The Pocket Canon Concept Revisited

Last week's piece about Chad Whitacre's edition of the gospels has me thinking about my favorite "portion" editions. The two that come to mind are pocket-sized, single column text settings perfect in every way for serious reading. Unfortunately they are also incomplete realizations of the concept.

First, there's the ultimate example, the Pocket Canon. Then there's Crossway's similarly-sized edition of the Gospel of John. (I have a copy of the Psalms, too, but I can't seem to locate it!) 


I call them incomplete realizations because there aren't editions available for every book of the Bible. You can go much farther with the Pocket Canon, but ultimately you run out of booklets. Since these little editions seem like a perfect way to read through the Bible, I wish someone would run with the idea and do all sixty-six books. 

What there is of them, however, is magnificent:


The Pocket Canon is slightly smaller than the Gospel of John, roughly the same size as the Apica CD10 notebook I was praising last week. I could see slipping Pocket Canon and Apica into the same pocket with ease, toting them around as I read and take notes on whichever book I happen to be on. These little volumes seem especially well suited to group book studies. You'd get each member a copy, just as you would in any book group, and voila!


There is, of course, nothing new under the sun. In 1917, as American doughboys shipped off to the trenches, the American Bible Society sent these tiny Army and Navy Editions along with them. I happen to have St. John and Proverbs, perfectly sized to slip into a soldier's tunic pocket. They're very thin, staple-bound with what appears to be a paper-backed linen cover. The only downside to this kind of portability it that I doubt one of these could stop a Mauser bullet. 


Unlike the Pocket Canon, which also uses the KJV, the text inside is not paragraphed. There is no celebrity introduction in front, either. For such a small edition I find the type quite readable. 


Admittedly, I have a soft spot for little booklets like this. I think Penguin 60s are the best thing ever, for example, and I have enough of them to prove it:


To me, the Pocket Canon illustrates that with a little thought and good design, a volume that's cheaply produced can also be a thing of beauty — and great utility. Perhaps some enterprising publisher will catch the bug and put out an entire pocket-sized canon. As Chad Whitacre demonstrates, the tools are readily available to us now. Maybe we should just make our own!

7 Comments on “The Pocket Canon Concept Revisited

  1. Hey, Mark–I don’t know if you’ve ever seen this 19th Century Moulton’s Modern Reader’s Bible :
    Baylor’s library had a full set (apocrypha and all) of these paragraph editions divided up into attractive little pocket sized volumes. The volumes were broken up into genre and then formatted to fit Moulton’s idea of how a modern equivalent would be laid out. It’s a bit hard to describe, but I think you’d have a great time perusing these little pocket volumes if you could get your hands on them. While it seems easy enough to find facsimile editions of the whole OT and NT via Amazon, I don’t know where you could get your hands on those old pocket editions, which were the real gems, imo.

  2. After a quick search, a quick correction: I think Moulton’s collection only included three Apocryphal books.

  3. H.Jim
    I posted on a comment on Whitacre Gospels thread about the Moulton series.
    The Moulton Modern Reader’s Bible was published as the entire Bible, set in literary format.
    There were several other editions. The Old Testament for Schools only included excerpts, not the the whole O.T.
    Links to digital online copies of the pocket books can be found at:
    Moulton’s Psalms are at:
    There are no verse numbers whatever. The book looks like a book of poetry, single column. If some of these poetical Biblical books by Moulton were published in a little larger format, say 5 x 8, they could be used today. The headings and literary structure of Moulton might be debatable.
    The prose books of the Bible done by Moulton are not as inviting. There are not many paragraphs, the Revised Version is used. I am not sure that it is more readable than a double column NIV.
    I have never seen any of these pocket Moulton’s available for sale. When I have seen them at libraries, some of the books have pages that are together and were not cut at printing.

  4. There are churches that are writing their own Bibles. The photos online look like big books. There is that big handwritten NIV for sale. But what about using pocket notebooks, like the Moleskine, or larger 5×8, to handwrite some of the smaller books of the Bible for one’s personal use? I have a pocket Moleskine in my pocket now that I am using for prayer.
    How did the saints of old carry around books of the Bible in their pocket or clothing? Did they write it out themselves? They didn’t have Moleskines. What did they use? What did they do before Gutenberg?

  5. I just got my first set today. I saw them on here last week and ordered them used – Like New – from Amazon. They had never been opened or read but they do smell like cigarette smoke. Yuck! I have them in a bag with an odor remover. Hoping it works!
    I’ve only started Revelations. The forward is quite heretical. Revelations itself has a easy to read typeface, and the book is slim and short.

  6. Interesting bit on the WWI pocket scripture portions.
    I have in my possession a WWII “New Testament Protestant Version”, “Presented by the Army of the United States”. It’s a small hardback. Page layout is very similar to what is pictured. There’s a note on the inside from FDR, and it was published by the US Gov’t Printing Office.

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