Hands On with The Arion Bible

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Last week, Mark Strobel and I visited the chapel at Luther Seminary for some hands-on time with a copy of the Arion Bible. (Copy #30, as you'll see below.) The massive two-volume letterpress edition doesn't come with a recording of angel voices that sing when the cover is opened, but I'm pretty certain I heard them anyway. The Arion Bible — or at least, one of its volumes — is usually displayed on a lectern near the chapel's entrance, as seen in the photo above. It's actually too heavy to be carried in procession. With each of us clutching a volume, Mark and I joked about whether it was too heavy to run away with. At least, I think we were joking. In the end, we managed to resist the temptation and be satisfied with some far-too-humble photos. 

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As the colophon below reveals, the Arion Bible is set in Romulus type and printed on mouldmade Somerset paper. The color cast in the photos is misleading. The paper is vividly white and the print is crisp black (apart from those beautiful red drop caps). Having spent some time with letterpress printing up close recently, I have a new appreciation for the tactile quality of books made the old way. To say that the Arion exudes quality, while true enough, is a paltry way of putting it. As you turn the pages, their weight in your hand, the way they fall curtain-like one upon another, is quite breathtaking. 

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A couple of things I didn't do with the Arion Bible: First, I decided not to test the flexibility with any Bible yoga poses. Second, it didn't seem appropriate somehow to whip out my Pigma Microns and test the paper's ink-holding properties. (I have it on good authority, though, that they're good.) Armed with my fixed lens camera, I had a hard time getting the whole Arion into the frame. I knew people would appreciate some sense of scale, though, so I placed a Cambridge Clarion KJV on top for comparion:

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And here's one more, without the cameraman's shadow:

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When speaking with Cambridge's Chris Wright about the line width of the Clarion, by the way, he shared a handy measure: an effective column width runs about 60-65 characters or so. (Counting characters and spaces is a lot easier than my usual practice of counting words, which, um, tend to vary in length.) By my count, there are about 90-100 characters in the Arion's column. You can count them yourself to double check. That seems too wide for me. Our tour guide confirmed that, when she reads from the Arion, it's necessary to use a finger on the line to keep one's place. I imagine the need to fit words on the page influenced the column width, just as it resulted in the Arion's versed text being set in two columns.

On the outside, we have a beautifully executed leather binding. I'm not going to wax eloquent about the need for more purple Bibles or anything. If it were me, I'd want that red stripe to take the lead. Having said that, the binding is really beautiful. There are a few water stains on cover which do not detract at all from its appearance. I love the deckled page edges, too.

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I want to offer a special thanks to Mark for making this visit possible. We had a wonderful time with the Arion, and in the process he turned me onto some additional letterpress marvels I'll share with you later. Thanks, Mark!

6 Comments on “Hands On with The Arion Bible

  1. It was a complete pleasure.
    The angel voices you heard were live. I heard them, too. To paraphrase Revelation 4, “And after this I looked, and there in heaven a book stood open.”

  2. Again, great review. But if you’re really wanting to give us a sense of the scale, we need something more universal for comparison (e.g. dollar bill or even your own hand). I don’t really know how big the Cambridge Clarion is. Just a suggestion. Thanks again for sharing these great reviews.

  3. Hi, I just have a general question: why aren’t there more two-volume editions of the Bible? It seems like a good idea in order to eliminate annoying bleed-through and small text.
    I’ve been looking for a two-volume edition, but obviously not as big as the Arion. I can’t find it anywhere. Oh well.

  4. This is an impressive bible, it’s too bad this method of printing has been supplanted by technology. A great loss for the world.
    That said, if I had to choose, I’d rather have this bible… http://www.saintjohnsbible.org/
    Hand written, now that’s impressive.

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