They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To: Vintage Nelson ASV Looseleaf
In Friday’s guest post, Matthew Everhard shared his Bibliotheca-inspired quest for a vintage copy of the American Standard Version, so I figured I should follow up by showing you the result of mine. Digging through the dimly-lit religion section in a Grand Rapids used bookstore, I spotted an out-of-print Nelson ASV with an interesting twist. It’s a looseleaf edition, but instead of the typical ring binder in use these days, it features a more compact mechanism that feels more like a book.
This Bible was printed by Norwood Press (J. S. Cushing & Co. — Berwick & Smith) in Norwood, Massachusetts, with a copyright date of 1929. There’s a date stamped on the metal binder, June 29, 1920, so it must have been sourced from outside. The text is formatted verse-by-verse in two columns with cross references in the center and textual variants in the outer margins. In the back, there is an appendix listing the RSV New Testament variants that were changed in the ASV, as well as a set of maps and an atlas index. I found no indication in the book block that it was printed especially for looseleaf binding. The holes are punched very close to the text in the front matter, which would suggest not. The pages have squared corners rather than rounded ones, so it was certainly finished with looseleaf use in mind. The page edges are gilded.
The hardcover binder is wrapped in black leather-print book cloth, with gold imprinting on the spine, which is banded to resemble an ordinary Bible. I’m impressed how handy the thing is. It’s not small, and it’s not light — yet at least by looseleaf edition standards, it is smaller and lighter than you would expect. Because it resembles a book and feels similar to one in the hands, I could imagine a minister carrying one of these into the pulpit without drawing too much attention.
In fact, that’s exactly what was done with this one. The appeal of a looseleaf edition is that you can add your own content — notes, study material, you name it. The previous owner interleaved his typewritten sermon outlines. These 1-2 page inserts are threaded into the Bible near their primary texts, and there are quite a few of them. As long as he had his Nelson looseleaf with him, he was ready to give twenty-odd sermons or more at a moment’s notice. Frankly, I love that. When I first found this Bible, I spent hours going through it in search of his outlines, skimming them to see whether they were any good, whether I could figure out his identity (or at least his theological leanings), and whether based on his notes it would be possible to reconstruct the sermons.
The advantage this binding mechanism enjoys over the ubiquitous three-ring binder is that it’s much more compact. You don’t have a giant empty cavern at the spine where the rings sit. This binder pushes a series of pins straight through the back of the book block, attaching the pages almost as if they were stapled. There’s enough give for the book to open flat, albeit with a pronounced curve at the gutter — again, like a book. The downside, I suppose, is that the pages don’t rest as flat as they would with a ring binder.
The clamp is tightened and released by screws on either end. You can see in the close-up photo below that there’s a little rust on the mechanism. Even so, it’s perfectly tight. I know I really ought to open this thing up and give the binder a good clean. Honestly, I’m kind of afraid to. What if I fiddle it open and can’t get it back together just right? (Trust me, with my mechanical skills — or lack thereof — this is a real possibility.)
Would I like to see this method of binding revived? You bet. It seems much more practical for preaching and teaching than the ring binders used in modern looseleaf editions. Of course, there are hardly any modern looseleaf editions left, so I can understand why investing in a non-standard mechanism would be an unlikely risk for a publisher to take. Still, I could see a solution like this working in the journaling/notetaking context better than both ring binders and wide margins. Essentially, this is a Blank Bible waiting to happen, minus the bulk of all the blank pages you haven’t annotated yet.
Let’s take a look at how it compares, size-wise, to the Hendrickson ESV Looseleaf I reviewed in 2009 and to Crossway’s new Journaling Bible, Interleaved Edition (which will get a post of its own soon enough):
On top we have the Journaling Bible, Interleaved Edition with a fancy wraparound leather cover. As you can see, it’s not as wide as the Nelson (center), but it is a bit thicker thanks to all those glorious blank pages doubling its girth. The Hendrickson is on bottom. Remember, it includes a wide margin layout. Combined with the large rings, this makes it considerably larger than both of the others.
Stacked side-by-side, you can see that while the Hendrickson breaks the scale, the Journaling Bible, Interleaved Edition and the Nelson are both only a little bit bulkier than the Schuyler Quentel NKJV I slipped into the mix for a bit of fun.
While the mechanism is intriguing, all told I think Matthew’s vintage ASV comes out on top (even without its nifty new binding). The print impression on my looseleaf isn’t especially good, and the paper is a bit rough and discolored. Still, as an artifact I find it fascinating, especially with the sermon outlines included. And finds like this always get me thinking about what innovations of yesteryear are due for reintroduction or reinterpretation.