The Case for Color (or “L’heure verte at BDB”)

Yesterday I shared my dream of having two single column ESVs, the Legacy and the Clarion, rebound in as hardcovers in matching green leather, which prompted commenter J. Kru to ask after the state of my cranial health:

But… did you say GREEN? A GREEN Bible? Did you hit your head or something? that's crazy talk. Next up: the Mars Hill Study Bible, bound in chain mail.

Now I can dish it out as well as I can take it. In fact, I'd like to think I can take it even better than I can dish it out. Lest rumors of my unhinged mind take hold on the Internet, though, I thought it would be worthwhile to explain my rationale. 

If you've been a reader for any length of time, you know that I don't subscribe to the Henry Ford theory of bookbinding ("any color you want, so long as it's black"). I wouldn't have made a very good Pilgrim, assuming you believe the Pilgrims only wore black apart from their shiny shoe buckles and their big white collars. Give me color any day! Which is why I've waxed rhapsodically in the past about sights like this:


And this:


And even this:


Take a look at a random assortment of fine old books and you'll discover a marvelous variety of colors, textures, and design. These were not the literary equivalent of the Model T, marching off the assembly line into a world where individuality and taste must give way to mass production. They were thoughtfully bound by hand for people who understood (and expected) the tactile pleasures of reading. And one of their go-to colors was the beautiful, evocative, ever-changing shade of green.

To illustrate the point, I pulled a bunch of books off my shelf, representative of the wide range of green bindings that were once commonplace:


Some are sun-faded to the point they almost appear brown. Others are olive, others a deep, saturated green. The elaborately bound copy of Religio Medici (turned so that the side faces the camera) dates from the 1920s, its smooth texture putting me in mind of a green banana. Just as in the brown, red, and blue photos above, the shades vary richly. A grouping of black volumes doesn't quite do the same. 

Back in the day, green was not an uncommon color for leathergoods in general. For example, Compton Mackenzie, in his memoir on smoking, recalls having had a green monkey-skin tobacco pouch as a young man. (Don't worry, I won't be including one of those in the next photo. A man who cherishes a banana-green book can't afford to alienate the simian community.) But I do have a faded leather club chair that makes for a pleasant reading nook:


Good place to read a book. (Note: The chip in the marble tabletop wasn't me.)

The chair illustrates one of the things I love about green leather, the way it ages to reveal so much depth of color. You see that in old books, as well. It's the first thing I thought of when I saw the 17th Century Parson style rebind from Leonard's with its rich variation of brown hues. Wouldn't it be cool to have the same thing in green? And in hardback like the other green volumes on my shelves. 

Green is making a comeback in the wider world. Buy yourself a pair of these shoes, for example, and in addition to seeing what your spouse looks like when she's apoplectic, you can forever after convince yourself that in ordering every R. L. Allan edition that catches your fancy, you're still being thrifty. (A green chromexel "stash wallet" might deliver similar benefits for less.)

The point is, there's nothing particularly strange about binding a Bible in green leather. Case in point: a Cambridge Pitt Minion KJV in green French Morocco:


This story is going to break your heart. More than a decade ago, a friend of mine who managed a bookstore got in the habit of buying skids of discount books direct from Baker, which distributes Cambridge Bibles in the US. (In the interests of full though irrelevant disclosure, Baker also owns the publisher of my crime novels, Bethany House. I'm not sure whether the connection between this J. Mark Bertrand and that J. Mark Bertrand has yet been made.) One day, I walk into the store and there's a jumble of variously colored Pitt Minions in the discount bin: burgundy, blue, green, all of them printed in Belgium and bound in flexible French Morocco. No boxes or anything, they're just shrink-wrapped to protect the pages.


The price? Let's just say they were sub-$20. The only flaw I could find was that they didn't open flat. The inner margins were tight enough to obscure the text, but with use that would ease up a bit. What was I to do faced with all these Pitt Minions? At the time I was teaching a Sunday School class. I showed up the followed week with a bunch of red, blue, and green Pitt Minions saying, "Who needs a Bible?" 

