The Next Chapter for R. L. Allan: A guest post by Ian Metcalfe

Next week the offices of R. L. Allan will be up and running in the new London digs. To mark the occasion, Ian Metcalfe shares a few words with Bible Design Blog readers about the transition, his own experiences in Bible publishing, and the next generation. — JMB

It is an immense privilege to be taking over the fine Bibles publishing business R.L. Allan from my uncle Nicholas Gray. It was my great-grandfather, John Gray, who first dealt with R.L. Allan––licensing hymnbook rights from them for the family publishing business, Pickering & Inglis. Then in the 1960s my grandfather, Andrew Gray, bought the company itself when he was at the helm of P&I’s in his turn.

Andrew Gray commanded considerable respect within Plymouth Brethren circles in Glasgow and beyond––I certainly remember hearing the great publishing stories when visiting Glasgow as a young child in the 1970s. The 1980s were a more tumultuous time for the business, but when I landed at HarperCollins in the mid-90s I was proud to have the opportunity to work on books that had been acquired by him 30 years before, perhaps most notably Joni Eareckson Tada’s memoir, which was still a bestseller.

I cut my teeth in the Production Department at HarperCollins Religious, as it was then, quickly getting to grips with the challenges of producing quality Bibles and Liturgical products. Moving on to Editorial, I took overall responsibility for the Bibles list just as we launched the ESV Anglicised in the UK back in 2002, as well as overseeing the publishing of the King James Version, New Revised Standard Version, Good News Bible (a bestseller in the UK, especially for schools), J.B. Phillips New Testament and Contemporary English Version.

This experience stood me in good stead for the move to Hodder & Stoughton, where the NIV was in great need of reinvigoration. With new ultra-readable typesettings, and now a revised text that reflects much more accurately the original writers’ intentions, we now have the UK’s widest range of Bibles, all created with a clarity of purpose to help people engage with the Bible more effectively.

Dominique and I are delighted to have the opportunity of taking R.L. Allan on into this new chapter in its 150th year, as its own list of translations burgeons. Our aim is to build on its fine tradition of beautiful, handcrafted Bibles and to remain focused on offering the highest possible levels of personal service to our loyal customers.

We are thrilled to be continuing the family tradition of Bible publishing into the fourth generation.

— Ian Metcalfe

R L Allan & Son Publishers Ltd
Unit 3, Thorogood House
Tolworth Close
Surrey KT6 7EW
tel +44 (0) 208 399 2352

14 Comments on “The Next Chapter for R. L. Allan: A guest post by Ian Metcalfe

  1. Congratulations on you new venture. I encourage Allan bibles to select higher quality opaque paper for future printings. Also, the alignment of text lines on opposite sides of the page would help readability. I recently purchased two of Allan’s NIV bold printed bibles (just released) and returned them both for what I considered excessive bleed-through. Of course the way print looks to any person is somewhat subjective but in my opinion the opaque paper used must be improved for better readability.

    • I grew up going to a Plymouth Brethren church here in Connecticut and I still visit them occasionally. They really know their Bibles well.

      I agree with exactly what Oliver Hoover says. The paper needs to be a lot more opaque. But the bindings are second to none.

  2. Dear Oliver, Matt

    Thanks for your comments. If you take a look at Mark’s fairly recent post about the more everyday editions of the NIV which I publish in my ‘day job’ as Publishing Director at Hodder & Stoughton in the UK, there is a long chain of comments there regarding paper specifications and opacity that I hope will be of interest on this front.

    The upshot is that there is only so much one can do in balancing show-through against spine width, and a lot of it comes down to typesetting rather than necessarily the paper itself; one interesting thing that arose from that discussion was that line-matching – a mast to which I have nailed my colours good and proper over the past few years – may actually increase the impression of show-through in poetic sections, since the line lengths are so varied. So I have been giving thought to that as we consider a new single column setting for the anglicised NIV in the UK – but no definite answers as yet!

    Allan’s is in most cases dependent on the originating publishers’ settings and paper specification choices, and in the past this has sometimes led to a disparity between the quality of the insides and the outsides, but over the past few years as Nicholas has worked more closely with the key publishers the quality of the book blocks used has increased dramatically – and we will certainly be working hard to continue this upward trend.

    With best wishes
    Ian Metcalfe

    • I must say that the paper used for the Longprimer is the best quality paper I have ever seen. Well the Longprimer couldn’t be more beautifully made. Especially love the blue under gold pages on the navy blue edition.

      • I’m in Australia and am still awaiting my navy blue Longprimer, any idea when they will be shipped? Cheers, Joe.

        • Joe – I am afraid we are still waiting for the Navy Blue Longprimers; we are now expecting them in January. Our apologies for the delay. We do have a few left of the Black and a good number of the Red!

