The Schuyler Quentel: New King James Version

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The Quentel Reference Bible is the flagship edition from Schuyler, a relative newcomer to high-end Bible publishing that focuses on offering interior design and book blocks that rival the quality of their fine leather bindings. In my past coverage of 2014’s Quentel NASB and last year’s Quentel ESV, I have chronicled the establishment and fine-tuning of the format. Now Schuyler is releasing the Quentel in a new translation, the New King James Version, which means fans of the NKJV will now have to make a hard choice between this edition and the excellent Schuyler Single Column NKJV also featured on Bible Design Blog.

THE QUENTEL SERIES
For readers new to the Quentel series, here’s what you need to know: the Quentel uses a traditional double column page design by 2/K Denmark that locates cross references at the bottom of the page rather than between the columns, which is where you’re used to seeing them. This choice allows the columns to be as wide as possible — about 2.75″ — which they need to be, since the Quentel’s Milo typeface is seen at a generous 11 pt. size. This makes these editions very easy on older eyes. The Quentel is now printed in the Netherlands by Jongbloed on 36 gsm PrimaBible paper (opacity rating: 83%), which also helps with readability without adding quite as much bulk as the original NASB edition’s thicker pages. To make a long story short, the Quentel represents a very elegant culmination of classic Bible typography, printed and bound for a lifetime of use.

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One of the things that makes the Quentel so easy to recommend, in addition to the nice paper and the large type, is the fact that it’s now available in several different translations. There are a variety of good single column text settings these days, for example, yet I find myself recommending the Cambridge Clarion more than the rest because there’s one for readers of the KJV, the ESV, the NASB, and the NKJV (and an NIV on the way, if I’m not mistaken). Now the Quentel series has enough breadth to fill a similar niche. If you’re looking for a classic double column reference with generous type size and excellent quality, get a Quentel and you’re set.

WHAT ABOUT THE HINGE?
Another advantage of a growing range is that, as new runs are printed and new translations introduced, the Quentel format grows in refinement. As I’ve said in the past, these Bibles are boringly excellent when it comes to manufacture: Jongbloed’s printing and binding is so consistently fine that you take it for granted, which is the way it should be. My one complaint in the past has been the stiffness of the hinges used to attach the book block to the floppy edge-lined cover. “We’re working on it,” has been the response, and when I reviewed the Schuyler Caxton NLT, there seemed to be definite improvements. How do the hinges on the new Quentel NKJV feel? Loose enough to make me forget that there had ever been an issue.

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Above: The limp edge-lined cover puts up no resistance when opened. The raised section near the gutter is the “hinge,” and it doesn’t interfere with the Quentel opening flat the way past versions have.

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Above: The Quentel will open pretty flat at the title page, shown here, and by the time you get to Genesis it’s smooth sailing.

THE BINDING
My review copy is bound in dark brown goatskin, leather-lined in matching brown. This is the ideal combination for someone who wants to forego the basic black route without making a statement. The art-gilt pages and the wide ribbons in green, purple, and gold don’t exactly blend into the background, but the punch they add is subtle compared to the reaction you get with, say, a red or blue cover.

Like the other Quentel editions, this one features a limp cover stitched all around the edge for added strength. New to this edition, however, are the raised bands on the spine, reminiscent of the way Jongbloed styles the covers for Crossway’s Heirloom Legacy. The imprinting on the spine is gold, and there is a blind stamped Jerusalem cross on front.

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Above: A close-up of the imprinting on the spine. Elegant and nicely spaced.

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Above: The blind emboss allows a large and intricate decoration like the Jerusalem cross to remain subtle. A long thin cross in gold, as seen on prayer books, is quite nice, but gilding this design would give the Quentel too much bling for my taste.

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The imprinting is sharp, and I like the typeface. The scale of the stamped cross on front seems right in proportion to the cover’s size. To my eye, the only thing that seems ‘off’ is the Schuyler logo at the bottom section of the spine, which looks a bit too large and wide to me. It’s a minor point, but my preference is always to have a little breathing room on either side of the imprint.

Unlike paste-down bindings, which put boards under the leather, edge-lined covers like the Quentel’s are prized for their liquid flexibility. A rigid cover keeps the book block in line, whereas a limp one sets the paper free. You can curl an edge-lined cover up and bend it back without leaving any tell-tale creases — but that’s not the point. The point is that a cover capable of such feats feels a certain way in the hand. It’s slouchy and languid, the equivalent of curling up in your favorite chair instead of sitting ramrod straight at the table.

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Above: Flex the cover, not the spine. The Quentel opens flat, which is ideal for reading, and feels comfortable in the lap — though it is a handful.

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Above: The cover is folded in at the edges and stitched securely. Style points for the gilt line running all the way around the circumference.

Whether you want a limp binding on a larger Bible like this is the question. People divide over this point. Some feel that when you’re dealing with a bigger, thicker book block, it’s nice to have some rigidity to the cover for support. If you’re in that camp, edge-lined covers will drive you nuts. They’re about as girdle-like as a stretchy t-shirt.

Consider this, however. A big Bible with a rigid cover is going to function a bit like a dictionary. It’s great for the table-top, but awkward in the hand. With a flexible cover, you can fold back the side of the book you’re not reading for a handier package overall. This is the technique we all used for super-thick mass market paperbacks, which is why all the fantasy and romance novels in the secondhand shops have unsightly creases down their spines. Here’s a tip: you bend the cover, not the spine. This makes the book easier to hold without damaging the binding.

