Somebody has a birthday coming up -- and no, it's not me. Next year will mark the four hundredth birthday of the King James Version. In 2009, countless dusty copies of Calvin's Institutes came off the shelf in honor of the Reformer's birthday, and I expect something similar will happen in 2011 for the most influential English translation of Scripture. As a result, I'm going to make a special effort to bring interesting KJV options to your attention. Some of you already love this majestic translation while others might be discovering it for the first time. Either way, I hope the coverage over the next few months will be illuminating.

To begin, we have an old favorite of mine, the Concord Wide Margin from Cambridge. Our friends at EvangelicalBible.com provided a copy for this review, and they have a limited number in stock. The price is $140. The Concord Wide Margin is the edition that inspired my classic feature on wide margin editions: "Marginal Interest: Why You Need A Wide Margin Bible." I'd be remiss if I didn't point you there first. To make a long story short, I love wide margin Bibles. I think they fill a unique role, which I've dubbed "the thinking man's Study Bible." With every other SB, somebody else does the homework and writes the marginal notes. With a wide margin, you do. Hard work? Sure. But well worth the effort.

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Unlike my old standby, which came in the King's College slipcase, this copy has one of the new boxes. Can I just say how much I appreciate it when publishers enumerate a Bible's features on the outside of the box? The usual questions a reader might ask -- What's the cover made of? Is the book block sewn? etc. -- are answered up front. The most important note here, however, is this one: Preface. 'The Translators to the Reader' of 1611. Why? Because most editions of the KJV published today omit this valuable preface, which explains the thoughts of the translators on their work, and on translation in general. I'm sure many publishers are contemplating new editions of the KJV for 2011, and I hope they all take note. "The Translators to the Reader" serves as an antidote to so much of the misunderstanding that has cropped up about the KJV in the past four hundred years. It's worth reading.

At a time when Cambridge seems more committed than ever to offering goatskin editions, this one is a bit of a throwback. It's bound in black calfskin, just like my own copy from a decade ago. I've written before about the variability of Cambridge's calfskin, which is not the soft matte-finish product familiar from Nelson Signature and other high end editions, but tends to have a harder, old school feel. Sometimes it's structured but flexible, sometimes it's quite limp, and sometimes it's stiff as all get-out. I have a burgundy calfskin Cameo (pictured near the end of this piece) that's bound in weapons grade calf. With a whetstone and a little elbow grease, I think it really would be sharper than a two-edged sword! 

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My review copy falls into the structured but flexible category. In fact, it reminds me a bit of my ESV Pitt Minion, which started out a little stiff and with use has become one of my favorite covers. Use is the key. The more you read, the more you handle, the less you coddle, the better the cover becomes. It breaks in, so to speak. 

As you can see, the black calfskin is attractively grained, the lettering stamped in gold. Colorful Bibles are my thing. I like browns and tans and reds. I even like blues and grays and greens. (Not burgundy so much.) But there's no question black is an unobjectionable, understated classic. For most people, it is the color of Bibles. Anything else smacks of irreverence. The Concord Wide Margin has that classic elegance. It's a well appointed edition, but subtle about it. Cambridge offers this edition in edge-lined goatskin and French Morocco, too. (The goatskin edition at EvangelicalBible.com runs $175.99, and French Morocco brings your cost down to $118.)

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A couple of grace notes: the pages feature art-gilt edges, that old fashioned red-copper-gold matrix that shifts with the angle and the light. Gilding these days seems to be a lost art, and use does not improve edges the way it often does leather, so get used to them not staying pretty. Art gilt edges seem to age better than your typical gold foil, though. That's been my experience at least. 

The Concord Wide Margin comes with two black ribbons, nice and long ones. Length is essential given the side of the page. If you can't draw a ribbon from near the spine all the way to the far corner of the book, opening to the marked spot, then your ribbons are simply too short. 

Of course, the real story where wide margins are concerned starts when the cover opens:

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The Concord's text impression is cheated to the inside and top, which means the bottom and outside margins are the most convenient for note taking. In an ideal world, a two column setting would have wide margins on both sides -- even some extra width on the inside to allow for the gutter. But this isn't an ideal world (and if it were, wide margins would come with single column text settings, so you'd only need one big margin on the outside). I can tell you from experience that the Cambridge arrangement works. It's not perfect. You'll occasionally find yourself straining for space on the inside margin. But this is a workable compromise.

The Concord text setting is attractive and readable. The font is 8/9 pt Times Semi-Bold. I'm not a fan of the old verse-by-verse line divisions, preferring a paragraphed text for readability, but this is at least a fine example of the form. The print impression in my review copy is consistent and dark. The paper is reasonably opaque, consistent with Cambridge standards, and to my eye has a hint of creme tone that may not come through in the photos. The text block was "printed in the Netherlands and bound in the United Kingdom at the University Press, Cambridge."

When it comes to Cambridge editions, there are some with red letter text and others without. This one is black letter, as you can see from the spread below featuring the gospel of Mark (no relation). I've written before about red letter editions, which are a much more recent innovation than most people realize. I'm not a fan, mainly because I'm looking for less pious, well-meaning intrusion into the text, not more. But I understand that for many people the red letters are a nonnegotiable. If you're one of them, this edition isn't for you.

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If there's one pious, well-meaning intrusion I can get behind -- perhaps because it's not really an intrusion at all -- it's the addition of lined notepaper in the back of a Bible. The Concord has a generous allowance just in front of the maps. Some people use them for sermon notes, outlines, things like that, but I tend to devote mine to a mix of favorite quotations and creeds/confessions, passages I want to keep handy for reference. Compared to the notepaper in the back of recent Allan's editions, the Cambridge has a fainter rule and the lines are about twice as tall, a welcome fact for those of you with big handwriting.

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As I mentioned, the calfskin cover is flexible but not soft. With use, I think it would develop an attractive limpness. In the "yoga" photo below, you can see that the cover is rigid enough to support the weight of the text block, resulting in an oval shape. The Cambridge g oatskin covers tend to collapse in the middle in this context, the spine kissing the cover to create a kind of figure eight shape. If you find such a limp cover unsupportive with a large format Bible,  the more rigid calfskin should be more to your liking. 

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Having said that, the Concord isn't exactly stiff, as you can see from the photo below. Look, Mom! One hand!

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Let's end with a couple of size comparisons. If you're familiar with Cambridge's line of wide margins, this one fits right in. It's big, there's no denying that. All those margins add up to a wider footprint. But the Concord is not a thick Bible. Compared to your average Study Bible they are quite sleek and manageable. 

In the first photo, the Concord is on bottom and the burgundy calfskin Cameo KJV I mentioned earlier is on top. The Cameo is super stiff in the cover department, but it photographs nicely. As you can see, the Cameo format is much handier, assuming you don't want the wide margins. They make a good one-two combination, and the Cameo is a bit more comfortable to read than its sleeker cousin the Pitt Minion.

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Next, another highly sought-after KJV, the Allan's Longprimer, a revival of the classic Oxford setting. These are newly available in black and brown goatskin, and I'll be writing a piece about them shortly. The Longprimer's proportions are much closer to those of the wide margin -- though that's in part thanks to the former's full yapp cover -- but the Longprimer has larger text instead of wider margins.

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Would the Concord make an ideal KJV reader for 2011? That depends on what you have in mind. If you're just going to be reading the text, I would probably recommend waiting for the upcoming New Paragraph KJV, a smaller edition of the original I reviewed some time ago. If your goal is to study from the KJV, though, I can't think of a better way to do it.