I'm not claiming I was the best Sunday School teacher ever, but did yours ever give away Pitt Minons? Just saying …


The soon-to-release R. L. Allan ESV Compact Text Edition will be available in sea green Alhambra goatskin, in addition to the splendid red, brown, and yes, black editions. As those of you familiar with the Interregnum are well aware, sea green was the signature color of the Levellers, a radical bunch whose crazy tents included universal male suffrage, religious freedom, and an end to debtor's prisons. I'm not sure whether the Allan's sea green will resemble the same shade of sea green the Levellers wore on their ribbon armbands, but I do know you can enjoy the new color without subscribing to their utopian political ideals.

But seriously, can I just say how thrilled I am at the way R. L. Allan has embraced the idea of color in Bible binding? To have such a wide range of options — executed with such quality — takes the edge off my nostalgia for the "good old days" of printing.  




So yes, I do think a green Bible would be very attractive. And I haven't sustained any head injuries recently, or fallen from a great height. Far be it from me to insist that everyone have the same taste — I'll leave that to the Henry Fords — but I happen to enjoy the variety. As far as study Bibles bound in chain mail go, that's just ridiculous. 

Although, come to think of it …


30 Comments on “The Case for Color (or “L’heure verte at BDB”)

  1. That exquisite two volume edition of Walter Pater’s Marius has me turning green. Reminds me of a description of Oscar Wilde’s library complete with show volumes of a number of works while he stashed penny copies for actual reading and study.
    Right behind you with the colors. Let them bring back those beautiful yellow bindings from the 1880’s, or a whole series of quality colors like Lang’s Fairy Stories.

  2. Now THAT kind of green looks great. Very attractive. Thanks for clarifying.

  3. Next you’ll be condoning burgundy! (or, worse yet, white!) The light of the gospel shines forth from God’s Word most brightly when it is set against the stark contrast of a black leather binding.

  4. I’ve been wanting a green NASB for a very very long time. But that ESV in green just might make it to my shelf.

  5. You have a problem with white, Steve? What about the robes of the saints? 🙂 To be honest, given the choice between a nice black and a plummy, dark burgundy, I’d choose the black. As for the idea that “the light of the gospel shines forth” best with a black cover, I think you’re reading too much into John 1:5!

  6. I own a green Vulgate from the USB. It’s not leather, just a mottled hardback, but it looks nice enough to make me respect green Bibles.

  7. How timely… The Allan ESV Compact Sea Green Highland Goatskin is available for pre-order. Curious what “sea green” looks like.

  8. Funny you should mention the green Rancourt beefroll pennies — I own exactly that pair! Anyway, in light of your article and “bad pilgrim” commentary, you might want to change your bio photo on this blog — in which you are wearing BLACK!

  9. Mark, you should open up your own Library. I am sure there are many people here, who would gladly make a donation, to be able to borrow a few of those pretty books.

  10. Sadly, I know many people who would benefit from one of those Battlezone bibles. Mainly, the ones who have the bible as an accessory, and leave them on their car dashboards, letting the Sun melt them away.

    • My wife and I gave a Battlezone Bible (or something similar to it) to a friend of ours who was entering the Army. We reasoned that it might save his life one day…in more ways than one.

  11. Mark, I’ve got two Bibles in green. Both were rebind projects, one using hard boards, and I enjoy both of them. The hard board rebind is easier to handle and read from various positions compared to the soft (limp) rebind. Plus, I really like the convenience of being able to store the hard board Bible vertically on a bookshelf. I’m finding it more bothersome to dig for horizontally stacked Bibles stored in their protective boxes for everyday use. Bonus credit….now that the “green” environmental movement is here, I’m environmentally savvy too. BTW, these green Bibles have a real nice contrast with RL Allan’s tan color. Be interesting to see the shade of green forthcoming from RL Allan.

