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 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 …