          Ian Metcalfe

          • Thank you Ian, I am sure they are worth waiting for!!! I am wondering… will the navy blue Longprimer have a nice grain? I received my first R.L. Allan bible recently, the Commemorative Longprimer in brown…quite simply, a masterpiece in understated elegance, the aroma of the leather is sumptuous, this bible is a work of art and is the most precious thing I own. Thank you Ian and God bless every hand that made this bible. All the best with your new digs… by the way, I was born in Nottingham, England but came out to Australia in 1965 as a child, yes, we were 10 pound poms! Cheers, Joe Hallam.

        • Thanks Joe.

          I am glad you are enjoying your 53 COM – the Commemorative leather was a bit of a departure for us, but the Navy Blue is more in line with our trademark highland goatskin styles.

          Hope that helps

  3. Congratulations Ian,
    I first want to say how much regard I have for R.L. Allan bibles and have many of them. There is no doubt I will likely buy more. The highland goatskin used is my very favorite and would encourage you to never allow that “highland goatskin” label be used for anything but the real thing. This is what has made Allans customers so loyal.
    Secondly I wish you luck with what the future holds as many of us fine bible lovers are a picky bunch… But I’m sure your uncle has already warned you. He has always been very fair and always quick to be of service and I always appreciated him. Thanks again Nicholas.
    Chris Dumais

  4. Hello Ian,
    Congratulations and welcome to you and your wife on the new role you’ll both be filling with R.L. Allan and I would like to repeat what the last poster had said about Nicholas Gray who has always been very courteous and quick to respond to emails. With that said, I would imagine the move at this very busy time of the year has been taking up most of your time, which is understandable. However, I and others would appreciate your thoughts on the Antique Goatskin that was used on R.L. Allan’s COM Editions. Personally I happen to like the COM Editions, but there have been some mixed reviews. Could you give us any details on the characteristics of this material such as durability, break in period, care, and grade? And, what were the specific reasons for using this particular material on a limited edition? Also, is this a material that R.L. Allan might consider using again in the future?
    N. Shepherd

  5. Norm (and everyone) – thank you for your support.

    The Commemorative Editions are certainly a bit of a departure for Allan’s and it would be fair to say that they have divided opinion somewhat. The leather is actually a more expensive variety than our normal, but is quite a different style from our trademark highland goatskin; it makes the case generally stiffer and thus means the yapp doesn’t bend round in quite the same way (although from my observations I’d say this characteristic differs slightly between the KJV and ESV editions, too).

    I imagine the covers will wear in perhaps quite significantly, but I certainly would not expect there to be any major variation against the more traditional Allan’s Bibles in terms of longevity or wear. In terms of what we might try in the future, this material was a one-off opportunity; we are certainly willing to try some new things over time, but above all we absolutely want to continue to uphold Allan’s traditional values and styles – so will be seeking to work closely with our prized customers as we move forward and consider other colours, grains or finishes of leather.

    Hope that helps

    Best wishes

    • Thanks for your reply Ian,
      Apparently a number of your customers have grown very accustom to all the great characteristics of your Highland Goatskin covered bibles and were expecting something a little different than the Antique Goatskin Editions. It’s also apparent that many of your customers still look forward to the limited editions and they will be happy to hear, that in the future, you intend on consulting with them about the details of the final product. And if I may speak on behalf of the customers who are pleased with the COMS, I think they would like to have a little more information about the type and origin of the leather. Also, a number of customers would prefer it if you would also make other editions available with the full yapp style. And, I think you’ve already been made aware that there’s a lack of high quality bound single column editions currently available. Personally, I’m looking forward to what R.L. Allan will have to offer in the future and thankfully you have many loyal customers who are also hoping that a bright future is in store for R.L. Allan & Son Publishers.
      Bless you and Dominique and the entire R.L. Allan family.

  6. Thank you Ian for your remarks as well as honesty about some past editions that matched the superior Allan cover, gilt, and ribbons to less stellar text blocks. We understand that slender/elegant Bibles cannot use the thick paper some prefer. At the same time there have been some “famed” papers (to the quality community) that have superior opacity. Your Longprimer has what is regarded as a very good paper in a slender/elegant edition Since it is printed by Jongbloed (as seemingly you are doing more) it would seem a model for other editions.

  7. Ian,
    I own several Allan bibles and they are all beautiful. I am hoping you will consider publishing a leather-bound Hymnal of classic hymns in the future. I have been lucky enough to inherit a vintage pocket size leather hymnal but my friends and family have been in search of something similar for years to no avail. Your publishing and binding are so beautiful that I think you could produce an incredible Hymnal that many would appreciate.

    All the best and wishing RL Allan many years of continued success.

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