R. L. Allan Compact Text (ESV) in Black, Brown, Green, and Crimson Goatskin

The original Compact setting of the ESV was so tiny and hard on the eyes that, the first time I visited Crossway, they cried mea culpa when the subject came up. Just to show how out of step I am, the reason I brought the little Bible up was to lavish praise on its portability. I've always been a fan of tiny Bibles. Remember the snap-closure Bibles they used to sell that were so small they came with magnifying glasses? Normal people saw this and thought, "Something has gone terribly wrong in the world." Me, I was delighted. In an anticipation of my future life as a Bible design blogger, my first question was whether, if you tried these things out in the sunlight, the pages would burst into flame.

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Crossway replaced the original setting with the Deluxe Compact, which featured darker and larger print at the expense of a slightly larger overall footprint. I liked the result so much that I had one rebound in tan pigskin. Now, R. L. Allan has come out with line of exquisitely bound editions of the text setting, available in four colors: black, brown and crimson Highland goatskin, and (a new addition to the line) sea-green Alhambra goatskin. Now called the Compact Text ESV, they are available from R. L. Allan direct and at EvangelicalBible.com

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Featuring the revised 2011 ESV text, these Bibles start with Crossway's standard text block, which is printed in China. The paper appears off-white, especially in lower light, and there is noticeable bleedthrough, particularly in verse passages. 

As you can see in the photo below, the Compact Text is a two-column, paragraphed setting without references. At 7 pt., the type is crisp but small. Make no mistake, if you have difficulty reading fine print, this is not the right Bible for you. No typographical magic exists to compensate for aging eyes. If you can handle the print, however, the Compact Text has a lot to offer. 

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If you ignore the difference in text settings, a good way to think about the Compact Text ESV is this: It's an Allan Reader's ESV zapped down to miniature size. You get the same range of features : the limp goatskin binding with leather lining, three ribbons, art-gilt page edges, semi-yapp cover, even the additional lined notepaper in back. Only the 6" x 4" form factor makes everything so … cute

Later in the week, we'll compate the Compact Text to its obvious rival, the Cambridge Pitt Minion. For now, one anecdote that illustrates the quality of the Allan binding. When the Compact Texts arrived from Glasgow, I handed them one-by-one to my wife and asked her to pick a favorite color. Then I handed her my brown Pitt Minion along with the brown Compact Text. "Which one would you choose?" Like a sensible person, she looked inside. It was a no brainer: the Pitt Minion was much more readable for her. Handing them back, though, she asked to see the Compact Text again. "If it was just about the aesthetics, this would win hands down." She could hardly make out the words, but was tempted to choose that one anyway. Behold the power of Highland goatskin and three golden ribbbons.

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Because I received the black review copy a few weeks prior to the others, I had a chance to spend more time with it. Typically, if there's a choice of color, black doesn't appeal to me much. Without a choice, I found myself re-evaluating. The black goatskin cover paired with blue ribbons is truly elegant. Nine times out of ten, when it comes to Bible binding, black is blah. It's the knee-jerk, traditionalist wrapper, about as intentional as the scuffed black dress shoes at the back of your closet you only wear at funerals. Here, however, black is beautiful. 

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Since the Pitt Minion mates perfectly with my personal-sized Filofax, I wondered how the Compact Text would pair up. It's thicker than the Pitt Minion, but also shorter and narrower. I've tended to think of the two formats as roughly equivalent, but the Compact Text feels like a smaller Bible. As a result, things that carry easily in the hand along with the Pitt Minion feel too large for the Compact Text. This should help illustrate the point:

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The Compact Text (top) may sport some additional girth, but it's a good half inch narrower and shorter, which makes it feel substantially smaller. The Pitt Minion's wider pages probably handle better — but then, that's one of the trade-offs when you sacrifice size for portability.

One of the things I have always admired about R. L. Allan's UK-bound ediitons is the level of fit and finish that goes into the covers. They remind me of vintage deluxe editions (like this Eyre & Spottiswoode) much more than they approximate their contemporary rivals. Refined without being showy, they exude old world elegance. Of course, the cover is only part of the story. A beautiful binding can't transform a poor text block. In this case, I give the overall effect a thumbs up.

I also appreciate the fact that, as the covers change, so do the linings: black for black, red for red, brown for brown, and green for green.

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Highland goatskin is a term of art R. L. Allan uses to describe natural grain goatskin. In other words, this leather has not been stamped with an artificial grain pattern. Rather, it's natural grain in all its wonderful, organic asymmetry is on display. This allows the leather to remain limp (the process of imprinting grain uses heat, which stiffens the skin) and ensures irregularity. The covers show similarities, but they also differ from one another substantially.

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The sea-green Alhambra goatskin cover, by contrast, features a much more regular grain, without the fissures and creases you find on the natural skin. While the imprinting hasn't resulted in a stiff leather — handling the two types, most of us wouldn't notice the difference unless it was pointed out — in addition to the regularity of grain, the cover possesses a crispness the natural goatskin doesn't. 

