather, it's nothing compared to coffee beans. The back quarter of pages was inundated by the spill, giving them a crispy, brown complexion. But that doesn't stop me from using it from time to time. This is one of those editions I misplace, forget about, and then rediscover and start using again. Not long ago I found it tucked into the bottom of the pouch behind the driver's seat of my wife's station wagon. Last Sunday I read the call to worship from it. 


For someone accustomed to quality, there's plenty not to like. The cover (above) has a mind of its own, and the edges have gotten a bit raggedy. The faux grain is kinda nice, though, and the fact that no pages have fallen out despite a lack of care is a testament to the power of glue. Maybe the fact that I've used this as more of a ready reference than a daily reader contributes to the longevity.


Ah, but will it open flat? Not of its own free will. Instead you get this funky half-open posture, which it'll hold for a couple of seconds before closing itself:


It's stands up straight, though:


And guess what? There is a way to make it open flat, it's just not pretty. The first step is to give the little Bible a newspaper roll, like so:


And the result is something like this:


For my purposes, though, the compact size and the fact that the bonded leather cover is flexible enough make this is a perfectly usable edition. The complaint about the Compact ESV was that the type was too small, and for sustained use that's probably right. However, I think there's something to be said for a Bible small enough for convenient use in worship, ready when needed and easily tucked away at other times. Which must be why I'm holding onto this thing. Sure, I wish it had the updated ESV text, and I wish the cover was calfskin and there were a couple more ribbons. For what it is, though, and for what it cost, I'm not complaining.



42 Comments on “Beater Bibles 101: Compact ESV in British Tan Bonded Leather

  1. That’s the one I carry to and from work in my bag every day. Sturdy little sucker, isn’t it?

  2. I got one of these for my then-girlfriend (now wife) several years ago. It’s served her well. She’s gone back to using her nearly 15-year old green bonded leather NIV for daily devotions (and despite the fact that it’s literally falling apart, I can’t convince her to let me get her a Bertrand-approved replacement!). However, we worship at an ESV-heavy church, so the Compact ESV is great for her to throw in her purse and take to worship once a week. Plus, the faux-grain tan bonded leather actually looks quite stately on the bookshelf.

  3. I’ve seen a good many Compact ESVs around — especially the TruTones — with the obvious signs of daily use, and they seem to hold up exceptionally well. My own little blue one is dang near indestructible, and is probably the best $15 I’ve ever spent.
    If the definition of quality is the ability to take abuse, then these little suckers are quality.

  4. Mark, in spite of its being bonded leather, it is an attractive little Bible, in appearance at least. And my co-worker and I agree that if you like the smell of spilled coffee that much, you’re our kind of guy!

  5. The ESV Compact in Brown has been my regular Bible for at least 3 years and I’m delighted to see it on the blog. It’s a nice little edition, though I blame the font for my need of reading glasses, but it’s practical and great for carrying to church. Mine might need a newspaper roll.

  6. Bibles like this are perfect for pastoral ministry. Along with surviving occasional coffee spills, they endure being dropped in snow banks or I can leave them behind in hospital rooms or on pastoral visits (either out of forgetfulness or as evangelism) and not panic the way I would if I misplaced my Cambridge Wide Margin or my favorite calfskin edition.

  7. My first ESV was the Tru-Tone version of this Bible. Like yours, mine has a way of disappearing and then reappearing just when I need it!

  8. I love my Trutone Compact ESV. With five kids and one on the way I can easily put it in my back pocket after the service since my hands are full of all the construction paper with glitter all over it.

  9. Hey nice, I have that one in black and I love it. I like the ribbon, I like the ESV translation. It fits PERFECTLY into my hand. Its just a great bible to haul around with you. That bonded leather feels stiff, but it certainly is sturdy.

  10. I would love to see the Deluxe Compact ESV in a high end binding. Any change Allan would take it on as the next project? I love my Deluxe Compact ESV – the font is much more readable than the original Compact ESV and the sewn binding makes it lie nice and flat.

  11. I’ve asked Nicholas from R.L. Allan to manufacture a pocket sized version twice in the last year and a half. The answer I’ve received is that they are dependent on the publishers to print a pocket version first. I was surprised, because I assumed this could be the basis for an R.L. Allan version provided it is Smythe sewn.
    Michael K.

