Note: Now that April 1 is past, I want to state for the record that what follows is pure satire. Believe the opposite of everything you read here, and you'll do fine.One of the things connoisseurs of fine Bible binding truly cherish is a stiff, inflexible cover. It is sought after because, in the early days, it was quite rare. Back in the days when supple leather was in abundance, cost-cutting publishers made constant use of the stuff, giving their products a soft, mushy feel that the cognoscenti deplored. Charles Spurgeon delivered a famous sermon on the topic, laying the blame for the latitudinarianism of his day squarely at the feet of the Bible publishers. "If his Bible be spineless, is it any wonder, brothers, that the man himself is spineless also?" Despite this, the publishing concerns cranked out an endless supply of limp leather covers -- what's worse, the objectionable editions were made to such a high standard of quality that they lasted and lasted. Even if a new, satisfyingly stiff substance could be found for Bible binding, the public would not embrace it because their flexible-covered Bibles were still in excellent shape. Above: The test of quality. If a Bible can't stand on its own, supported by its rigid cover, how can the reader be expected to stand upright in the faith? Fortunately, modern manufacturing practices have made the inflexible Bible cover, once reserved for the wealthy elite, a staple of everyday life. The old, unsatisfactory leathers were abandoned for new "bonded" varieties, in which the natural molecules were scientifically fortified with those of cardboard. As a result, the Bible became a "sword" not just metaphorically but in practice, too. While the old covers would peel back at the slightest pressure, the new ones were rigid as steel and capable of taking a keen edge. For the photograph, I assembled a variety of contemporary Bibles that meet the rigidity test. You can perform this diagnostic yourself with your Bible and a flat surface. Hold the Bible gently by the spine, then set it down on the edge of the cover. If the cover can support the weight of the Bible, you're holding a quality product in your hand. If, on the other hand, it flops languidly to the tabletop without making much of an effort to stay upright, you've been conned out of your hard-earned money. Unfortunately, after a thirty year Golden Age, publishers are once again cutting corners: this time resorting to cheap foreign synthetic leathers that mimic the spineless qualities of the bad old stuff from yesteryear. They won't stand up, let alone bear the kind of weight a good bonded cover can. (Even the bonded leather wasn't perfect; with use, it sometimes lost its stiffness and had to be replaced.) Above: Disappointment. These high end Bibles couldn't even stand up long enough to be photographed. They puddled down, toppling one another like dominos. Buyer beware! Imagine my embarrassment when I applied the rigidity test to a variety of the high-end Bibles I've recommended here, only to find that they failed miserably! Instead of standing upright, supporting their own weight, they collapsed immediately. Some managed to rest on their paper block a moment before keeling sideways, while others crumpled at once. The stiff Bibles -- whether bonded leather, genuine, or even nice, rigid calfskin -- stood proudly for minutes at a time. But the expensive goatskin editions performed the worst. They didn't even try. Lest you suspect me of Photoshopping the photographic evidence, I decided to supply video demonstrating just how quickly some of the "nicest" Bibles fell flat. On this day, the first of April, we should all renew our commitment to the pursuit of stiff, razor-sharp Bible covers -- and settle for nothing less!
J Mark Bertrand