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Above: Proper technique illustrated. The spine remains flat and you curl back the cover. The Quentel will still take two hands to hold, but it’ll be a bit handier.

A SIZE COMPARISON
The Quentel’s cover dimensions are roughly 9.75″ x 6.5″, and it runs 1.75″ thick at the spine. Not huge, but there’s certainly some heft. The measurements are actually quite close to those of my original Crossway Legacy ESV, which was rebound for me by Leonard’s Book Restoration back in 2013. The two books offer an interesting comparison since their outer dimensions are so similar while their interior layout is anything but. Let’s take a look, because this will illustrate the different strengths of a traditional double column layout versus a more reader-oriented single column.

First, here are the two Bibles side-by-side. The Legacy in tan goatskin is on the left, and the Quentel in brown goatskin is on the right:

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Thanks to the fact that the Quentel is available in both black-letter and red-letter editions (more about that below), I was able to create an interesting interior comparison. Schuyler sent me a loose signature from the red-letter edition, which I tucked into the Legacy for a neat side-by-side comparison of the two layouts:

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The Quentel’s double column layout means that a book with 11 pt. type and cross references can be the same size as text-only single column setting with 9 pt. type. True, the Legacy has some room in the margin that could be sacrificed for slightly larger type, but the fact remains, double column settings are more efficient when it comes to fitting words on the page, which makes for a thinner book block. While the Legacy’s novel-like appearance makes for a more immersive reading experience, the Quentel might be more enjoyable for someone who struggles to scan smaller type.

RED-LETTER PITFALLS AND HOW TO AVOID THEM
If you’ve read Bible Design Blog much, you know I’m not a fan of red-letter Bibles. The tradition of setting Christ’s words in red doesn’t go back as far as most people think, and risks giving the impression that some words on the page are more authoritative than others. But red-letter editions are as American as apple pie, and you wouldn’t believe how many people, even knowing my thoughts, write in to ask, “Where can I find such-and-such an edition — but with red letters?” For those of you I can’t talk out of this not-so-traditional tradition, there is good news. The Quentel NKJV comes in both flavors, red-letter and black-letter.

The problem is, lots of red print can be a strain on the eyes, especially if the red verges into the realm of orange or pink, which can happen when the print impression is too light. If you’re going to print a red-letter edition, the trick is go dark, trending more toward blood red than cherry. Schuyler has already mastered the skill by using red to accent chapter numbers and other matter, so it’s not a surprise that they do red-letter right. All the red is shade darker than in past Quentels, which allows the red-letter words of Christ to be dark enough for the desired accent without calling too much attention to themselves. Since the chapter numbers and reference numbers are boldface, they appear darker than the red-letter text, which helps ease the dissonance of setting both Christ’s words and some of the apparatus in the same color.

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Above: Red-letter on the left, black-letter on the right. The red references at the bottom are bold, which gives them some contrast and helps avoid giving the impression that Jesus spoke the numbers, too.

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The only downside to the Quentel’s 11 pt. type is that fewer words per line in a justified column will sometimes create too much space between individual words. In the spread above, you may notice a few instances. This problem, like the propensity toward one-word lines at the end of a paragraph, is built into double column design — one of the trade-offs, you might say.

WRITING IN THE QUENTEL
The fact that I have a loose signature means I was able to do something I usually wouldn’t: test different writing tools on the actual page to see which ones perform best on the 36 gsm PrimaBible paper. I went through my desk and collected nine different instruments, a representative sample of the kinds of pencils and pens people tend to use when writing in their Bibles. Here’s what I chose:

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The Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood pencil (#1) leaves a medium-thick grayish line. The Lamy mechanical pencil (#2) has a thinner, darker impression, and it’s a little sharper and less smooth on the page. The Lamy ballpoint (#3) is pretty typical of the dry-writing genre — which isn’t the worst choice for thin Bible paper, to be honest. The smaller Kaweco brass ballpoint (#4) performs similar to the pressurized Space Pen insert, which is what I used to use all the time for writing in Bibles. The Pigma Micron (#5), with its archival ink, is often touted as the “correct” choice by discriminating Scripture annotators. The Karas Kustom Render K (#6) takes Pilot H-Tec C inserts, which leave a nice, thin line. While fountain pens aren’t recommended, I decided to give two of them a try: the Pilot Custom 74 (#7) features an Extra-Fine nib, and it’s a Japanese EF, much finer than a European nib of the same rating, while the Yard-O-Led Grand Viceroy (#8) has a custom-ground italic/stub nib that started life as a Broad, so it lays down plenty of ink. (Tim Girdler did the grind, by the way. I’m not sure if he’s still working on pens, but I love what he did with this one.) Last but not least, there’s my trusty Tombow highlighter (#9).

First we’ll examine at the front of the page, then flip it over to see the back. I went through Romans 8 and started underlining. The numbers in the margin correspond to the writing instruments listed above. Take a look:

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Both pencils did great. The lines don’t jump out the way the ink does, but they don’t damage the paper at all, and you can even erase them. If you’re worried about writing in your Bible, pencil is the way to go. Both of the ballpoints worked, too. The humble ballpoint doesn’t bleed through, just don’t press too hard. The Pigma Micron and the Pilot H-Tec C stand out more than the ballpoints, and the Pigma Micron actually lays down a thicker line. For an eye-catching accent, either one would make a good choice. Both fountain pens ran into trouble. The EF nib looks fine on the front of the page, though. The B nib is just too juicy for the paper. You can see the ink pooling and feathering at the end of the lines. Wait till you see what the back of the page looks like! I expected the highlighter to bleed through, but it didn’t.