  12. Mark – As a watch enthusiast, I would like to know what time piece is on the other end of that nice looking band?

  13. I had a Deluxe Compact ESV rebound by McSpadden in black calfskin with a full yapp. I really like it.

  14. Brian, did you have the pages of your Deluxe Compact sewn by McSpadden, or did you stay with the glued version?

  15. Great post! And a testament to bringing the conversation ‘down a notch’…much appreciated. Your post and some of the comments attest to the fact that perhaps this little Bible has a personality of its own?
    Reading this one had me a little nostalgic: I had this very Bible which I proceeded to lose doing youth ministry at church (something to do with a ‘finding Bibles and smuggling them’ activity). One day, as a very pleasant surprise while carrying out a stack of Bibles for a group of kids I located it again. It still fit right at home in the back pocket of my jeans!
    As this was several months later, I had already replaced it with the Deluxe Compact with the sewn binding. Thus, this little sucker ended up in the hands of a non-believer that I was witnessing to.
    May God continue to use this Bible for His glory, eh?

  16. You are right on point with this. I’ve got a black one and my wife a burgundy copy. Had them about since they came out. Even though we have scads of bibles around, including the personal size, the classic reference and others in ESV, of all type covers, we seem to use these two more than any others. They are just handy, so they get used. Thanks for the review, and your website.

  17. Matt, I have a Panerai 111 that has a very similar leather band. Not sure if it’s the one in the photo, but it’s a possibility.

  18. Mark,
    One of the best purchases I have made was a promotion at Family Christian Stores a few months back. They were offering the ESV Compact in black TruTone for $5, 2007 updated text, book introductions, and smyth-sewn binding! I kid you not. I think this was some sort of exclusive edition for that chain of stores, as I can’t find an ISBN anywhere on it. But something to keep your eyes open for if you have that store chain near you. This is my go-to “back pocket” Bible.

  19. Craig, Lifeway is running a sale very similar to what you’re talking about this month. They have several different styles of the ESV Compact with the book intros and the reading plans in the back for $5. These are glued, not sewn, but otherwise very similar. I got one each for my wife and two daughters, and they love them. They don’t mind the day-glo covers; in fact, that was the selling point for my 7- and 3-year-old!
    Sure, the baby can’t read yet, but what better way to learn than on an ESV? She’s just proud to have a “REAAAAL” Bible. 😉

  20. Correction: last night I manhandled my daughter’s Lifeway Special enough to see past the layer of glue at the top of the binding and was amazed to see intact signatures. Apparently they’re sewn!

  21. I find that either my Allan NRSV or my esv pitt are my best beater Bibles. those things are indestructible.

  22. Ryan —
    I’m trying not to be envious, but rather look forward to the day I can stress-test such fine merchandise. Way to rub it in, brother! 😉

  23. This is my beater. The zipper is great for protecting the pages from the coffeee…
    Product: ESV Compact Bible
    Product code: 101291028
    ISBN code: 9780564097739
    Price: $ 14.95
    Summary: High quality compact Bible; Handy to carry; Black leather cover with zipper; Gold stamping; Gilt edges; 11×17.5 cm; 1170 pages
    Description: Double column text, Table of weights and measures, Concordance, Textual footnotes, Cross-reference footnotes

  24. Jon —
    I’ve been looking everywhere for an ESV with a zipper! Thanks! Now, if only they ship south of the border …

  25. Yes, I was intrigued by the ESV zip too! Reminds me of my 1st bible as a child; as I recall the KJV was just replacing the Geneva at the time. Seriously, I’ve tried ordering one for shipment to USA from–I’ll report how that works. They also have them at the same low price (although out-of-stock for now) at and for quite a bit more at
    Just search for the ISBN 9780564097739. I was a little surprised they weren’t avail through

  26. So–is this zipper compact a genuine leather edition or a bonded leather edition?
    Wonder why they’re so hard to come by?
    I’m more a fan of the slide tab or snap flap, neither of which are readily available for the ESV. Maybe they’re falling out of fashion?

  27. At this price I’ll be happy if they’re a decent synthetic leather.
    Appears to be an edition only produced by the (Canadian) Bible Society. There are bible societies around the world (like ABS, TBS, etc) and most holders of copyrights (like ESV’s Crossways) probably give them a sweetheart royalty deal (like free) to produce custom editions of their works that they’d never give to a for-profit outfit like Nelson or Cambridge. Problem is you’d normally never hear about the works of the smaller, local societies.
    Great thing about this site is here’s where folks share “rare” editions like this. I’ve been nostalgic for a zip bible (like the TBS Windsor zip) and ESV is what my church uses so this is the one for me.