  12. BTW, Nick Horween is just around the corner from me. Should pay him a visit!

  13. My 3rd Bible, when I was still a young man, was a green Living Bible. Still see a few of those. And it was hard-bound!

  14. /me wonders if that dark avocado skin cover of the 1970’s living bibles counts as green. Oh don’t forgettable the gidions have that electric/lime green new testament cover. But somthing between those would nice. As for the chain mail bible. Allwe can hope and pray is tha mark Driscoll does not read this. He might try to do one.
    I a thinking about starting a new bible collection. Color coding version bl leather. Black ( of course) for king jimmy. Tan nkjv. Brown for esv. And don’t know for nasb.

  15. Ha! I guess those green ones aren’t so bad, although I’d still have to go for a red or black myself. But that metal one… is that aluminum or steel? Maybe I could get my name etched in the cover? What a day, when you have to worry that your Bible could be rusting.

  16. You’ve made me realize that I own two green Bibles:
    the KJV Transetto in green, which seemed even in the website pictures to be more attractive than the blue or the purple, and
    an NEB (with Apocrypha) 1970 Oxford & Cambridge hardback with uncluttered single paragraph layout, which is not a thing of beauty but opens really flat.
    But then I’m not a collector and tend not to indulge in leather.

  17. Mark, I am totally with you on the green thing!!! I preordered the Allan sea-green ESV compact,and am waiting with excitement to see the resulting color. I personally love greens (I’ve heard it’s a sign of intelligence 😉 and wish there were more options of this color shade in well bound bibles. I always keep an eye out for finely bound bibles in the rarer colors (other than black and brown), and also love real reds. Your commentaries are interesting and insightful as usual!

  18. Ouch! I sure don’t like the teal ribbons with the olive cover. That Bible needed gold ribbons!

  19. I just received the green Allan ESV compact and love it! Neat to have a different color. Typical excellent Allan binding. The type is very easy to read for such a compact bible, and the ghosting is minimal. At bedtime I like to read in bed in a supine positon and can easily keep this bible open with one hand without fatigue due to its light weight, suppleness and flexibility. I wear cargo pants all the time, including to church, and this bible fits easily into the pockets. One of my daughters has already put in a request for one. I anticipate that I will buy several of these for family members. Get one while supplies last!!! (at of course)

  20. I just found a green Pitt Minion KJV online which I ordered today.
    Should be the same as the one shown.

  21. I need a battlezone bible. I know someone who would love to have one.

  22. I visit your website several times a week to look and wish. I had a Scofield Bible years ago in green leather, and I adored it. Would snap up another green Bible in a heartbeat. On my way now to check out the one you speak of here. By the way, my favorite version is the NKJV- any idea why it is receiving so little attention, esp. in terms of quality bindings, and in color?(Just can’t see having a black Bible- reminds me of funerals). Love what you do for us here-

  23. Newbie question here: are Allan ESVs simply Crossway text-blocks in Allan bindings? Or does Allan print their own? Wondering if the Allan ESV Compact uses the same paper as the Crossway ESV Compact.
    When I see that Battlezone ESV it makes me wonder if Crossway’s Bible department forces its staff to work in two different offices: one for the crazies, one for the sane.

  24. Jbloodwo’s comment from 8 months ago suggests that he might colour-code his Bibles. That’s something I try to do, using the coding black (of course) for KJV, burgundy for NIV, brown for ESV, blue for NASB, and red for NKJV.
    My only green Bible is the original Living Bible (the Bathroom Bible). R L Allan intends to offer its successor, the NLT, in sea-green Alhambra goatskin … which will be hard to turn down!
    My only leather-covered RSV wore out, so my late father rebound it for me in black goatskin over hard boards. This doesn’t match the coding, but he could have bound it in Fire Bible orange and it would still be the most precious that I own.

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