Here’s the reverse of the page:

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Let’s distinguish between show-through and bleed-through. Show-through means you can see the impression of the writing on one side of the page when looking at the other. Bibles are notorious for show-through because of their thin paper, and the problem is more pronounced now compared to vintage India paper, whose rag content (apparently) allowed it to be thinner but more opaque. Bleed-through means the ink actually seeped through the paper. This is a common problem for wet inks like the kind used in fountain pens. The finish on many papers does not hold this kind of ink well. The page absorbs the ink, which gives the lines a feathery look, and in some cases the ink bleeds right through. Fountain pen users seek out paper with coatings that play well with wet ink, even though the drying time with such paper can be considerably longer.

The only pens that bled through the page were the two fountain pens, which isn’t surprising. I expected the B nib to bleed through, but when I was underlining with the EF, the lines looked so sharp that I let myself hope. Alas, 36 gsm PrimaBible is about as fountain pen friendly as a Field Notes journal — not so much. The good news is, with both the pencils there is no bleed-through and practically no show-through. The ballpoints have some show-through, but it’s not too bad, similar to the amount of show- through the printed page itself manifests. The Pigma Micron and the Pilot H-Tec C show through more, I think, but that’s probably because they are darker. This is Bible paper, folks, and hence fairly translucent. For me the most interesting result is the highlighter. Yes, it shows through, so there’s a sickly green cast to the reverse of the page. But it’s actually not terrible.

All this suggests that, if you want to write in your Bible, 36 gsm PrimaBible is a fairly accommodating paper. Unless you use pencil, you’re going to see your annotations through the page. As long as you steer clear of fountain pens, though, everything will be fine. Your marked up Bible won’t look pristine, but it won’t look like a mess, either. It will have the lived-in, customized appearance of a working tool — which is what it ought to be.

The Schuyler Quentel NKJV is available from EvangelicalBible.com in both black-letter and red-letter editions. The cover choices are dark brown, as pictured here, black, dark green, firebrick red, and imperial blue. The price is on the high end of the spectrum at $222, which is what happens when you combine fine quality and small print runs. The Quentel is a lifetime edition. If you want an elegant interpretation of the classic reference Bible design, that’s what this edition is all about.

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Caloca Bible Rebinds Matthew Everhard’s ASV

Matthew Everhard’s past contributions to Bible Design Blog have chronicled his experiments in bookbinding and his fascination with Jonathan Edwards’ Blank Bible. Now Matthew’s written a profile of an impressive rebinding project he commissioned from Diego Caloca, Jr., whose breathtaking full-yapp covers have inspired so much awe online. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to have a Bible rebound by a craftsman like Diego, here’s an inside look at what he can do. — JMB


Michelangelo’s famous sculpture of David (1501) was carved from a massive block of marble that had sat neglected for over twenty-five years. Another sculptor had roughly hewn some legs, breaking a hole through between them, but at some point he had abandoned the work. Afterward, the block was rejected as unworkable. This seventeen-foot chunk of pearly white marble sat in the back yard of Florence’s cathedral gathering moss until, a quarter century later, an artistic genius saw it with new eyes. Michelangelo relocated the block to his studio, and created one of the most recognizable pieces of art in the history of the world.

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Like Michelangelo, Diego Caloca specializes in giving new life to old and neglected things—in this case, old books and Bibles. Diego is one of the most skilled Bible rebinders working today. Entirely self-taught, he has the raw talent and patience to become a masterful leather-worker of Florentine proportions.

With that block of marble in mind, I recently sent my 1929 Thomas Nelson & Sons copy of the American Standard Version (ASV) to Diego in Rancho Cucamonga, California. I hoped Diego could give it new life, too, the final result amazed me. In this article, I will review the work Diego did.

First, a bit about the book block I sent him: As an avid Bible collector, I had been scouting for an ASV for some time, and had not yet found one to my liking. There are a few reprints available on the internet, but the ASV—which is basically the KJV’s early-twentieth-century son—has been out of publication long enough to make good originals hard to find. Some current editions are nothing more than poor facsimiles. Star Bibles produces a good print, but at $99 for mere faux leather, I just couldn’t bite. Finally, my father, an eBay master, hooked a near-perfect copy.

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My edition is a 7” x 5”, two-column text edition. Black letter, with no references, it does not make use of the old-style pronunciation “helps” (thankfully). There is no writing in this pristine copy, and the presentation page was left blank. The font is a very readable Brevier 12mo. The only problem with the block itself was that the red-dyed page edging was water damaged. Not surprisingly, the original genuine leather cover was wilting like Mother’s Day flowers by the first of June. Every time I opened it, the ASV coughed up black dust from between the cover and liner.

In other words, the block was a perfect candidate for a rebind project, just waiting for a master sculptor to fashion it back into a form worthy of its contents.

I gave Diego carte blanche to do whatever he wanted. Normally I wouldn’t do this, but I have studied Diego’s work for a couple of years, and even written about his interesting back story. So I trusted him completely. Nothing comes out of his studio—a simple shed beside his California home—that I haven’t “Oohed!” and “Awwed!” over. So I paid for modest media-rate postage and mailed out the hand-sized ASV with my permission to do with it whatever he willed.