  28. Jon, Chris, and Bill–please do share more about the zip Bible, either here or on the fb page. I really may spring for this as my pocket Bible. Some key questions:
    * What exactly are the measurements (web-site measurements sometimes include the box and sometimes don’t).
    * What about the “guts” of the Bible? Is this a deluxe compact? A classic thinline compact? One of the Mardell/Lifeway exclusive compacts? Something else altogether?
    * Smythe sewn or glued?
    * Bonded or genuine leather? (I’m assuming it’s bonded leather, which is perfectly fine, b/c this item is simply described as “leather,” whereas the wide-margin directly below it has the added adjective “genuine,” making me think this zip Bible isn’t genuine).

  29. Oh, and is the text Anglicized? This wouldn’t be a deal breaker by itself for me, but is something I’d consider.

  30. Hi H Jim. Based on the page count, it’s probably just a compact. Like you say, dimensions can mean different things. Your other questions I probably can’t answer until I get one, assuming my International Internet Transaction goes through. If not Smyth-sewn, the spring-back could be a real pain, especially with the zipper getting in the way. Unfortunately I think that’s a real issue with many ESV Compacts.
    I was unaware of that Mardel-exclusive Compact. I didn’t see anything on Lifeway that looked like an exclusive model but perhaps they have one as well. The Mardel picture looked like the normal Compact diamond cover and was described as TruTone so I’m not sure what’s exclusive about it? Price is great, so I’d worry about cheap paper, etc. Can anyone comment about that? I suspect it’s still published by Crossway but just for Mardel. Kind of like pink Cadillacs for that cosmetic company.
    Speaking of Crossway doing exclusives, I have a “Lutheran ESV” bible that’s just a normal pew ESV, but bound with Luther’s Small Catechism in the back and in the “official burgundy color” of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod’s Concordia Publishing House. It’s not a terribly memorable bible for reading, but it’s a good conversation-starter at Lutheran Cocktail Hour, or gemutlichkeit as we call it.
    But I digress. Back to the zipper, do you have some proof-texts to prove/disprove the Anglicization? Color vs. colour, that sort of thing? Normally I wouldn’t care, but with this coming from Canada, and being somewhat exclusive, Anglicized text would add to the international intrigue of the whole thing. Yes, indeed, I’m thinking of my next gemutlichkeit.

  31. Bill–you’re too funy!
    The guts of the Mardel exclusive compact are completely unlike the other compacts or any other Crossway edition I’ve seen. It has book intros, like the Deluxe Compact, PSR, etc., but the pagination is different. The Bible is smaller than the original thinline compact, reviewed in this thread. It is definitely the smallest ESV I’ve seen. It has no concordance, maps, or ribbons. I think it had a reading plan, though. And, of course, the font size is smaller than the classic thinline compact.
    If you want the smallest ESV possible for a good price, the Mardell’s edition is the one to go with, I suppose.

  32. H Jim, Well it sounds like you’ve got a real conversation-starter too. You wouldn’t know from the Mardel site that their “exclusive” was actually “subcompact”–the dimensions they give match the other compacts. So is it red-letter? The garden-variety ESV Compacts are red-letter and the more-readable-in-every-way Deluxe Compacts are black-letter. Crossways appears to have discontinued most of their Compacts, including the nice brown bonded one Mark reviewed above.
    Venturing further into Bible Twilight Zone, that Concordia version of the ESV pew I mentioned has some funny details too. When you first look at it, it’s identical in page layout to a normal pew bible. But about 1 line per page gets “broken” differently–but they go out of their way to make sure the page breaks stay the same, even sometimes putting more lines per column than in the normal version.
    My eyesight isn’t what it used to be so a sub-compact is the last thing I’d want but I think this Mardel Exclusive Subcompact is very much something others would be interested in. There’s a pocket size ESV (might be NT only, I don’t recall) that my son has but it has almost laughably small print. It sounds like the Mardel is larger than that so seems to fill a hole in their model lineup.
    And the Mardel Exclusive is cheap too. Speaking of which, have you noticed the new “ESV Value Thinline” model? It’s a normal octavo 6×9 thinline with a street price 1/3 of the other stock models. Nothing on the top-level Crossway site about it (although a search by ISBN shows they have a listing for it.) Does anyone have one? How do they get the price that low? What’s missing? Besides red-letter text, hallelujah.
    So really, how can anyone keep all the different ESV editions straight any more, to say nothing of the “exclusives”. The ESV bible model lineup page ( ) is hopelessly out-of-date. They tend to drop the discontinued models but don’t add new ones. It’s hard knowing what’s available any more. And Amazon doesn’t capture the nuances of the differences of them very well.
    Since Mark has some clout with Crossway, maybe he can get them to update it.

