The Nonesuch Bible

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At the risk of sounding heretical, let me admit from the outset that I don't like the Nonesuch Bible very much. Gazing at the photo above, I'm tempted to write a post about vintage Rumidors or perhaps the print of General Grant and his staff which I rescued from the floor — literally — of a Georgia antique shop (where I can assure General Lee suffered no such indignities). But this is Bible Design Blog, and I know my duty. So the Nonesuch Bible it is.

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The concept, at least, appeals to me. A single column, paragraphed Bible divided into three volumes: #1 and #2 contain the Old Testament, #3 the New Testament and Apocryphya. To liven things up, over a hundred reproductions of Bernard Salomon's nineteenth century woodcuts are interspersed throughout. Unfortunately, the Nonesuch Bible — at least in this edition — suffers from poor execution.

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Let's not dwell on the negative just yet. The paper's not bad at all. Nice and thick, very opaque, so far so good. The section divisions are printed on thicker stock and has a tendency to rise up, so handling is tricky when you near the transitions. Otherwise, I give the paper a thumbs up. 

The problem is what's printed on the paper, or rather, where it's printed. The text columns float too close to the inner margin, so the text looks as if it's being sucked into the gutter. The photographs actually don't do justice to the phenomenon because you can't appreciate the extent to which the book block isn't opening flat. But you can get a sense from looking:

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I'm also not fond of the way the woodcuts are deployed within the text. There they are, just floating around. I realize this is exactly how photos on Bible Design Blog look. But that's because I'm not a very good web designer, not because I like it that way. 

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Overall, the Nonesuch Bible always seems to push its ornamentation a step too far for my taste. This title (below) at the head of perhaps my favorite passage in Scripture illustrates the point. You get one layer of decorative swirls, then the title — which ought to be enough on its own — and they a different decorative rule. And then, because we're still not fancy enough, here's an awkward drop cap for good measure. 

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One thing I do like in the layout above is the way the verse range is given in the margin. That's a nice touch. 

It's always possible that I'm being too hard on the Nonesuch Bible. Since I'd heard good things about it, my expectations ran pretty high. For me, the most important thing in a book is the typography. I'll forgive a lot if the type looks good. But here it doesn't. Thin and crowded in a long, narrow column, I find myself gazing at it a few seconds and wanting to move on to something else, like the Mandersteig New Testament. Your mileage may vary — and there's a nicer edition of the Nonesuch from earlier in its run which might not suffer from the faults I've outlined. For me, though, there are better examples of what can be done in terms of single column text settings.

4 Comments on “The Nonesuch Bible

  1. Hmmm. I kind of like the look. Seems made for easy reading. Running the text close to the gutter does allow for decent margins for notes.

  2. Nonesuch was a great record label talking vinyl here. Generally featured obscure Classical composers played by even more obscure orchestras.

  3. Jon.Stanton^^^I thought the same thing when I read “Nonesuch”, though I’ve seen more on CDs. Great contemporary classical selections, and some more obscure Americana music.
    I wonder if these were leather-bound, would that help the gutter problem? I really hate it when a book goes into the gutter; it’s a minimum requirement for that not to happen.:-(

  4. JMB: I think you want to say Bernard Salomon’s woodcuts are from the sixteenth century (16th), not the 19th. The first misstatement on your blog!
    -=Cris=-

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