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For the cover, Diego chose a midnight black sokoto goatskin, with a mild river grain, and lined it with a slightly more modestly grained goatskin interior. He gave it a full half-inch yap, curved prominently over the block. Overall, this cover is pretty stiff. I definitely wouldn’t try to roll up this goatskin like a scroll as you’ve probably seen some Bible reviewers do before. Mark’s famous yoga pose wouldn’t work on this one. The stronger nature of the this particular arrangement allows the yap to stay curved inward, instead of hanging loosely over the edges like a wet blanket. This was intentional on Diego’s part, and he is capable of doing more limp bindings when asked. But given the aging nature of this particular text block, and the somewhat weathered texture of the of the nearly century old paper, this was probably a wise call. Some clients who prefer limper bindings would do well to specify that they want a cover/liner combo that melts in the hands. At the same time, the pronounced, curved yap of this particular rendition added overall strength and protection to the final form, giving this rebind a lasting, durable feel.

To the fingertips, the feel of the leather Diego chose is somewhat close to the goatskin of some Cambridge Clarions I’ve seen, if only a bit more subtle in the grain pattern. He also gave the cover a gorgeous tooling line, an eighth of an inch from the edge, further adding to the luxury of the stately black leather. In my own view, the tooling looks great in black, and I do think that Diego specializes in jet black and dark brown leathers. This is just a personal, aesthetic opinion of mine. Diego can order any leather color or texture that you want, or even work with one that you send him by mail. I’ve even seen Diego transform some couch leather for another customer into a custom Bible skin. But if you should happen to have him do a rebind, I’d say consider the darker leathers as your first choice.

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His corner work is utterly superb. I rebind Bibles myself, and recognize instinctively when my own work is greatly excelled. One of the reasons that I don’t sell my rebinds anymore—I mostly give them away—is that I just can’t manage to pull off what Diego does. He’s got the touch. I just…don’t.

In terms of aesthetics, Diego added new white headbands and three ribbons: two black ribbons, and one blue. They are wide and silky. No complaints there. (It’s just my opinion, but I think some Bible reviewers place too much emphasis on ribbons.)

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Where this Bible really sticks out among my collection of sacred texts are the raised ribs and the page edges. First, the ribs on the spine are unlike those I have seen anywhere else. Neither R. L. Allan nor Cambridge nor Schuyler are doing ribs like this—and it is a shame, because they are absolutely stunning. The ribs are made by a thick piece of cord under the leather, rising up triumphantly with tooling on either side, creating an almost a pyramid-style look. They are the best I’ve seen. The high end publishers should order a Caloca rebind and tell their manufacturers to replicate this feat.

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Second, remember that water-damaged page edging? Diego brought my book block back to its original bookstore red by adding archival ink to the page edges with a cloth applicator. The color is quite august, not the light salmon color of the art-gilding on a Cambridge Wide Margin, but more the blood-red hue seen on older hymnals and Bibles. Personally, I love it.

Does anyone else even attempt what Diego does with the page dying? Give other Bible rebinders a call and ask if they do this, and you are likely to hear silence or a click on the other end of the phone. If you need work done on the page edges, Diego seems to be your best option at this level of skill. He tells me that he can do this underneath gold page gilding without harm, stepping it up a notch. At this point, adding both gold and red underneath is still a trick mastered by very few book artists.

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In the interests of transparency, I should mention one flaw. The gold stamping of “Holy Bible” on the spine looks like it is flecking just a bit. Perhaps the texture of the leather prevented the gilding from adhering? Still, the imprint looks satisfying to the eye. It takes some nerve to critique Diego in an area that I cannot even attempt, let alone surpass, myself! This is one area in which I think Leonard’s and AA Leather may be a step ahead.

Any time you have a handmade piece of artwork—and that’s what this is—you can expect idiosyncrasies. That’s why we call them handicrafts, and why they often excel in glory their store-bought, mass-produced counterparts. If you’re worried about the gold-stamped flecking, have Diego dry-stamp the spine without the gold embossing. It looks every bit as regal that way.

When I sent this nearly century-old ASV to Diego, I expected to get back a Bible that I would actively use. But when I saw the finished product, I knew that it would just feel wrong somehow to use and abuse this one too much. It’s just too beautiful. Like Michelangelo’s David, great artwork is better to savor with the eye than touch. So this one is going to end up as a trophy piece in my collection, pulled off the shelf occasionally to photograph and admire, and I’ll send Diego Caloca another edition to rebind in the future. Hopefully I will have the audacity to use that one more regularly! If you are interested in having a Bible rebound by Diego Caloca Jr., please contact him through his Facebook page, Caloca Bible Rebinds.

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Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. An ordained Presbyterian minister, he collects, reviews, and rebinds Bibles as a hobby. You can read Matthew’s earlier contributions to Bible Design Blog here.

 

Why I Haven’t Given Up on Bibliotheca

It’s the beginning of 2016 and Bibliotheca, the Kickstarter project that took the world of Bible publishing by storm over the summer of 2014, raising nearly $1.5 million dollars to print a multi-volume, readable edition of the American Standard Version, still hasn’t delivered the goods. The culprit seems to be mission creep: all the design and printing choices have been made, and now we’re waiting on a revision of the ASV that wasn’t part of the original pitch. This has caused a lot of frustration — a lot of us backed the project in spite of its use of the ASV, not because of it — and a number of my friends have gone so far as to request refunds. Since I backed Bibliotheca on Day 1 and wrote about it extensively for Bible Design Blog (you can see my coverage here), I get polite e-mails on a regular basis asking whether I’ve given up on ever seeing the end result. And I get a few not-so-polite ones suggesting there is egg on my face for promoting Bibliotheca to my readers.