  33. I received two “beater” compact bibles this week…
    The first is the compact zippered ELS mentioned above. Ordering was easy from Bibles Canada and I just paid standard shipping and it arrived in northern California exactly 2 weeks later. The frontispiece says “printed in China for the Bible Societies” and “production arranged by the British and Foreign Bible Society” which only partially explains why only the Canadian and Australian societies appear to have it. The only reference to Crossway at all was crediting them as the holder of the ESV copyright. Even the cardboard “J-wrap” cover that it was packaged in said
    It’s definitely a Deluxe Compact, contrary to what I stated before. The page count threw me off at first. There’s 1170 pages from Genesis to the last page of the concordance, but there’s 14 (xiv) pages of “front matter” so that gives the 1184 that Crossway quotes for the DC. Also, this zip has the book intro’s and the exact page layout of the Crossway DC sample file so although it’s not a Crossway product, it seems pretty clear Crossway provided the page file.
    Yes, the cover is leather, but seems more like shoe leather than a bible. Still, with care/treatment it should wear well. It’s smyth sewn starting at page 10-11 and proceeding in 48-page signatures after that. So it opens nicely, which is good, but the endsheets look like cheap black construction papers that would rip out easily, so overall this isn’t that strong a binding, although the zipper cover gives it a lot more protection that a normal cover would so it’ll probably be ok. It’s easy to repair endpapers anyway.
    So what’s not to like? The paper and printing! The paper has sort of the touch and color of newsprint. Bleedthrough is really pretty bad. You have to lift the page away from its neighbor to read it at all. Which leads me to the printing. It’s sharp enough, although the font was chosen for its beauty and not for it being bold enough to really aid reading by old eyes. I think the main problem is that the paper just isn’t white enough to give enough contrast with the print, but the initial impression is that the ink isn’t black enough. Maybe a combo of the two.
    Joseph’s robe in Ge 37 is of many colors, not colours, so I assume this isn’t Anglicized. The other question was dimensions. The zipped-up size is 4-5/8″ x 6-15/16″. The trim (page) size is 3-3/4″ x 5-15/16″. The inner (gutter) margins are a generous 3/8″, the top & bottom are ~1/4″, but the outer margin is only 1/8″ so don’t expect to write many notes in this thing.
    If you must have an ESV with a zipper, then this is the Bible for you. But the paper stinks. There are a lot better ESV’s and if you must have a zipper to relive childhood memories like I did, then I’d suggest the TBS Windsor Calfskin Zip for $30. You waste a bit of room with a zipper too, so I’m not sure it goes well with a compact bible anyway. Sort of like full yapp on a compact.
    The second compact I wanted to mention is a model EN1008 KJV bible from the Mennonite publisher TGS International. They’re selling out for $8 + $3.50 shipping and it’s a very nice Bible indeed. The cover is black bonded leather (no prideful calfskin from TGS!) but it feels fine to me although it may be a little stiff for some on this site. The endpapers are strong leather-grained vinyl. The hinge design is delightful, at least as good as a Cambridge. The pages are smyth-sewn in 32-page signatures. The frontispiece says “printed in Japan” and the paper and type quality are superb. A little ghosting, but lift the page and you’re good to go. To add to the allure, there’s no ISBN or publication date mentioned anywhere in the volume or on their website. Hey, the KJV is timeless.
    It’s paragraphed-format, something a bit rare in a KJV, but it’s paragraphed by chapters, not by thought. Furthermore, unlike the gorgeous Moser Pennroyal Caxton, there’s not even a pilcrow to be found to indicate thought or location changes. The only section headings are at the chapter breaks. There’s also no “pronouncing”, implied italics, or red-letter text, just a clean, neat, attractive 2-column layout of ~8 words per line. Yes, it’s unfortunately versified, but the numbers are light, superscripted, and don’t interfere too much with reading. Sure the paragraphed format will add a full second to your sword drill times, but the beauty is well worth it.
    I now have several of these 16vo compacts and, in terms of easy reading, this is number 2 only to a World Publishing NRSV that has a font similar to a Brevier Boldface, which Mark hates. In other words, for old eyes, there’s no substitute for throwing lots of ink on white pages. This KJV doesn’t go that route, choosing an attractive font on good paper instead.
    If you love the KJV, then your glove compartment shouldn’t be without one of these, especially at $8. It’s a Bible you just want to pick up and read, even it it’s too small to read for long stretches. And it’s got a nice, red ribbon too. Those haughty Mennonites!

