Over the years, our friends at R. L. Allan have proven particularly adept at producing luxurious large-format editions of the Bible, the most obvious example being the superb KJV Long Primer. Recently, the ESV Reader's Reference Edition has hopped onto the dais, and now it is joined by a special edition of the Lockman Foundation's popular Side Column Reference NASB, dubbed the NASB1. My review copy is bound in the same crimson highland goatskin as the new crimson ESV Readers, albeit with a nicer, Long Primer-style semi-yapp edge. (For color comparison, see "Shades of Red."
By now, Allan's has the highland goatskin thing down. They deliver a consistently refined, aesthetically pleased packaging for whatever text block they set their mind to. The cover is thin, limp, and very flexible, letting the heft and bend of the paper dictate how the Bible feels in your hand. The level of fit and finish is excellent. And there are color combinations to suit a variety of tastes. Tastes vary, so it's impossible to point to one edition and declare it best, but my sense is that anyone putting together a top ten list is going to find it dominated by Allan's editions.
Crimson is a term of art for a color hovering somewhere between burgundy and red. These photos were all shot in natural light, which tends to bring out the red more. In some light, you will observe more of a purple tint. If the Alhambra Red used for the Personal Size Reference ESV is too blatant for you, here's a less brash alternative. The ribbons are thick and purplish-red (a bit darker in real life than they appear in the photos).
Comparing this cover to the Crimson ESV Reader, I would give the NASB1 the nod. Here's why:
I happen to be a sucker for that pinched overlapping cover. Some people are just the opposite, preferring a clean, straight edge like the Reader's (see below). If you ask me, the semi-yapp edge is something Allan's does exceptionally well. When they omit this feature, I always miss it. So I'm very pleased to see the NASB1 getting the classic edge treatment.
For comparison, the photo below features the Reader (top) and the NASB1 (bottom). The cover material is the same, but that yapp edge makes a real difference in appearance, don't you think?
The two editions have comparable footprints, so much so that it's easy to mistake one for the other unless you're paying attention. The subtle details make a difference, though. The Reader has a modern feel, similar to current Cambridge bindings, whereas the NASB1 has a touch of old world reminiscent of the Long Primer. Again, the Reader (top) and NASB1 (bottom) compared:
One of the delights with a highland goatskin cover is that you can peel it back. You suddenly remember that leather is just skin, that if it started out as stiff as the covers of some genuine leather Bibles you'll find at the Christian gift shoppe, there would be a lot of awkward looking cows and goats peg-legging their way across the fields.
The inside cover is a darker burgundy (quite attractive in its own right), with a gilt line running around the perimeter. The front cover is stamped HIGHLAND GOATSKIN and the back reads ALLAN BINDING. Just what we've come to expect. The pages have art-gilt (i.e., red under gold) edges -- again, just what you'd expect.
Another pleasure of highland goatskin: it's liquid in your hand. With a lot of use, most quality covers will develop a level of flexibility. Highland goatskin covers possess that out of the box. It's as if someone took the text block out of a standard Bible and decided to put a leather jacket around it. (If only I had a jacket made of highland goatskin to model for you.) The result, compared to most Bibles, is an almost decadent amount of flexibility.
This degree of limpness is useful with a larger Bible. While a stiff cover would support the weight of the text block better, a limp one allows you to fold one side under, making the Bible handier -- and you can do this without bending back or creasing the delicate spine.
Natural goatskin tends to have a tight, uniform grain up close, with larger striation when you zoom back. It's a more rustic finish than, say, a sleek calfskin. But I happen to like it a lot. Fans of the New American Standard Bible should be thrilled to see those words stamped on the spine of an Allan's edition.
What about the insides? As I mentioned, this is a Foundation text block, one that has a bit of a cult following to judge by my inbox. The Side Column Reference, as the name suggests, moves references to a column alongside the text, which is set in a single column (though, like the Crossway Single Column Reference ESV, it isn't paragraphed).
As is the case so often these days, the text block itself is printed in China. The same is true of the ESV Readers. I'm impressed with the quality delivered by Jongbloed in the Netherlands and R.R. Donnelley in the States. I'm still on the fence when it comes to the Chinese text blocks. In this case, the print impression seems uniformly dark and I don't see the broken letters or lighter print that have dogged some Chinese text blocks in the past. Some of you will do doubt get magnifying glasses out and check for yourselves -- I look forward to hearing the result.
In terms of opacity, this text block looks consistent with the ESV Reader and Personal Size Reference. There is definitely ghosting. In white space, you can see the reverse print image (the words on the opposite side of the paper). And in cases where a space is white on both sides, you can see printing from the next page, too. I've taken a number of shots at different distances, all in natural light, so you can make up your own mind about the level of ghosting. I think it's acceptable.
Above, you can see that the NASB1 features a somewhat innovative design -- if not by today's standards, then certainly by those of the 90s. By setting the text in a single column and giving the references room to breathe on the outer edge, the designer ends up with a very legible format. The type is 11 pt., which contributes a great deal to readability. Where many text settings seem crowded, this one is nicely proportioned, even elegant. I have some bones to pick with the details, but compared to the traditional two-column, verse-by-verse format, this is wonderful. I can understand why so many NASB readers raved about it.
Up close, there are some dodgy choices. I'm not fond of the decision to flow new books into the column without a page break (as above). And naturally, I'm not a fan of the verse-by-verse layout, which in my view tends to privilege the sentence or phrase above the paragraph, encouraging a less natural way of reading. I have an aesthetic objection, too. When you stretch verse-by-verse settings across a single column, you create quite a bit of "unintentional" white space thanks to the fact that, well, verses aren't paragraphs. Notice in the photo below how 22.1 breaks about halfway through the column, after the word "approaching," and 22.2 breaks all the way at the left margin, dangling the word "people" all alone on a blank line. This is bad form, but it's unavoidable given the decision to set verse-by-verse text in a single column.
To indicate paragraph breaks, the verse numbers are set in bold. While the chapter numbers are in the same serif typeface as the text, the verse numbers are in a more modern looking san serif type. They're big, and they're stacked on the left, which makes it very easy to find whichever sentence or phrase you're trying to look up.
Those of you who've been reading Bible Design Blog for awhile know that I was never a fan of Crossway's Single Column Reference ESV, which is more or less the same format as this. I find all the unintended white space rather ugly. (Others, perhaps the majority, viewed it as a benefit, since the SCR's margins weren't sufficiently wide for notetaking, and my unintended white space became their unintended wide margins.)
In this case, I think the problem isn't as pronounced, perhaps because the column width isn't as great. I still don't think this is an ideal format for reading ... but for reference (something the NASB translation really lends itself to anyway), there's a lot to recommend it. And if you're one of those people who has trouble losing his place in paragraphed text, the combination of verse-by-verse and 11 pt. type will be very welcome.
And when you're tired of following along during the sermon, there are some pretty, full-color maps at the back to occupy your time. (I'm always suspicious of people with a really good knowledge of Holy Land geography ... what have they been up to during church?)
When the translation you use doesn't get the same market support as the rest, things can be really frustrating. (Just ask anyone who loves the NRSV.) If I had a dollar for every request I'd gotten for a high quality edition of the NASB, I could stop trying to lure you into purchasing the books listed in the column on the right. Before now, I've only been able to recommend the excellent Cambridge editions, which aren't necessarily the friendliest for aging eyes. The R. L. Allan's NASB1 is a well made, readable reference edition available in Crimson, Black, and Dark Brown. If you read the NASB, this would make an excellent companion. And if you teach from it, even more so.