Single Column Legacy ESV (Part 2): The Margins

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Judging from early reactions, the aspect of Crossway's new Single Column Legacy ESV most likely to be misunderstood is the margin. On the outer and lower margins, 1.25 inches of white space buttresses the text block. As a result, instead of being centered on the page, the text gives the impression of cheating high and to the inside. The section headings and page numbers kick into the outer margin, but otherwise the blank space is available for notetaking. Ah ha! This must be a wide margin Bible!

By comparison, the ESV Wide Margin from Cambridge offers a bit more room on the outer margin and a bit less at the bottom of the page. The major difference, of course, is that the ESV Wide Margin features a double-column layout and smaller type (8 pt. Lexicon for the Wide Margin and 9 pt. Lexicon for the Single Column Legacy). As a result, while the white space in the Wide Margin must be used for notes covering, for example, John 1:1 to 1:37, the Single Column Legacy's white space only has to cover from John 1:1 to the first five words of 1:30. 

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Maybe that seems an unfair comparison, since the Legacy's book title is pushed farther down, so let's compare a couple more pages. The second page of John's Gospel runs from 1:38 to 2:23 in the Wide Margin, and from 1:30 to 2:9 in the Legacy. The third page runs 2:24 to 3:33 in the Wide Margin and 2:10 to 3:13 in the Legacy. The point is, the Legacy gives you roughly the same amount of space to make notes, and a few less verses per page to make notes on. Although the Legacy is about an eighth of an inch thicker, it's also about 1.25 inches narrower, as you can see:

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Legacy (left) compared to Wide Margin (right).

In other words, for the Legacy to have the same footprint as the Wide Margin, you'd have to add about an inch or so to the outer margin. That would be a lot of extra notetaking space — one of the reasons I would love to see publishers like Crossway and Cambridge pursue the idea of a wide margin, single column setting in the future. Imagine larger type and considerably more room for notetaking, and there you have it!

The advantage for those of us who do extensive notetaking would be immense, since traditional double-column wide margins require you to write notes on both columns in the same space, since even a generous inner margin is often a difficult place to write. If you have a note to make on John 1:14, using the photo above for reference, in the Wide Margin it has to share space with whatever you were going to note about John 1:33-34. Not so with the Single Column Legacy.

Of course, some of the Legacy's usable space is intruded upon by the section headings. The first thirty verses in John includes three section headings. Some pages have more, some less. The spread on pp. 1280-1281, which runs from Matthew 8:14 to 9:36, includes six section headings in the left margin and five more in the right margin (two of which run to three lines each). Then there are spreads like pp. 766-767, featuring Psalm 119:54-91, which have no section headings whatsoever. For someone hoping to use the Legacy as a wide margin edition, the latter spread is gloriously white while the former is almost too full already for anything to be added.

What were they thinking? The simple answer is, the Single Column Legacy is not a wide margin Bible. Yes, it has wide margins, but no, they weren't added for purposes of notetaking. To understand why the margins look as they do, you need to reflect on the ideal proportions of a book's layout.

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Above, I've reproduced a diagram from Designing books: practice and theory by Jost Hochuli and Robin Kinross, illustrating page proportions which locate the text column based on the Golden Section. There are similar charts in Jan Tschichold's The Form of the Book, and just about every other guide to book design, for that matter. But let's consider Tschichold for a moment, since he was name-checked in my interview with Crossway about the Single Column Legacy, and because the subtitle of his book — "Essays on the Morality of Good Design" — suggests just how seriously some of us take this stuff.

Math isn't my strong suit, but what those lines in the photo above (specifically, Figure 1) are doing is dividing the page into ninths. This is, according to Tschichold "no doubt the most beautiful" division, though there are others, and a designer bases the layout on the page proportion — 4:3, 3:2, etc. To the layman, the results look basically the same: the text columns are closer to the inside than the outside, and you get more white space on the sides and below the column. 

