R. L. Allan's KJV Long Primer in Black and Brown Highland Goatskin

Everything I wrote about the Allan's Oxford KJV Long Primer in May 2008 is true today, though a few of those sentences should be upgraded with an exclamation point. If you want to know what I think of the Long Primer, this is all you need to know: of all the Bibles I could have given to my father as a gift (and as you can imagine, there are a few to choose from around here), I picked the Long Primer. It's a beauty. It's the beau ideal of Bible binding. It's ... It's ... awesome. 

And now it's back. In fact, it's back again. The review copies pictured here are from the original reprint, and since that time there's been an additional printing (can anyone say demand?) which features "substantially larger margins." Well, I like the original margins just fine, but you really can't have too much of a good thing, right? 

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The real news, in my book, is the introduction of the brown highland goatskin cover, matched with a trio of exquisite gold ribbons. This color combination works. In fact, despite my preference for tan, I'm going to go out on a limb and say the dark brown with gold is the best combination currently available. For you traditionalists, there's black with blue ribbons.

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Above: Oops! My secret's out. My tape measure was made in China!

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The Long Primer is special for another reason. This edition is the first since Allan's was granted the royal license to print the KJV in Scotland. The license, signed by the Lord Advocate, is on the reverse of the title page, along with some more heart-warming news. The Long Primer is printed in the Netherlands by Jongbloed. (I have a Design & Production Bible guide produced by Jongbloed and the Danish design firm 2Krogh to write about here, as soon as I can get photos that measure up to its brilliance.) The point is, this is a well made volume inside and out, a real pleasure to use.

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The Long Primer features an elegant, readable layout in the old school verse-per-paragraph configuration, with center column references. One quirk of the layout that drives KJV purists crazy is that the italicized words from the original are rendered in roman type. The center column references will occasionally include a note reading "The best MMS. omit," as at Romans 8:1, where the note precedes the KJV's "... who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." I don't want to get bogged down in manuscript debates, but I'll say that when I taught from the KJV, I always appreciated pointers like this. But I realize others find them infuriating. So decide which camp you're in and choose accordingly.

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Above: The print impression in my review copies is consistent and dark. I spotted one or two broken letters. There's some ghosting, but it's not bad. The paper quality seems quite good.

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Allan's has upped the bling factor with the Long Primer by adding an extra gilt line. When the Bible is open, the text block tends to land right on the inner line, obscuring it, but in the photo above you can see the extra detail. It's an attractive touch. The stamp inside the front cover says HIGHLAND GOATSKIN, the one inside the back cover says ALLAN BINDING. Although this is an old Oxford text setting, Allan's commissioned the printing and is credited as publisher on the title page. This is a black letter setting with additional lined notepaper in back, along with a set of color Oxford maps, a concordance, a subject index, and a dictionary of proper names. Some of the harder words get self-pronouncing treatment, but it's executed sparingly. Theophilus is broken into syllables and so is Timotheus, but Jesus isn't.

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The highland goatskin covers are every bit as beautiful and flexible as the originals. The full yapp on my review copies isn't as full as on the original, but you still get those wonderful organic "pinches" near the spine, an effect I happen to love. 

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Liquid flexibility is the order of the day. The Long Primer melts in your hand, soft and pliable. Folding the cover back (below) takes no effort at all. As if the cover wants to bend and fold. 

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Above: Somebody wouldn't know a white balance if it bit him. Sorry about that.

The photo below says it all. The flex of cover and text block in perfect symmetry. It feels as good in the hand as it looks in the picture.

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Whichever way you turn, the highland goatskin offers no resistance. If you like your Bibles limp and soft, there's no question you'll love the Long Primer. If you don't, the Long Primer might just convert you.

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Above: a close-up of that "pinched" corner. I love it.

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For a sense of scale, I rounded up a whole bunch of KJVs and plopped an Allan's ESV Reader's Edition on the bottom for reference. From bottom to top, here's what you're seeing: Allan's ESV Reader's Edition, Allan's KJV Long Primer, Cambridge KJV Concord Reference in black calf (well used), Allan's KJV Brevier Blackface, Cambridge KJV Cameo, Allan's KJV Ruby, and Allan's/Cambridge KJV Crystal.

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I suppose the Long Primer is to the KJV what the Reader's Edition is to the ESV -- a large format edition with generous type that's suitable both for reading and study. They're not the smallest Bibles, but their ratio of height and width to thickness guarantees that they show off the flexibility of their highland goatskin covers to maximum advantage.

You can view the entire R. L. Allan's Long Primer range by visiting Bibles-Direct.co.uk, where you'll find options in goatskin and French Morocco. EvangelicalBible.com has an excellent Long Primer resource page along with ordering options that will run you anywhere from $180 to $99, depending on your edition of choice.