Arion Press Lectern Folio Bible (NRSV)

Write what you know. My professors tried to drill that dictum into my head, and while I haven't always abided by it, here at Bible Design Blog I try. Ordinarily I don't write about editions I haven't seen for myself. I've learned from hard experience not to hype things before they're printed, because they don't always measure up. And I've learned not to praise an edition based on the photos alone. If I can't get a review copy and I'm not willing to spring for it myself, I try to keep my mouth shut.

More or less. There are exceptions to every rule, and I'm about to make one. I recently enrolled in a class on letterpress printing, and in honor of that anachronistic fact, let's talk about what has to be one of the most magnificently quixotic Bibles in existence, the Arion Press Lectern Folio Bible. 

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I have never seen one in person, though I have seen the prospectus. Given the fact that the unbound pages alone cost over $7,000, I certainly don't own one. In the spirit of cheekiness, I suppose I could shoot them an e-mail and see if they'd send one for review, but I just don't have the nerve. So I don't have any good photos to share, but thanks to CBS Sunday Morning, here's some video:

As the self-described "King James man" in the video says, this will probably be the last Bible ever printed from lead type, a book-end at one end of a period in history that began with Gutenburg in the fifteenth century. For those of you who dislike the tiny font in most Bibles, this one is set in 16 pt. Romulus type. (Even the notes are large print by Bible standards at 11 pt.) Worried about ghosting? Don't be. This book is printed on "Somerset, a mouldmade paper of 100% cotton fiber." 

In the second video, Andrew Hoyem gives some insight (starting at about 5 min 30 sec) into the challenges of the design process:

Letterpress is to today's digital printing what vinyl is to digital music. Some people will never notice the difference, and for them the laborious process of creation and the resulting expense make no sense at all. But if you can see the difference, it's hard not to be in awe of what Arion Press has done. This is printing as art — an "exacting and repetitious" art. The remarkable thing is to realize that until quite recently, this is how books were made.

While there's been a recent revival of interest in letterpress printing, the emphasis tends to be more on small jobs like wedding invitations or greeting cards. The new movement seems very much in the spirit of John Ryder's classic Printing for Pleasure, which advises right at the outset that you not get bogged down in attempting to print books. It's simply too much work! Even so, Ryder goes onto concede there might be pleasure in such work, giving a description I imagine the artisans at Arion Press could relate to:

"The slow business of building up words and lines and pages can become tiresome but on the other hand the very fact of knowing exactly where you are going and that the going is steady and long-lasting may very well appeal. Here is something absorbing, creative, perhaps soothing, that will occupy hand and mind for a long time. Growth of the work will be slow but the finished product, provided that a text worthy of the labour has been chosen, may well be rewarding."

Only 400 copies of the Lectern Folio Bible have been printed, and after ten years there are still some available. Depending on the options you choose, the price runs anywhere from $7,000-$11,000. I've always wanted a proper lectern Bible for my office (and a lectern to put it on), but if I were to splash out for one of this quality, the odds of my living to enjoy it would be slim. Even so, the thought that there are people who would undertake such a task and that there are others who will enjoy it makes me very happy indeed. If any of you have seen one of these in person, I would love to hear about it.

4 Comments on “Arion Press Lectern Folio Bible (NRSV)

  1. I made a field trip to Arion Press while on sabbatical in northern California a few years ago. I picked up a couple copies of the prospectus at the time and every now and then I pull it off the shelf to admire the letterpress work, especially how the letters seem to be alive on the page.
    The book itself is breathtaking. However, it’s one thing to see it at Arion. It’s quite another thing to see it used as intended. Luther Seminary in St Paul has an Arion edition that they use for daily chapel.
    We could meet halfway and make a run to St Paul before the snow flies.

  2. That’s a thought. My letterpress class is in Minneapolis, so maybe I’ll have to swing by. Thanks, by the way, for the prospectus. I think you should pick up a copy of this Bible and bring it down so I can snap pictures!

  3. When I saw the title, I was so hoping you had gotten one of these. Back when I first got interested in quality Bibles, every this Bible was at the top of any Google search related to ‘world’s best Bible’ or ‘nicest Bible ever made.’

  4. A nice lectern Bible used to be a reasonable gift to leave in memory of a deceased loved one. And even a sum of ~10k$ isn’t out of reach for a great many estates in a typical American congregation.
    Unfortunately, the multiplicity of translations makes such an investment troublesome. For every congregation that uses NRSV, there’s another that hates it. Church bodies “adopt” and “drop” translations as fast as they change pastors or hymnals, assuming they even still use hymnals, which certainly can’t keep up with the Top40 Contemporary Christian music ditty.
    The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the Word of the Lord will be revised as quickly as the market will bear. The Arion Bible is out of place in our world of throw-away Bibles. Perhaps it’s time to re-think that.

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