Here's an example from the world of fine printing. The book in the photo is the Merrymount Press edition of Against War, an essay by Erasmus. Like the Single Column Reference, it features wide outer margins (about 1.5 inches) and a generous lower margin (2 inches). Now, you might see a book like this and immediately think: "I could have someone cut the margins off and rebind this as a much smaller volume!" True enough. You could also pack more people into your church if you stuck chairs in the aisles. Not the most elegant solution, but not everybody cares about that. 

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For those of us who do, however, a more elegantly proportioned page is a more readable page. The ability to add notes in the margin is only a secondary benefit. In the photo above, you'll also notice that the title is printed (in red ink) in the outer margin, similar to the way the Single Column Legacy treats section titles. Why? Because they are — to use a term we don't employ often these days — marginalia. Traditionally, the margin is where notes are made, and where an edition's pre-made notes were printed. This is precisely the practice at work in another single column text setting, the Cambridge Clarion ESV:

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In this case, section titles are kept in the text column, and the marginal notes consist of cross references. The Clarion actually offers an inch of outer margin in comparison to the Legacy's 1.25, only it's almost entirely taken up by cross references. The "look" of the Clarion is more familiar to modern readers, because it's very unusual for commercial books to feature the golden proportion Tschichold and others advocated. When we design books, we often center the text column on the page more or less, keeping the top, outer, and bottom margins the same. When we open the Single Column Legacy, we only have two categories in which to place it: either it's a wide margin edition, or somebody needs to cut the margins off. 

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But before you undertake any drastic surgery, here's some advice: take and read. The page is beautifully proportioned, the text easy on the eyes, the margins more than adequate for realistic annotation but also a worthwhile feature for those of us who'd never dream of writing in a Bible. In design as in life, there's no such thing as perfection. This year, however, readers of the ESV are going to discover what KJV readers have known at least since the New Paragraph Bible: what it's like to experience well-designed and in this case classically-proportioned single column text settings. 

10 Comments on “Single Column Legacy ESV (Part 2): The Margins

  1. It’s an interesting design. It’s hard to judge by pictures alone. I will have to see the ESV Single Column Legacy Bible in person, to know for sure.

  2. HAHAHA
    “You could also pack more people into your church if you stuck chairs in the aisles. Not the most elegant solution, but not everybody cares about that.”
    My first thought was to chop that puppy up, but then after sitting down and reading it I fell in love. So I will keep her in one piece.
    The Legacy vs Clarion is an interesting match up: I imagine it is not like apples and oranges, but rather big apples and little apples. I am curious to know Mark’s thought on the preferred reading edition.

  3. SB, my understanding is that it hasn’t been cancelled, but the will be reprinted and ready for summer re-release. Apparently there is a type error in Exodus, although no one has said what that is. There are also some complaints of lines not matching in the ESV–I have not heard this with the KJV and my KJV Clarion is fantastic. The ESV Clarions are still floating around out there on British book selling sites although caveat emptor.

  4. I understand that Crossway are preparing a Journalling ESV with a single column setting. I have found the Journalling Bible to be of the most useful Wide margins around. Its major drawback is the double column setting. A single column setting allows notes to sit next to the relevant text, not a column away.

  5. Just received my copy of the ESV Single Column Legacy Bible, and am getting used to reading it. The only quibble I have at the moment is that the inner border of each column seems too close to the spine. Instead of lying flat,the text follows the downward curve of the page into the shadows of the binding, making it a bit harder to read (you can see what I mean in the photos above). Perhaps this will rectify itself as the Bible loosens up with use.
    Other than that this is very nice Bible. The font and layout are very readable, clean and uncluttered, and the single column is much easier on the eye than a double column.

  6. Does anyone know what exactly is supposed to be the printing problem with the Clarion Esv? Page number? Or reference? Rumours abound but no facts. I’d like to check the copy I have.

  7. Im wondering where you can buy the Cambridge wide margin in red, or is it a rebind?
    Thank you

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