The fact is, I haven’t given up on Bibliotheca, and I want you to know why. First, I need to clarify a few things. I don’t have any insider information about the state of the project. All I know is what has been released to the public. Although I was in touch with Adam Greene during the fundraiser, I have not heard a thing from him since it ended. I’m in the same boat as the project’s other backers. If I’m not giving up, it isn’t because I know something you don’t. It’s because I’m putting a different interpretation on the knowledge we have in common. Fair enough?

So here are the six reasons I haven’t given up on Bibliotheca:

1. I haven’t given up on Bibliotheca because, where Kickstarter projects are concerned, late deliveries are the norm. Of the four projects I backed in 2014, none of them delivered by the deadline. The earliest arrival hit my doorstep six months late. None of them, when they finally showed up, was a disappointment. Now Bibliotheca is the last one I’m waiting on, and they’re currently talking as if the set will be in our hands by mid-year.

2. I haven’t given up on Bibliotheca because mission creep isn’t always the kiss of death. I hate mission creep. If Adam had asked me, I would have told him the most important thing following his unprecedented success was to deliver what was promised in the time it was promised. Use the leftover funds to pursue bigger projects in the future. Instead he started thinking about how to upgrade every aspect of Bibliotheca, and then made the decision to abandon the light update to the ASV originally pitched to backers in favor of a deeper revision. The thing is, mission creep of this nature, while it delays the end result, also improves it. And some of the best results in history can be attributed to mission creep (see the Emancipation Proclamation).

3. I haven’t given up on Bibliotheca because Adam Greene seems intensely committed, and that makes a difference. Some of the disillusionment with Bibliotheca stems from the belief that his huge success led Adam to take his eye off the ball. I’ve even seen some people online speculating that Bibliotheca would never ship and Adam would take the money and run. I don’t understand this, frankly. The reason for the delays strike me as the result of the fact that, for Adam, this is a life goal, an obsession. I’m sure there were people telling the Pope that the Sistine Chapel would never be finished and Michelangelo would disappear with the money and sun himself on the Lido. Meanwhile the maestro was wiping paint from his eyes and saying, “It’ll be finished when it’s finished.”

4. I haven’t given up on Bibliotheca because, obviously, I’m still in love with the concept. You’re talking to a guy whose life work centers on making the Bible readable. If the original pitch had included the caveat that Bibliotheca wouldn’t ship until this summer, I still would have backed it.

5. I haven’t given up on Bibliotheca because its influence has been positive. Call it self interest, but I’d been blogging about readable Bible design for seven years by the summer of 2014, and I’ve now had more conversations with people in publishing about making my own dream edition a reality than in all that time. Way more. And Crossway recently announced the release of their own multi-volume Reader’s Bible coming in October of this year, which means you can have a Bibliotheca-style edition in a translation you’re more likely to use.

6. Finally, I haven’t given up on Bibliotheca because I’m actually looking forward to discovering how Adam’s revised ASV will turn out. When the project passed the $1 million mark, I remember people saying that this would give Adam the change to license an in-demand translation, the assumption being that he’d settled on the ASV because it was royalty-free. Based on the way he talked about the translation, though, I figured that was unlikely. While I am not nearly as excited about the American Standard Version as he is, I can relate to the impulse that led Adam to love it and want to reintroduce it to the world. And if the result ends up finding favor, the extra investment made in creating the revision could make a kind of sense: Adam could license it, or release new editions in different formats.

Those are all the reasons I haven’t given up on Bibliotheca. It’s not that I’m not frustrated, it’s just that the frustrations seem understandable to me, and haven’t blunted my desire to see the books on my shelf. If you feel differently, no problem. My goal isn’t to convince anyone to see things my way, just to explain why I feel the way I do. Whether you backed the project or not, the good news is, we can expect more reader-friendly editions of the Bible in the future. While they may never supersede the classic reference format, I have hopes that at long last readable Bibles, which have come and gone over the years, will carve out a sustainable niche.

Christmas Guide to Buying a Bible: First Things

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First Things has published my Christmas Guide to Buying a Bible: 2015 Supplement to offer options to anyone on the hunt for gift-giving ideas. Follow the link to see which Bibles I chose — and to share your own recommendations in the comments!

For the most part, I found myself emphasizing reader-friendly editions — no surprise — especially highly giftable ones. Some of my suggestions are Bibles I’ve written about here in the past, and some are new. Enjoy the list … and have a merry Christmas!

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Reader-Friendly NLT: The Schuyler Caxton and the Tyndale Select Reference Edition

I am doing something today I don’t think I’ve ever done before at Bible Design Blog: reviewing two editions side-by-side. But then, it’s a unique situation. Two beautiful renderings of the same impressive design, both printed and bound by Jongbloed in the Netherlands.

The Tyndale Select in black goatskin (top) and the Schuyler Caxton in dark purple goatskin.

The Tyndale Select in black goatskin (top) and the Schuyler Caxton in dark purple goatskin.