  34. couple corrections to the above… Of course, ELS should be ESV (I had Norwegian Lutherans on my mind) and it turns out from the printed invoice included in the packing that shipping to the USA for that Zipper ESV was $13, not the “standard shipping” the initial email made me think I was paying.

  35. Thanks for the thorough reviews, Bill! While I like the idea of a compact Bible with a zipper — I tend not to baby my pocket Bibles even a little bit — our comments on the paper (and the $13 shipping) have put me off this particular one. For the price of the Bible and shipping, I could buy at least one easier-to-read Deluxe Compact. Two if LifeWay or Books-a-Million is having one of their periodic sales.

  36. @ Bill, well thanks to your review I went and bought one of those TGS KJV paragraph bibles. I must say it’s a nice little edition. It’s actually the first one like this I’ve seen. For what I paid for it a very good bargain!

  37. Another option in non-KJV zippered bibles is the British Tan TuTone NLT, called a personal size, but with a Trim Size of 4 3/4 x 6 7/8 inches and 8-point font it’s a little bigger than most compacts. I’m not crazy about the wavy seam across the front but it beats the Tyndale “camo” versions in pink and black that are also zippered. seems to have the best price at <$30 with shipping; search by 9781414306360, the isbn, and ye shall find.

  38. Great feedback guys!
    A bit late getting back to the conversation myself (been away on vacation), but I wanted to comment that for this reader, I did not the zipper ESV to have anything that bothered me in the way of bleed-through. I am not very picky about those things, and it has not been a distraction.
    As for writing notes in the margins. On this trip I have been jotting down notes and using this zipper bible as a wallet to hold all the papers in place (careful not to spill them of course) 🙂

  39. I asked back in May about the Crossway ESV Value Thinline as a Beater at $13 retail, $10 street. When I found one for $8 I decided to take a chance. Wow, very nice text edition of the ESV! No red-letter, no presentation pages, not even a ribbon, but the binding is excellent with gilded page edges to boot. Looking more closely, it’s bound in 24-page signatures, not the standard 2^5=32, so that might be why it just seems to open nicer than most Bibles. Compared to my USA-printed Crossway SCR (bound in 64-page signatures by the way) everything is comparable (including cheap end-papers) with the exception that the paper in the 4x more expensive SCR has a nicer finish. Still the paper in the cheap one is fine, ghosting is acceptable, and the font, given as 8.2 points, is very readable with good line- and letter-spacing. Inking uniformity is excellent throughout. This doesn’t have the Crossway book intros, but hey, those belong in study bibles anyway. The Trutone is a nice matte, not shiny, responds well to ArmorAll, and although the covers were a little stiff out of the J-wrap, working them a little bit yields what I think is a nicer cover overall than my “portfolio” SCR.
    The only quality issues, and this might have been why mine was an extra $2 cheaper than most, was the rear end-paper needed a little extra PVA to the back cover and the spine embossing was off-center by ~1/16 inch. Incidentally, the fontispage says “Printed in China”, and even the very inner edges of the individual signatures have Han characters visible to aid the locals in assembly. I think there’s been some negative comments before here about the quality of the Chinese bindings? Well, I’d say they’ve got the hang of it now.
    I got the black one; my theology would have preferred a cross over flames on the cover, but there’s always the “chestnut filigree” option I suppose!

  40. I had an ESV compact like this and loved it. However, I have lost it. In short, are you aware of any of this “old school” size and make still being sold?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *