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.

12 Comments on “They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To: Vintage Nelson ASV Looseleaf

  1. I have a loose-leaf bound KJV (in a Morocco leather covered binder) that was published by either Oxford or Cambridge back in the 40s or 50s from what I can gather. Was a bargain considering I only paid $2.50 for it. The paper quality exceeds anything that is on the market today and the same with the leather used in the binder. They certainly don’t make Bibles like they used to IMHO!!!

  2. Hello Mark

    What an uplifting blog post. I love the loose-leaf Bible that you found! I also love marking up my Bibles, and have tried various editions over the years. Even if I am not a preacher as such, it makes a lot of sense to note down a set of points, or chain mark my Bible.

    I would be keen to find a Bible like this one. The problem here (in the UK), is that old Bibles are now expensive, as they are bought as chi-chi interior design props or collectors’ items. It’s a pain.

    A request: could you put the prices on your reviews? Some of the Bibles on the site are more affordable than others for me, and it would be a useful indication of whether the Bible is a dream or a reality!

  3. What I would like to see is a looseleaf Bible punched to fit my Classic size Franklin Covey organizer. Rumor has it there once was a Book of Mormon in such a format.

  4. I don’t think they make to many things in the quality that used to be. Business is all about making things as cheaply as they can (even high end items). I have luckily found a few new condition World (pre Nelson) Heritage Reference Edition (Indexed) bibles over the past couple of years. I would not trade one of them for 10 Allan Long primer sovereigns or any offering from Cambridge. The font, text size, printing, paper, sewing, references, and generous margins (on both inner and outer margins) are excellent. An upgraded outer binding (calf, goat, kangaroo) to take the place of the genuine cowhide,and you truly have the Sovereign of Bibles imo.

  5. Joni and Friends put out an NIV New Testament, large print, in 3 ringer binder I use all the time. Where or where may I find the O.T. ??? Suggestions, pointers would be so VERY welcomed.

  6. At the local Christian bookstore that went out of business 15 years ago, for years they had in stock a very similar NIV. I used to be a KJO and I wouldn’t pay it any mind other than looking at it’s construction. The proprietor told me he bought it for the prospective Bible college student to stumble in and “just have to have it.” As far as I know, the student never materialised and I do wonder what happened to that Bible. I still don’t care for a NIV, but an NASB or ESV would be great.

  7. While this is interesting I would like to find an electronic version which would allow me to annotate various words with comments to view with a letter or number. Any suggestions? Cheaper the better.

  8. I have a Scofield Reference KJV loose leaf . Have preached out of it for 24 years . Would give anything for another like it . Have searched and searched without luck . Enjoy your blog . Lord bless .

  9. Mark, I know that by commenting on this post that I might be subject to ridicule but I will always make a stand for the King James Bible. This “version” is all I collect in various forms. I have collected many rare loose leaf bibles published by Oxford, Cambridge and Riverside Publisher. With this in mind I so enjoy your reviews of different bindings of the several bible translations out there. Your blog has helped me start this fanatical obsessional hobby that has put me into the proverbial doghouse by my wife. Thank you. I think.
    Georget, having grown up with the Scofield Reference Bible I collect 1945 and prior Scofield Reference Bibles in various leathers/bindings. But I have this loose leaf of which you seek in excellent condition. Genuine Moroccan leather and is not being used. I would entertain your thoughts.

    • Brother Jeff , I appreciate your response . I too stand for KJV . The bible that you have sounds just like mine . Am very interested in purchasing . Please send me a price if you would like to sell .

      • George, I’m glad you responded and replied with your “correct” first name. I was a little confused. Lol.
        I wish I had some way to send some pics to you. It would only be fair but you would have to accept what I say is truthful. There are no tears in the binding, no rust on the binder that I can see. The leather is I believe a full yapp like the Allan bibles. I don’t believe there is any writing in this Bible at all but I will check. It was from one of those Ebay auctions and I just had to have it. I have a wonderful wide margin Scofield Reference Notes, Top grain Cowhide Bible from Local Church Bible Publishers that I purchased for only $55 a couple of years ago and have been using that one. So I have left this Oxford one to just sit. You can reach me at jeffcook52 at cox dot net for further correspondence. Thanks for your interest.

  10. Brother Jeff , sorry but unable to reach you the email address you left . Am still wanting the Bible , please message me at sowingseedmin at yahoo dot Com. Thanks George

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