A TALE OF TWO EDITIONS
Tyndale refers to this text setting as the NLT Select Reference Edition, while Schuyler offers it under the Caxton name. Both editions are printed and bound in the Netherlands by Jongbloed, and at first glance appear quite similar. The Caxton, however, features several grace notes that make it the more luxurious of the two — in particular the leather lining, upgraded ribbons, and wider range of cover colors. (As far as I can tell, the Select is printed on the same 28 gsm Indopaque paper as the Caxton.) If you prefer the Select’s more minimalist cover aesthetic, though, you can choose not only between black and brown, but also goatskin and calfskin covers.

For all the details on the Schuyler Caxton, visit the product page at EvangelicalBible.com. And for the scoop on the Tyndale Select, check out their beautiful web presentation.

CaxtonSelect1

For Schuyler, the Caxton represents both continuity and improvement. The consistent quality that has made Schuyler a market leader in the high-end Bible market is readily apparent here. In this sense, the Caxton is a ‘boring’ release — in the best possible way. You get exactly what you’ve come to expect from Schuyler’s line. At the same time, the leather lining marks a step forward for Schuyler, much nicer than the shiny synthetic liner in the Select’s cover (which is comparable to what we have seen in Cambridge editions from Jongbloed). More importantly, while this is not the first single-column setting from Schuyler, I believe it is the best.

The Select marks an even bigger advance for Tyndale, which dropped the former Select line (reviewed here) some time back. It’s great to see them returning to the high-quality market — and doing so in partnership with Jongbloed, too. Crossway entered this field awhile back, working with Jongbloed to bring us the excellent Heirloom line. Tyndale’s move ensures that readers of the NLT will enjoy Bibles of comparable design and quality.

THE TEXT SETTING
Since both editions use the same text setting, let me cover the interior design first. In a nutshell, the Select/Caxton offers a reader-friendly reference edition in the spirit of Cambridge’s Clarion and Crossway’s Personal Reference. The similarities are striking, especially comparing the Clarion. The same typeface is used, Lexicon, which a lot of designers I’ve spoken with consider the ideal when it comes to Bible typography. The cross reference system looks similar, with boldface chapter and verse headings in the outer margin and references underneath. Textual notes are placed at the bottom of the text column.

CaxtonSelect14

The Caxton (center) features a reader-friendly reference layout similar to the Cambridge Clarion (right), but with proportions more akin to the Crossway Legacy (left). It occupies an interesting middle ground.

Comparing the Select/Caxton to the Clarion, however, you notice some differences. The chapter headings are set in bold italics instead of the Clarion’s plain italics. The page header is in all-caps, like the Clarion, but the spacing between letters is looser, which gives a more elegant impression (and is in keeping with the generally whiter, more spacious page).

The biggest difference has to do with page proportions and the resulting impact on the proportions of the text column. The Clarion page measures 5” x 7”, a classic footprint for books intended for hand-held reading. On that page, the text column is 3.5” wide and 6” tall, which creates a wide, page-filling impression. The Select/Caxton, however, is a larger book. The type size has been bumped from 7.5 pt. to 8.75 pt, and so the page is enlarged to accommodate, measuring 5.25” x 8.25” — comparable in width to the Clarion but a full 1.25” taller. The taller page allows a taller text column: the Select/Caxton’s single text column is 3.625” wide and 7” tall. In other words, while it’s only 0.125” wider than the Clarion, the Select/Caxton’s column is a full 1” taller than the Clarion’s.

Reader-friendly editions compared: The Clarion (top) is smaller than the Select and the Caxton (center), which occupy a middle space between it and the Heirloom Legacy (bottom).

Reader-friendly editions compared: The Clarion (top) is smaller than the Select and the Caxton (center), which occupy a middle space between it and the Heirloom Legacy (bottom).

As a result, the Select/Caxton sits prettily between the Clarion and another beloved single-column text setting, the Crossway Legacy. I mean that literally. This text setting looks like the fruit of a conversation that went something like this: “What if we took the text setting of the Clarion and gave it the proportions of the Legacy, minus the huge margins?” The Heirloom Legacy, in case you’re wondering, has a text column that measures 4” wide and 6.5” tall.

Another significant difference has to do with the line spacing, what typographers call ‘leading’ since in the old days of metal type, spacing between lines was achieved by inserting plugs of lead. Making allowance for my middle-aged eyes, I estimate the leading of the Clarion to be about 9.5 pt., while the larger Legacy has roughly 11 pt. leading. When I apply my scale to the Select/Caxton, though, I get something along the lines of 11.5 pt., which gives each line a bit more air to breathe. This can aid both readability and your ability to keep your place on the page, since lines spaced more generously are harder for the eye to mix up.

To be honest, I find the difference in type size between the Clarion and the Select/Caxton fairly negligible. I knew from the stats which one was larger, and confirmed this by measuring, yet eyeballing the two side-by-side I can’t really tell much difference. That is not the case with the leading, however. The extra line-spacing has a curious effect. At times the Clarion’s type appears as large or larger to my eyes, but the Select/Caxton’s lines are easier to skim over. I am not sure which page I prefer, frankly, and I cannot guarantee you would experience the same effect. It goes to show how significant even the smallest changes can be to the way we process words on the page.

The Caxton (left) compared to the Allan NLT1 (right).

The Caxton (left) compared to the Allan NLT1 (right).

Comparing the Select/Caxton to another high-end NLT, the R. L. Allan NLT1 (reviewed here), illustrates two very different approaches to readability. The Allan features Tyndale’s Premium Slimline Reference book block, a two-column text setting that packs larger individual words onto a considerably larger page. Even setting aside the Select/Caxton’s superior paper quality, I would argue that the Select/Caxton, by virtue of its spacious one-column text setting is both more readable and more suitable to general use.

Both the Select (top) and the Caxton (middle) improve the reading experience over the Allan NLT1 (bottom) -- but that big, floppy green cover is still amazing.

Both the Select (top) and the Caxton (middle) improve the reading experience over the Allan NLT1 (bottom) — but that big, floppy green cover is still amazing.

One last detail I want to point out is that, thanks to the New Living Translation’s more fluent use of dialogue tags, the translation benefits particularly well from a single column layout. As the passage below from Acts 22 illustrates, despite the slight anachronism that comes from retaining dialogue tags at the beginning of speech instead of in the middle or end of the line, which is much more common in English today, the NLT is formatted in a way that will scan smoothly for readers, with minimal confusion about who’s saying what. This isn’t always true in more literal translations, where retaining the antique grammatical form of the dialogue tags prevents new speakers from being indicated by the start of a new paragraph.

Here you can admire both the way the single column setting shows off the NLT's fluent formatting of dialogue and the way the generous line-spacing makes reading easier.

Here you can admire both the way the single column setting shows off the NLT’s fluent formatting of dialogue and the way the generous line-spacing makes reading easier.

The print impression in both Bibles — at least, both of my review copies — was nice and dark, consistent from page to page. Line-matching seemed very consistent, too. Occasionally I found what appeared to be mis-matches, but in fact this was the result of other pages showing through underneath (a harder metric to control). Jongbloed did an excellent job with the printing on these editions.

THE SCHUYLER CAXTON
Now that we’ve looked inside and considered what the Select and the Caxton have in common, I want to explore their differences more, which have mainly to do with the binding. My review copy of the Schuyler Caxton is bound in limp natural grain goatskin, in a shade of dark purple that I imagine resembles the shade of a Roman emperor’s toga. Byzantine emperors were said to have been “born to the purple,” and many quite literally were, their mothers having given birth in a palace chamber lined in porphyry.

I wish the Schuyler logo (bottom) were scaled down to match the proportions of the Cambridge one (above). Where logo size is concerned, less is more.

I wish the Schuyler logo (bottom) were scaled down to match the proportions of the Cambridge one (above). Where logo size is concerned, less is more.

The color compares favorably with the Cambridge Prayer Book & Bible bound in purple calf split leather. Like the Cambridge, the Caxton’s lining is black, and you know how unhappy black liners inside a color cover make me. My objection to the practice is rooted in the fact that black has been the default option for so long. To me, a color cover with a black lining just screams that no one was paying attention to the details. Having said that, in this instance I happen to know for a fact that someone was paying attention to the details. Early in the process, the folks at Schuyler queried me about what color lining to use with a purple cover. The available options were limited, and as much as it pained me, black was indeed the most complementary of the choices. The others would have made for jarring combinations. All this to say, I’m not deducting points for the black lining in this instance — not that I keep track of points to begin with! — but I don’t want anyone to think I’ve made peace with the thought of black linings in non-black covers. I haven’t, and I never will.

Whether my photos capture this or not, I must say that the purple cover and the purple ribbons make a painfully elegant combination. This is high church through and through. The red-under-gold page gilding and the gilt line around the inside cover are standard on Schuyler editions (also present on the Select), but something about the purple-on-purple combination elevates the look, each shade bringing out the richness of the other.

The purple ribbons look great with the dark purple goatskin cover. Good luck getting one of the happy few owners to part with one, though.

The purple ribbons look great with the dark purple goatskin cover. Good luck getting one of the happy few owners to part with one, though.

The bad news is, the purple Caxtons are all gone, sold out during the pre-order phase, and there won’t be more of them for months. Mourn if you want, but there are some beautiful color combinations available. Personally, I would suggest either the dark green or the antique marble brown. Or the blue. (Like I said, there are options.)

One tweak I would love to make to the Schuyler’s aesthetic is the scale of the printing on the book’s spine. It’s simply too large. The ‘HOLY BIBLE’ and ‘NEW LIVING TRANSLATION’ are borderline for me, but I would reduce them at least ten percent. This would make the spine less crowded and give a more refined impression.

The logo at the bottom could be reduced considerably more. Graphic designers often complain about the perennial client request to “make my logo bigger,” and for good reason. You want attention and you think the best way to get it is to yell. The design equivalent of a raised voice is the big logo. The reason designers buck is not just that oversized logos result in an unbalanced overall look; it’s because yelling doesn’t really have the effect the yeller thinks it does. Things that are balanced, in scale, in proportion, communicate a level of assurance that look-at-me enlargement never does. Over time, Schuyler’s cover decoration has grown more sophisticated. Bringing the elements into proportion on the spine should be the next big step.

The leather lining of the Caxton (left) is not only nicer, it seems to eliminate the squeek of synthetics.

The leather lining of the Caxton (left) is not only nicer, it seems to eliminate the squeek of synthetics.

Inside the cover, the story is all about the leather lining. While it may create a subtle improvement in feel, the gain I noticed most actually had to do with sound. One of the gripes I’ve heard from readers is that some high-end Bibles, when you handle them, make a squeaking sound. With the synthetic liner on the Select, I get a little bit of that — but I haven’t heard it once with the Caxton. Admittedly, comparing two individual copies falls short of a definitive test, but I’m going to tentatively agree with folks who’ve traced the sound back to the synthetic liners.