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Perhaps the best way to observe this quality visually is to compare the semi-yapp edges. The red cover, which was cut slightly larger than the others, curves more substantially and puckers quite a bit near the top of the spine. The black and brown are less pronounced, but you'll notice a soft, uneven look to the edges. By contrast, the green cover looks very clean and regular. 

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Perhaps this qualifies as splitting hairs, but people often ask me about the difference between natural grain leather and printed grain skins, so I figured I would chime in here. In my world, there's a place for both. The differences are aesthetic, not qualitative. 

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All of the Compact Texts come with three ribbons. The black and red covers have blue ribbons, the green has green ribbons, and the chocolate brown cover comes with gold ribbons. I'd be hard pressed to choose a favorite; however, while I could imagine the other colors working with a different shade of ribbon, to me the brown-and-gold pairing is ideal. I've never seen any color paired with brown that I preferred to this. Happily, a number of R. L. Allan's latest chocolate brown bindings come with these gold ribbons.

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The Compact Text ESV is clearly a niche editon. I can't imagine very many people embracing it as their one-and-only. Having said that, the fact is, you could. This would make a great Bible to travel with, a great everyday companion. I would bring it to church in a heartbeat, knowing the small size wouldn't get in the way as I juggled hymnal, order or worship, and whatever else I happened to have at hand. As you read this, I am traveling cross country lecturing at Worldview Academy, and the Compact Text ESV is the Bible I've taken with me. 

While it probably won't replace your full-size edition and it isn't as optimal for pure reading as the Legacy and Clarion ESVs, the beautifully appointed Compact Text is smaller, more portable, and up to the job.

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29 Comments on “R. L. Allan Compact Text (ESV) in Black, Brown, Green, and Crimson Goatskin

  1. Great review, as always. This is the Bible for which I’ve been waiting since I first learned of R. L. Allan — through your blog — and having used one as my constant companion and daily reader for the last couple of months I can only say it was worth the wait. Your comment that it feels like a small Reader is spot on.
    Personally, I prefer it to the Pitt Minion, largely because unlike the Pitt it fits in my pocket, but also for the way that the layout seems more open and readable to me. This may be due the fact that I’ve used Crossway Compacts since I discovered the translation in 2006, so it feels familiar where the Pitt didn’t.
    In any case, I couldn’t be happier, and I’m looking forward to the comparison review with the Pitt!

  2. Thank-you very much Mark, for the time and thought you put into this. A wonderful ministry! I’ve noticed, however, that the reviews are no longer showing up on the right hand column under “Bible Reviews.” They seem to have stopped at the Transetto review. That column is very handy when you want to check up on an edition you’ve previously reviewed.

  3. After reading this blog for few years, finally, I placed an order for my first R. L. Allan Bible after reading this post. Love to see it on my hands soon. Thanks for the posts from Mark, and the comments from everyone.

  4. Mark
    I’m trying to share/reblog this post on my blog, but I can’t seem to figure out how. Any help? Feel free to PM me on facebook–probably a more convenient venue for this kind of question.
    Thanks!

  5. Darling ! I shrank the LongPrimer !!! I received my ESV Compact Text, and it looks so beautifull. In proportions it looks much like a small Longprimer ├ędition. It’s very easy to read, it’s the perfect carry-on Bible. I own a Pitt Minion and an Allan ESV Personnal edition, but the Comapct text is far the best of all three to carry everywhere. Plus, the semi yap is more protective than the covers of the two bibles I just mentionned… Now, it’s my favorite companion, with me day and night !

  6. Received a copy of the ESV compact text Bible today. The cover and binding are truly superb. The print, though small, is bold and very readable. Only minor defects are in the art gilding–the red appears in small blotches in some sections of the lower part of some pages below the text, and the gold overlay had a small mar that detracts from the visual beauty of the gilding. Minor issues that do detract a bit from the praise lavished on RL Allan.

  7. Hello all! I am a new reader to Mark’s blog and have greatly enjoyed his insight and the positive stream of comments given by readers. I am hoping I can find some help on a bible search I’m on. I am looking for a hardcopy or other inexpensive compact ESV with either an all black or all brown cover. I can’t find any that fit that description. This bible will complement the Allan ESV1r I recently purchased. I love the ESV translation and would like a cheap compact version to bring to work. Any and all help is appreciated! God Bless!

  8. Allen H, did you check out http://www.crossway.org/bibles/ under Browse Editions?
    The 4×6 Compacts (6pt font) in TruTone (flexible cover) are ~$21 new. They have a couple all brown or all black covers, although with either a distressed crown-of-thorns or celtic cross imprint–unobtrusive but not totally plain either. Unless your eyes are awfully good, I’d sure recommend the only-slightly larger LPC (large-print-compact) with 8pt type at the same price. I’m partial to their completely plain, tasteful coffee-color.
    They still have lots of PSR (personal-size-reference) bibles in the 5×7 format, although I’d urge waiting another month for the replacement PRB (personal-reference-bible) that’s the same size but quite a bit more readable with 8pt font. Note these feature a single wide column for text and a narrow column for refs. Many here have strong opinions for or against this layout.
    If you’re looking for really inexpensive, it’s hard to beat the price of the 6×9 Value Thinlines at <$15 new. It comes in a plain black with distressed “flames” or a brown/chestnut with a somewhat busy filigree pattern.
    These are all fairly nice, sewn Bibles, just with cheaper covers and Chinese assembly. If you search this blog, you’ll find detailed discussions of most of these.

  9. Bill, thank you for your thorough response. I appreciate your time and kindness. I’ve looked everywhere I could on Crossway, this wonderful blog, as well as christianbook.com and evangelicalbible.com for information regarding the current PSR, the new PSR due out soon, the compact and the deluxe compact. My preference is to find a Bible that is as small as possible but still has a completely plain black or brown cover. If possible, I’d like to find one that is smaller than the PSR (5×7). Unfortunately, the only black or brown compact (4×6) options that I’ve found have the crown of thorns or other designs. Due to my restrictive criteria, these are removed from consideration. Your idea about the large print compact (4.5×6.5) was a great one! While it is an increase in size from the standard sized compact, it is still
    smaller than the PSR and it looks like I would have a choice between the coffee and charcoal covers.
    Question for you or anyone who has used a large print compact ESV with a TruTone cover…Do they open flat?
    Thanks again for any help that can be provided. I have spent more time in the word with my new Allan ESV1 than I ever have before and I am very excited to have a compact ESV for me at work to read over my lunch and breaks!

  10. Allen, I actually haven’t seen a LPCompact but it’s described as sewn so it should open flat after minimal use and give decades of satisfactory service unlike the early glued volumes that Crossway sold. I own several new Crossway sewn bibles (LP, SB, Legacy) and although they’re sewn on the tight side they definitely loosen up with time. The coffee looks a little richer to me than the charcoal (the gilded lettering on the spine is part of it) but that’s highly subjective. And the charcoal gray looks better on the CBD website than on Crossway’s.
    I assume you noted there’s also a traditional black bonded leather version for $4 more? The magnetic cover offers a little protection if this is a beater bible but could get in the way when you’re actually reading. It could even de-magnetize credit cards if you’re in the habit of stacking your wallet on your bible or throwing them together in a book bag.
    But I think one of these three is exactly what you’re looking for. Write us a little review after you get one!

  11. LP Compact TruTone (coffee) has been ordered. I ordered a different design for my wife as well for a small gift :) Bill, thank you for leading me in the right direction. They should come in about a week, so once we are able to spend some time with them I’ll give a brief review.
    “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” Hebrews 12:1
    “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11
    Run with endurance friends!

  12. Hey all, I have been looking to buy the brown compact allan esv reviewed here for a month or so but have not been able to find one. Does anyone know a place that is selling one? Or does anyone know if allan is planning to release the compact edition in the future? Thanks

  13. I’ve been thinking about getting one of these for a while and, even though I have a Pitt Minion, I finally did it. I guess it was the fact that these are getting very scarce that pushed me over to buying it (I’m a sucker for the limited edition thing).

    I bought the black version and it is absolutely the most gorgeous bible that I have ever owned. Pictures and video do not do it justice compared to having it in your hand. The texture of the goatskin and the semi yapp make it irresistable. I have a different reaction to than the Pitt Minion. While I want to take the Pitt Minion out to church and rough it up a little (it can take it) I feel very protective of the Allan – no Bible yoga, no one else touching it. But I do want to use it extensively; It feels like it is very well made. But there is the feel of luxury – in look, feel, even smell – that is new to me, even though I’ve tried a couple high end bibles. I find the type size very comparable to the Pitt Minion. It MAY be a tiny bit smaller but the print is dark so if you can read one you can read the other. I like that the column of references is gone. As Mark said it feels much smaller in your hand and the weight bears this out – 15.8 ounces for the Pitt Minion, 12.8 ounces for the Allan.

    But the point is becoming moot in comparisons to the Pitt Minion. The Pitt Minion, while expensive, is very easy to find. The Allan, as I found out, is almost impossible to locate. I was happy to find one, not cheaply, to ship to me from the UK. Anyone who wants one now may need to resort solely to ebay.

  14. Lovely, especially the red, brown and green. Perhaps a bit small, but very nicely portable.

  15. I have only been familiar with high end Bibles for about 2 years since I stumbled across this site. Since then I have purchased a few Cambridge Bibles. Only recently have I been introduced to the Allan Compact ESV. I would truly love to have this edition but cannot find it sold anywhere. Bummer!

    • I have the Allan ESV Compact in green, brown, and black. Still looking for the red one. Absolutely beautiful littles bibles. Sold my goatskin Pitt when i got these, no longer needed the Pitt as these Allans are superior.

      • When it comes to finding these Ebay is your friend. There is a lovely brown one on there now.

  16. I am looking for the Allan black compact Esv shown above. Does anyone have one for sale, or perhaps know where I can find one online? Thanks!

  17. I would love to purchase a black or brown Allan Compact Bible…..if you’re willing to sell one of yours or point me to someone else i would greatly appreciate it.

  18. Hello! I have been on a life long quest (8 months) searching for an Allan black compact ESV bible. I am willing to pay full price for one in great shape. Please let me know if anyone is interested in selling one, or perhaps knows someone who is. Thanks!

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