R. L. Allan New Classic Readers Edition ESV in Marine Blue Goatskin (ESVNC1BLT)



For the second time in a week, I am posting about a sold-out color option from R. L. Allan. The Brunswick Green NLT was last time’s object of design, and today it’s the New Classic Readers Edition ESV in Marine Blue. Black, brown, and tan are still available — and lovely colors they are — but when you see the photos, it’s easy to understand why the blue sold out quickly. The book blocks for the Readers Edition are printed by Jongbloed in the Netherlands and then bound for Allan in London. While Jongbloed bindings are improving all the time (as seen in Schuyler and other Allan editions) I don’t think anyone rivals that London bindery at its best. That makes this edition, at least in terms of printing and binding, the best of both worlds.


My only quibble is with the designation of this Bible as a Readers Edition. This is a large print reference Bible (10 pt. font to be exact) with a footprint of roughly 6″ x 9″ x 1.25″. Crossway’s designation for this book block is “New Classic Reference Special Edition,” and if you think of it as a deluxe run of the New Classic Reference, you’ll know where you are. The layout has not been specially designed for reader-friendliness. It’s a double column text setting with relatively narrow columns (just over 2″) that accommodate a center column reference system. The logic of Reader Editions from Allan has always been that what makes the Bible hard to read is smaller type and poorer paper, so they enlarge an existing layout to boost the type size and have it printed on higher spec paper. My belief has always been that Bibles intended for reading will be designed differently than Bibles intended for looking things up. This layout falls into the latter category. While the larger type and better paper do make reading easier, the design is not optimized for reading. It’s a reference Bible, pure and simple.

Once you make that mental shift and look at this as a really awesome special edition of the ESV New Classic Reference, it starts to make a whole lot of sense. The familiar text setting gets an upgrade in every respect, that best-of-both-worlds combination I mentioned at the beginning. The first Allan ESV was a rebound Classic Reference, and this one is a worthy heir and successor.


The photos above and below illustrate the good and the not-so-good when it comes to the Classic Reference design. It’s a clean, readable reference edition — I’ve always found the references especially easy to use — with an Achilles’ heel: the way the narrow columns chew up poetic verse. See, for example, Hebrews 3 above. Verse 8 and 9 not only give us instances of a single word stranded all alone on a line, but also of part of a word: –derness. Isaiah 59, below, is full of these isolated words. In verses 10-11 alone we have “blind,” “light,” none,” and “us.” The translators versified the poetry with much longer lines in mind, but the design doesn’t take that into consideration. As a double column setting, it almost can’t.


The trade-off, I suppose, is that when the narrow columns feature paragraphed text, they are very quick to scan, in the same way a newspaper is. While you can’t appreciate this from the photos, the Readers Edition’s larger size also mitigates the original Classic Reference’s somewhat awkward proportion — it’s a little narrow for its height. While this is no thinline, it really feels like one in the hand, showing off the limp binding in a way the earlier Allan ESVs based on the Classic Reference never did.


One of the complaints about the original Readers Edition in 2009 was that, despite the upgraded paper, there was still a surprising amount of show through. I took this up in my original review of that Bible, and the question is, how does the new edition compare? These are always tricky comparisons to make. It’s not black-and-white, but shades of grey. (Get it?) I think the photos of both editions bear me out in saying that the New Classic Readers has improved on that count. As always, there is show through, but it’s consistent with what we see in other Bibles of this quality, and doesn’t stand out as exceptional.


You know what I really like about the Readers Edition pictured here? The blue cover paired with art-gilt pages. Allan Bibles in blue have gotten in the habit of coming with blue-under-gold instead of red-under-gold edges. I like it. It’s different and interesting. But the more time I spent with this Bible, the more I found myself thinking how classy it looks, how refined. Where the blue-under-gold treatment seems to brighten things up, red-under-gold tones them down. It’s a nice choice with this particular shade of blue, which can read quite dark depending on the lighting.


R. L. Allan has always been a beacon of quality where bindings are concerned, and over the past few years they’ve established a house style that serves them well. Natural goatskin covers, edge-lined for limp flexibility, overlapping or semi-yapp edges, art-gilding, three thick ribbon place markers, and lined paper bound with the maps in back. There are variations, of course, but this is more or less what we’ve come to expect from Allan. It’s what they do best. When this kind of binding is combined with a quality book block, as it is here, everything shines.


Bible yoga (above) is a great way to appreciate through still images what the cover feels like in your hand. Like most Allan covers, this leather has an old school thin, hard finish that goes well with its limp structure. It’s at the opposite end of the spectrum from the soft matte-finish covers that are equally popular.

I’m tempted to point out the black lining as a misstep, wishing it had been blue, but to be honest, the color does go with this combination, like black wingtips with a navy suit. So I’m not going to get on my usual high horse about color bindings with black liners.







I am burning for Allan to add a single column ESV to the lineup now that there are several to choose from. Every time I handle one of these exquisite bindings, I imagine what my Legacy book block would feel like with such a cover. In the meantime, though, I have to admit, everything about the Readers Edition is exceptionally nice. If you want a large print reference edition with good paper and a great binding, this makes a wonderful option.

The other reason I like the Readers Edition is that it hints at what R. L. Allan could do if, in addition to rebinding existing book blocks from other publishers, they took the Schuyler route and did some of their own. The best Allan editions these days are the ones that either begin with exceptional book blocks or specially commission them, as here. There’s a growing expectation that nice bindings demand nice book blocks, and I think it’s essential for publishers to meet that expectation. This Bible does that very well. It’s a great example of the Allan magic at its best.


24 Comments on “R. L. Allan New Classic Readers Edition ESV in Marine Blue Goatskin (ESVNC1BLT)

  1. You LIKE the black/blue combination? Didn’t you criticize the Schuyler KJV for having the exact same design?! You haven’t started taking bribes have you?

    Seriously though, thanks for all the reviews lately, I’ve really been enjoying them.

    • People would have to start making bribes before I could start taking them, Tom! The fact is, I’m not always consistent, and my views do mellow and change over time. As I mentioned, my rule is no black linings inside non-black covers. I think it’s a good rule, but for whatever reason it didn’t bother me in this case. Maybe the art-gilt/blue goatskin combination waved a wand over my usual objections.

      • I have this bible in brown but desperately want a blue copy. I will pay whatever for one. Do you know anyone who would sell me one?

        • Brian (or if anyone else is interested) I have this copy and I also have the Mahogany limited run which is numbered. I may be willing to let one of them go. If interested send me an email craig3232@gmail.com

          • Craig
            You obviously don’t have the limited addition but if you do I may be interested

  2. I know the ncr book block is archaic looking and herky jerky, but it seems to be the one I tend to gravitate towards the most. It reminds me of my 1st Bible (an NIV), my graduation Bible (an NASB) and the last couple I bought! I wish I could get used to the substantial up grades, the Legacy and Verse by Verse. If I had a thoughtful contemporary book block in the highland unicorn or a pigskin ncr I am afraid I would go for the one that felt to me like an old comfy pair of sweat pants nine times out of ten! Long live the 2011 esv ncr and the 2007 esv pitt! I admit though for most others it would not be the one I would be first to recommend!

  3. I can understand why this colour sold out first. It is the colour I’d have.
    A very lovely looking Bible, but a bit pricey for me right now 😛

  4. I’d like to see a single column legacy in the Brunswick green from Allan. I’d buy it. Maybe 2.

  5. The thing is, though, that the NCR isn’t really a text block for looking things up either. It’s paragraphed, which means that verse numbers are hidden in the middle of blocks of texts instead of appearing in 11-point print to the left of the column. To me, paragraphed, double-column, center-column-reference Bibles are tweeners. They’re better for reading than most verse-by-verse Bibles and better for looking things up than most single-column text Bibles. They’re generalist rather than specialist.

  6. I am really drawn to this edition. Probably because my first ESV was the old deluxe reference, so I am used to the format. I love my Legacy, but the reader has that nostalgic look that I am used to.
    A note to publishers: I am happy to volunteer to comb through the digital files and help fix these lonely words and extra hyphens. There will be no new lines, I’ll just give the solo words a buddy or two 🙂

    • Agreed! Widows are bad enough, but those one-syllable “-ion” widows make me wince. That seems to be a Crossway thing. I don’t recall seeing any non-ESV’s that do that.

  7. Mark, I used to completely agree with you on single column as superior to double. However, I find that single columns do have one significant drawback: they display far less overall biblical text per spread (the Bible lying open on the desk) than a double column layout. The result is that you have to turn pages more frequently to observe the surrounding context.

    • One of the main reasons that many of us prefer single column is that it is easier to read the Bible as though you were reading a normal book. Which means you don’t *need* to display as much content as possible per spread. You aren’t flipping around a lot, so you don’t need to quickly take in the surrounding context, you’ll be reading and digesting the context as you go.

  8. I’m very happy that I managed to latch onto one of the 85 copies of the Allan NCR ESV that were bound in the marine blue goatskin. It’s become my favorite Bible among the many I’ve got, and I find I’m using it just about every day.

    As for the marine blue, not only is the color superb (and Mark, you managed to capture it well in your photos), but I find this special goatskin is even more supple and flexible than the highland goatskin on my Longprimer. Really, it’s an exceptionally high quality of goatskin.

    I myself prefer double columns, verse numbers in the text, and paragraphed text (with the poetic sections arranged as poetry). I grew up on the RSV, you know? My only cavil is with the hyphenation in the poetry, where it leads to a fraction of a word alone by itself on a line; but I find in practice I don’t much notice it.

  9. This is a beautiful Bible, not only in blue but in all the colors it comes in.

    I’m not a double column hater, but I do cringe when I look at the poetry in this specific edition.

    Those hyphenated words are terri-

    It would not have lengthened the text all to intend the whole word (or several words in some cases) to the next line. I really don’t know what the designers were thinking.

  10. Michael – I agree. It would be interesting to research WHY the poetic text was never slightly adjusted! This seems common with publishers and while some are worse than others I just don’t quite get it. I realize punctuation comes into play, but still…

    Almost like they just needed to pay a college student to spend a couple weeks tapping the SPACE bar.

  11. I have been asking Allen’s if they will consider offering a binding of the improved ESV Personal Reference edition that came out last year. It is single column with references in the inner margin. I have their older (and now out of print) Personal Size Reference edition, a favourite of mine and of many others too. And just think if they produced that in the Brunswick Green!.

  12. Mark – I believe that the liner is actually our normal navy blue on this Bible, as for all our Black and Navy editions; however, the slightly lighter blue makes it almost impossible to differentiate it from black!

    We have requested sheets of both the Legacy and the Personal Reference from Crossway’s next printings, so sometime in 2015 those requests should be answered…

  13. I really wish they would not have made the blue ncr into a “special” edition for bible collectors. I assure you many bible readers would have purchased a blue one.

  14. Pingback: What Bible do I use? | Believe Better Ministries

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