A NOTE ON THE HINGE
The Jongbloed hinge has been a concern of mine for awhile, and the Caxton review copy was sent along with a note to the effect that, while the problem hadn’t been eliminated, the in-house team at Schuyler felt that the hinges on the Caxton weren’t as stiff as past editions have been, resulting in a Bible more apt to open flat. Imagine my disappointment when I opened my Caxton and found it would not lay flat. The good news is, the disappointment has abated. Let me explain.

Out of the box, it wasn't a pretty sight: the Jongbloed hinge strikes again.

Out of the box, it wasn’t a pretty sight: the Jongbloed hinge strikes again.

Out of the box, the Caxton did not feel any different to me than past Jongbloed Bibles, and I can confirm that the hinge is still there, and it is still stiff. What I found, however, was that with just a little bit of use, my Caxton was opening pretty much flat. Maybe the leather lining helped? Having two bindings of the same book block in hand presented a rare opportunity. I decided to see if the application of brute force would make the Select open flat the way the Caxton was. After bending the cover back and struggling with the hinge in ways I really wouldn’t recommend, I found that yes, the Select would open fairly flat, too. While these Jongbloed editions might not open as flat as, say, an Allan right out of the box, this seems to confirm that things get better with a bit of use.

Better and better: With use and abuse, both the Caxton (back) and the Select (front) opened pretty much flat.

Better and better: With use and abuse, both the Caxton (back) and the Select (front) opened pretty much flat. Perfect? No. But a big improvement.

Having said this, I should note that the new Heirloom Omega ESV, also printed and bound by Jongbloed, does open flat right out of the box — at least, my copy did. It, too, has a hinge, but a shallower one. I will be writing about this edition in the future.

Crossway's Heirloom Omega (front), also printed by Jongbloed, opens flat out of the box thanks to a shallower hinge. The Caxton is in the background.

Crossway’s Heirloom Omega (front), also printed by Jongbloed, opens flat out of the box thanks to a shallower hinge. The Caxton is in the background.

THE TYNDALE SELECT
The impressive thing about the Tyndale Select is how favorably it compares to the Caxton. “Of course it does,” you’re thinking. “It’s the same book block printed by the same printer and bound by the same binder.” True enough. But Jongbloed can do a wide range of work at a variety of quality levels. The work they do for Allan, for example, is higher spec than standard Jongbloed-printed Cambridge Bibles. And when a major publisher releases a luxe edition, the details do not always live up to the hype.

The black goatskin Select (top) compares favorably with its rival.

The black goatskin Select (top) compares favorably with its rival.

That isn’t the case here, however. Tyndale has created a beautiful website to promote the Select, and this Bible deserves it. This is a well-made, elegant edition suited to deep reading, teaching, and study, the kind of Bible you could settle down with for the long term. While I have only seen the black goatskin option, based on my experience of Crossway’s similar Heirloom line, I feel fairly confident in recommending both the goat and calf editions, based on your preference. The Select features an excellent text setting in a variety of fine cover options.

Everything I’ve said so far about the Caxton’s quality applies equally to the Select, with two exceptions. The liner is synthetic rather than leather, and the two ribbons you get with the Select aren’t nearly as nice as the Caxton’s three. These factors do make the Caxton the more usable of the two, if we’re thinking of lifetime Bibles here.

Two ribbons and art-gild page edges.

Two ribbons and art-gild page edges.

The Select might have one advantage, though. The aesthetic of the cover may be more to your taste. Stacking the printing at the top of the spine gives the cover a clean, modern look. While I prefer the classic feel of the Schuyler, my graphic designer wife gives the Select her thumbs up. I suppose the fact that the choice might come down to which spine you like the look of best illustrates how successful Tyndale’s return to the high-end market has turned out.

NEW LIFE FOR THE NLT
I have turned to the New Living Translation for years as a back-up when working with more literal translations like the ESV, typically relying on an old hardback from the time of the original release. Despite my appreciation, I have never used the NLT as much as I might because the editions I’ve owned just aren’t designed the way I’d like. I thought that might change with the Allan NLT1, but despite my adoration for that big, floppy cover, I could never warm to the text setting itself.

Suddenly I find myself spoiled for choices: the Caxton in its beautiful array of colors, now with leather linings, and the Select in black and brown and the choice of goatskin or calf. The text setting, obviously, is what makes this Bible such an attractive option — but having it available in so many different color and binding options sure doesn’t hurt. NLT fans should be rejoicing about now. They’ve never had it so good.

Every translation with any kind of following deserves a reader-friendly reference edition like this, a single column setting with nice proportions that can serve today’s Bible reader as an all-around staple. There should be a NASB just like this, and an NIV and an NRSV. Insert whatever your favorite translation happens to be. If the NLT is your go-to, I can’t think of a single reason why you wouldn’t want a Caxton or a Select — or both — on your shelf. Not just on your shelf, either, but in your hands, and in the hands of your friends, your congregation, your Bible study partners. As far as the NLT goes, this is the text setting to have, and it’s available in a range of options that makes it simple to find the perfect edition for you.

If you love the NLT, it doesn't get any better than this.

If you love the NLT, it doesn’t get any better than this.

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