R. L. Allan's KJV Ruby Edition in Black Highland Goatskin

Somewhere in one of his many books, management guru Peter Drucker contrasts the leadership styles of Abe Lincoln and Robert E. Lee, trying to account for the against-all-odds success of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. He attributed it to the difference in the way the two men selected generals. Lincoln choose leaders who lacked great weaknesses. Lee elevated those with outstanding strengths. Whether the comparison stands up to scrutiny or not, I can't say -- and of course, by the time Lincoln handed the reins over to Grant, he was willing to tolerate certain vices in the interests of success. But the analogy has always struck me as useful. It certainly applies in the world of Bibles.

Some of us are looking for Bibles that don't get anything wrong, whereas others want editions that get one or two things very right. I'm in the latter camp. To enjoy certain virtues, I'll put up with a lot of faults. Nothing is perfect, but some things are more wonderfully imperfect than others. Case in point:

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When I told Nicholas Gray at R. L. Allan's that I wanted one of their Ruby Edition KJVs, he gave me a warning: the text setting was older and the impression wasn't particularly sharp. Still, the format was popular with some readers, and I might be one of them. The Bible arrived, and sure enough, there were some irregularities to note (I'll get to them in a moment). But I don't take much notice of them, because the strengths are superlative. 

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No doubt you've heard the story of Lincoln's reaction when told that Grant was a poor choice for command on account of his love for whisky. The President replied: "I wish some of you would tell me the brand of whiskey that Grant drinks. I would like to send a barrel of it to my other generals." That's my take on the Ruby Edition. 

The first thing you notice is what it has in common with the Long Primer, its magnificent highland goatskin, full-yapp cover, which is soft, limp, and quite elegant. 

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On a smaller Bible like this -- which is prone to being carried around, stuffed in briefcases, and generally abused -- the extended edges come in handy by protecting the pages. That's not why I like them, though: my thrill comes from the fact that they look cool and feel great in the hand.

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The pages have art-gilt (i.e., "red under gold") edges, and the binding is naturally sewn. The Ruby is printed in Great Britain on acid-free India paper by Clay's Ltd. It opens flat easily and stays that way. You get one blue ribbon, nice and thick. Inside, in addition to the references, you'll find a dictionary of proper names, a substantial concordance, maps, and an insert of lined paper for notes. This is a full-featured yet diminutive Bible.

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So let's open it up and get the negatives out of the way. First, the print is small. This is a compact Bible, so you wouldn't expect it to be otherwise. I don't know what the exact point size is, but I'd guess it's below 7 pt. The print impression is dark, but there is some variation. Occasionally you'll come across a letter that seems cracked, an ascender or descender with only a ghostly presence on the page. The type looks ... old, which is what it is.

If, like me, you grew up with the King James Version, you're probably accustomed to this sort of thing. Settings of the KJV tend to have an archaic look (even the newer ones). 

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Assuming you're comfortable with small-print Bibles, you shouldn't have any trouble reading the Ruby. It's free of self-pronouncing text, which is a plus -- especially at this size. There will be some patches more difficult than others, I suppose. In that sense, I suppose you could argue it's a metaphor for the translation itself.

My preference for smaller Bibles like this stems in part from what I find convenient in worship. When I attended a church with old fashioned pews, the long benches provided plenty of room for my "stuff." I could bring a full-size wide margin Bible along, knowing I'd have somewhere to put it when I stood. But for the past few years, all my churches have had chairs instead of pews -- sometimes nice, plush ones, sometimes the excruciating torture device known as the folding chair (great for mortifying the flesh). This prompted me to bring along increasingly tiny Bibles. Jugging a Bible, a hymnal, and an order of worship, I found it best to travel light.

If you use the KJV in worship, the Ruby would make an excellent choice. Handy enough for use without sacrificing any features.

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Let's talk about the size. According to the Allan's site, the Ruby measures 4.25" x 5.75", but the metrics on mine are a little different. The page size is 4.25" x 6", and the full-yapp edge boosts the footprint into Pitt Minion territory, as you can see in the photo above, something in the neighborhood of 6" x 7" -- and 1.25" thick. 

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The photo above illustrates the difference between the page size and the cover size. While the spines give the impression that the Ruby and Pitt Minion are comparably sized, the Ruby is actually quite a bit smaller. It's not, however, the most compact KJV available from Allan's -- that distinction belongs to the Allan's-bound Crystal edition printed by Cambridge (seen on top, below). That tiny wonder measures just 3.25" x 5.25", truly a pocket edition.

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In spite of my smaller-is-better mantra, I think compared to the Crystal, the Ruby has more soul. It's a superb example of the bookbinder's craft, and despite imperfections the text setting conjures a classic period in Bible design. Beauty in a well-used book is something you appreciate more over time, and the Ruby has plenty.

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As I mentioned, there's a block of lined pages in the back for your notes. I've always liked this feature, though when I heard the most recent printing of the Allan's ESV1 wouldn't have lined pages, I didn't exactly weep. My notes are more likely to go in a separate notebook these days. However, I'd like to point out a useful function of lined pages in a Bible. I've used mine to record quotations and the outline of arguments. For example, in one of theologian John Frame's books, I came across a nice summary encapsulated the biblical case for Christ's deity. That's the sort of thing that can come quite handy in conversation, so I copied it onto the lined pages in the back of my Bible. I've noted excerpts from the creeds, confessions, and catechisms, too, using the blank pages to create a biblical vade mecum

The photo below suggests just how flexible the cover is. Inside the front cover, the word GOATSKIN is stamped in small caps:

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Inside the back cover, it's stamped OXFORD BINDING.

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The natural grain of the goatskin is beautiful, as always. In every way, this little Bible is built to last. If you decide you'd like one, you have a couple of options. The Ruby Edition (103*) is available from Allan's directly, selling for £48.00. If you're in North America, you'll find them stocked at EvangelicalBible.com for $79.75. 

I've corresponded with a number of you who've given the Ruby Edition a try, always with positive results. Still, it's fair to say the Ruby's not for everyone. But if its unique, elegant binding and compact size appeal to you, I don't think you'll be disappointed. 
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