R. L. Allan NIV in Brown Goatskin

We don't discuss translation issues here at Bible Design Blog, where the emphasis is on the physical form of the Good Book, not the content. Inevitably, the subjects overlap at points — for example, when translations impose design choices, as with the HCSB reviewed recently. Two realities underlie my narrow focus here. First, the blogosphere isn't exactly lacking in places to argue over translations. Whether your taste runs to learned obscurity or conspiratorial paranoia, you will find no difficulty indulging yourself. When I started Bible Design Blog, I envisioned a different sort of space, somewhere to discuss the design issues typically overshadowed by all the jot-and-tiddle sturm-und-drang

Second, no matter how good they begin, translation debates always seem to showcase us at our worst. There are so many sites offering such showcases already that it would hardly be worth my time to maintain yet another one. This place has to be different, or it won't be at all. 

With that said, last year saw the introduction of another update to the NIV. You'll have to look elsewhere for a discussion of the differences between the 1984 NIV, the abortive TNIV, and this 2011 edition. Google the terms and I'm sure you'll find plenty. 


Our focus is on an attractive new edition of the 2011 text, available from R. L. Allan direct in both black Highland and Antique brown goatskin bindings, and from EvangelicalBIble.com. Printed in China by CTPS, the book block comes from Hodder & Stoughton and features a two-column, paragraphed text setting. Maybe it's just the dotted lines that demarcate the center column references, but this edition reminds me of two of my favorite NIV settings, the Cambridge Pocket Cross Reference and the Allan Bold Print Reference, both out of print. 


The interior typography was done by Blue Heron Bookcraft. There is cause for rejoicing. The TNIV seemed wedded to a typeface I couldn't stand to read. This edition uses a font which, while it retains a somewhat calligraphic feel, proves much more readable. Combined with a nice, bold print impression, this makes for an attractive, updated look. 

Because it's a UK edition, the quotation marks look backward to American eyes. Single quotes introduce speech and quotations within the quotation are indicated with double quotes (see v. 4 above). Dialogue is properly punctuated, as in the HCSB, with new speakers introduced by a paragraph break. This is something other paragraphed translations need to take note of and emulate. 

While I don't ordinarily pay a lot of attention to maps in the back of a Bible, I found these rather charming due to their use of yellow. The style is more illustrative than topographical. Like many editions from R. L. Allan, this one includes a section of tightly ruled notepaper in back. 

It is bound in brown goatskin — not Highland goatskin, but a slightly firmer stuff with a more regular natural grain which Allan calls "antique brown goatskin." It's reminiscent of the Compact Text ESV's Alhambra goatskin, though that leather has a printed grain. While it is true that I once suggested to Nicholas Gray of R. L. Allan that he petition to have me named "laird of the Highland goats," with a suitable tartan to match, I am not a one-trick pony when it comes to the skin of beasts. I approve of goatskin, calfskin, sheepskin, and yes, even pigskin. My preference is for variety over sameness, for color over boring black. In that spirit, I want to suggest that just because a Bible doesn't have the word "Highland" in the name, don't assume it's inferior. 


Above: Brown Highland goatskin on top, and brown plain ol' goatskin on bottom.

You probably don't spent much time worrying about how well your Bible photographs. As someone who takes a lot of photos of Bibles, I do. One of the things I love about this antique brown goatskin is the depth of color, which really comes out in photography. The subtly mottled dark and light hues are beautiful to behold. I would love to see the same leather in a dark red or dark green. It's very nice.

On the flipside, Highland goatskin feels a bit more limp and "organic" than this. My guess is that the average person wouldn't notice the difference unless it were pointed out. The antique brown goatskin is more uniform not only in grain but in the way it takes a semi-yapp edge. Clean lines and a firm hand, that about sums it up.


Above: "But will it go with my set of Calvin's Commentaries?" You be the judge.

This binding certainly resides on the limp end of the spectrum, not as extreme as the Highland goat, but far to the left of most Bibles. The binding is edge-lined, meaning there is no bookboard between front cover and lining to stiffen it up. The result is a pliable, easy-to-handle edition.


The brown edition comes with two thick gold ribbons. As I've noted before, the brown-and-gold combination seems perfect to me. I can't imagine another color working better with this shade of leather. This Bible is elegant inside and outside, with an understated sophistication I find very appealing.


32 Comments on “R. L. Allan NIV in Brown Goatskin

  1. Are there any plans for Cambridge to print an NIV with the new 2011 text?

  2. Alex,
    Not at this time. I checked with them about that a month or so ago and they currently do not have the license to print to the translation and acted as though they wouldn’t be for awhile, if ever.

  3. The review posted by CM is the perfect example of what Mark is talking about (save slanted translation posts for other blogs).. The reviewer linked by CM does not even agree with the base text the NIV uses for the New Testament. For scholarly reviews on the NIV 2011, people can google reviews by Dan Wallace and Rod Decker…both give balanced reviews and are NT scholars.

  4. Thanks Mark! I’ve been really curious about this edition and what the cover was really like. It seemed a bit different looking than highland goat, but still seems really sharp. I’m probably going to go with the black, but the brown is nice too.
    I’m with Matt M., if you want a good solid review of the revised NIV go to the experts who know their stuff, not a long-time NIV user.

  5. Nathan, did you get the impression Cambridge wasn’t interested in producing the NIV11 or that Zondervan/IBS/Biblica was not making it easy for Cambridge to license the translation?
    If the latter, what are they thinking? They were wildly successful with NIV84 using a liberal licensing scheme that made it easy for just about anyone to produce an NIV. I can’t help but believe that was at least part of NIV’s widespread acceptance. Acceptance is what NIV11 needs most right now!
    Does anyone know the details of how Allen won/bought the rights to this?

  6. I just received this exact bible (Brown NIV) last week. Wonderful leather, beautiful colour variation, and as a Canadian Its a bonus to see words spelled in “our” English (ie colour, honour, centre, baptise, etc.)

  7. I will add that I was originally not thrilled with the selection of maps, they have grown on me and I enjoy the color and design (a little classy).

  8. Also to add that this edition features “line matching” which is great for dealing ghosting

  9. This is a beautiful edition with fine craftsmanship wedding to a fine translation. At first I was skeptical about the new NIV, but after comparing it to the original NIV and the Hebrew/Greek, I am convinced that it strikes the right balance overall. Keep in mind that conservatives like Don Carson and Tim Keller use it. Read the article by Rod Decker in Themelios (http://thegospelcoalition.org/themelios/article/an_evaluation_of_the_2011_edition_of_the_new_international_version).

  10. Bill,
    My correspondence was by email. I am not sure whether it was the choice of Cambridge or the choice of Zondervan. I have asked twice over the course of 3 months and both answers were that they didn’t have a license and couldn’t speculate if they ever would.

  11. I have experienced the same thing when contacting Cambridge on their plans for the 2011 NIV. To be honest though I experienced the same thing when calling about the ESV in the past. It took years before Cambridge would produce a compact edition (the pitt minion), let alone a nice hand size edition (clarion).
    I imagine they do not want to say anything at this point for good reason. Cambridge may want to see the reception of the new NIV before committing, and Zondervan may want to sell some of their copies before handing over the rights.

  12. Matt M and Reid,
    Do you have websites or blogs where you have posted pics of your new Allan NIV Bibles? I specifically want to see the size compared to other bibles out there.
    If not (and if time permits), you can just email me the pics of the Bible. I appreciate it. Thanks

  13. Hi Mark,
    I may have missed it but what is the paper quality like?

  14. Rowan, I would give the paper a B grade…and say that it is above average but not the best. I would say the print quality is A+. Overall a pleasant reading experience.

  15. I recently received a copy of this Bible in black. This is my first “premium” Bible purchase and I couldn’t be more pleased with the craftmanship. I do wish that it came with three ribbons, but otherwise I am very pleased. I was somewhat concerned with the font size upon first opening the Bible, but the font type and the line matching make it very readable. I also appreciate the fact that it is a black letter addition.

  16. I have a Bible design question regarding ribbons. I understand placing three ribbons in a Bible to mark passages in the OT, wisdom literature and NT. Why would a publisher opt for two ribbons versus three?

  17. Vintage Bibles typically have just one ribbon, which serves the same purpose it would on any other book — to mark your place. Books intended for use in service — a breviary, for example — might have more (often a lot more). I’m not sure when the practice of adding a second ribbon to Bibles began, but I believe it was done in the spirit of offering a “premium” feature. (Plus, you can mark OT and NT readings.)
    When I started using the Daily Reading Bible, which had three ribbons corresponding to the three sections of the reading plan, I thought, “Hey, this makes sense. Every Bible should have this!” R. L. Allan started doing it, and I’ve asked for it with custom rebinds, too.

  18. viewing your Comment
    Jason, Unfortunately I have doubts if that new Zondervan 9780310402626 edition is even Smyth-sewn. And although Amazon calls the cover “leather” it sure looks artificial to me. You might want to verify that before ordering.
    If you like the layout, it is similar to to the older Renaissance editions of the TNIV (very similar to NIV11) which Mark reviewed and which are very nicely bound.
    Personally, although I like single-column layouts in principle, these try to use a little too small a font and end up squeezing in too many words per line to my eye. I find it’s a chore just shifting from one line to the next.

  19. Thanks Jason, the ISBN 9780310442516 edition appears to have a nice leather cover indeed.
    But I believe these newer Zondervans might be produced using this sort of binding method:
    instead of sewn like the Renaissance TNIVs I mentioned.
    Perhaps Mark will comment on this new glued binding method.

  20. That is too bad because if I get this bible I would be really breaking it in and making notes in the margins, highlighting, underlining, etc. and it would be very disappointing if once I got it worn and personalized, the pages started to come apart. I really hope that since it is a premium leather edition with art gilt edges, that it will also be a sewn text block. The format is exactly what I have been looking for and it is hard to find a NIV single column with generous margins on each side. I hope Mark does a review on this bible.
    Thanks for the heads up Bill 🙂

  21. Nice research Jason. That reviewer sounds like he knows what he’s talking about so that’s a good sign. Art gild edges is a first for Zondervan I believe. I too am looking forward to seeing one of these.

    • I saw this and a couple other $100+ new Zondervans at a brick-and-mortar store and they were NOT sewn bindings. I marveled, as did the older proprietor, that they would sell a glued bible at that price.

  22. For those who haven’t noticed yet, R. L. Allan has just posted on its website — at http://www.bibles-direct.co.uk/ — a list of the new Bibles it plans to publish in the first half of 2013: an NKJV (shipping next Monday), a bold print NIV, a personal study ESV, an NASB, a new reader’s ESV, and an NLT.

  23. R.L. Allan’s NIV Bold Print release date now in August. According to Nicholas Gray from R.L. Allan, the new bold print NIV will have the same paper as the NIV reviewed on this page, but with a larger and bolder font.

    • I just received an email yesterday that the Allan NIV Bold Print Bible in Brown Highland Goatskin I ordered back in April (!) has been shipped. It has been a long wait. Hopefully it will be worth it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *