New Cambridge Paragraph Bible (KJV) in Black Calf and Hardcover

A quick history lesson: Bible Design Blog started in 2007 in advance of the publication of my book Rethinking Worldview. Before then, I posted the occasional essay about Bible design and binding at jmarkbertrand.com, a site devoted primarily to my writing. The idea was to move all the Bible-related stuff to a blog of its own, perhaps even to update it from time to time. The four or five people interested in such things could follow along. I honestly worried that no one would ever be able to find the blog.

The original posts on this site were grandfathered over from the old one, so they actually date back farther in time than their dates suggest. My original post on the New Cambridge Paragraph Bible, for example, is dated September 2007. In reality, it's older than that. The NCPB was published in 2005, and while it heralded the dawn of a new era, borrowing its name from Scrivener's nineteenth century Paragraph Bible, my review noted some disappointments, primarily having to do with the size of the book.

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The NCPB was a single column, paragraphed setting of the KJV at a time when no one offered such a thing in print. Unfortunately, it was also a brick. So I urged Cambridge to come out with a hand-sized edition of the NCPB. In 2011, they finally did. The problem is, by that time they had also released the Clarion KJV, another single column setting. So in this update, we're going to look at the new editions of the NCPB, comparing them both to the original and their obvious rival, the Clarion. 

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The New Cambridge Paragraph Bible isn't just another KJV. This description from the original listing captures the spirit of the project well:

The standard editions of the 1611 King James Bible (or Authorised Version) currently available give, with little variation, the text as established by the Oxford edition of 1769. They give the reader, therefore, a seventeenth-century text in mid-eighteenth century clothes – clothes which are neither original nor modern. In this new edition of the King James Version the text has been collated with the translators' original work in order to give the reader as closely as possible the exact text on which the translators decided. It has also been given consistent modern spelling and presentation in order to make it easier to read and study than standard editions. The text is presented is paragraph form, with marginal notes.

In other words, you're getting the text as the translators intended you to read it, the form accommodated for readers four hundred years later. The result is a beautifully proportioned layout, with text set originally in 12.5 pt. Swift. The new Personal Size editions are 87% reductions of the 2005 setting, which lowers the type size to roughly 11 pt. (see the photo below).

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These editions, like Crossway's Legacy ESV, were printed and bound in Italy by Legatoria Editoriale Giovanni Olivotto, or L.E.G.O. for short. They're available in hardback and black calfskin. For a sense of how they size up in comparison to the original and the Clarion, let's take a look at all three:

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Above and below: Clarion (top), Personal Size NCPB (middle), and original NCPB (bottom).

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Looking at the image above, think compact Bible/full-size Bible/pulpit Bible and you've got it about right. The Personal Size NCPB is large enough that it doesn't spoil the majesty of the original layout, but handy enough to carry with you without the aid of a servant. It is also large enough to disguish the NCPB from the Clarion, minimizing the apparent redundancy in releasing two hand-sized paragraphed KJVs so close together. 

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Before this release, the handiest way to experience the NCPB was the Penguin paperback, which is roughly the same trim size as the Personal Size NCPB but half an inch thicker (1.5" vs. 2"). 

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Comparing the two, we have an illustration of the frustrating trade-offs involved in Bible publishing. The Penguin edition wouldn't know the difference between fine India paper and Kleenex. It's printed on the sort of paper you'd expect in a Penguin paperback, perhaps slightly thinner in deference to the book's size. As a result, this edition (which you can pick up on Amazon for a tenner and change), appears substantially more opaque than the leather bound edition. See if you can tell:

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There is ghosting -- i.e., show-through -- on both pages, but the Penguin (top) fares better than its upscale cousin. And you can enjoy this superior opacity if you're willing to put up with the additional bulk. The thin paper Bibles are printed on trades opacity for width and weight. Frankly, I wouldn't mind an extra half inch or so for an increase in opacity. Unfortuately the Penguin's glued binding makes it clumsy and unsuitable for rebinding. 

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Compared to the smaller Clarion, the Personal Size NCPB offers some distinct advantages, but also displays some of its shortcomings. The Clarion is slightly thinner. It is also shorter and narrower, which combined with a limp binding allows more of a short and stout feel in the hand. 

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There are no cross references in the NCPB. The marginal notes are located on the inside margin, as opposed to the Clarion's more traditional outer margin location. This gives the NCPB an advantage: the text doesn't curve into the gutter. The Clarion's text appears slightly denser on the page, although laying one page of the NCPB over the Clarion, the space between the lines nearly matches. Even the fonts, Swift and Lexicon, don't look that different, although Swift seems a little more spacious. Typographically, the NCPB abounds in elegant touches -- for example, the way the psalms are headed is much more attractive than the type treatment in the Clarion.  

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Where there is no comparison, however, is the quality of the binding. The Clarion, printed and bound in the Netherlands by Jongbloed, manifests a superior level of fit and finish. As I pointed out in the video, the gilding on the page edge is marred by a very noticeable wavy line. The cover construction also seems a little rough at points. Based on this example and the issues Crossway had with the first generation cowhide Legacy covers, I think L.E.G.O. still has some work to do in the quality control department. If the major publishers use them more, perhaps the resulting pressure to improve will help. 

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Above: The wave. Below: The rough.

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The calfskin cover is, however, very soft and limp. Bible yoga proved no trouble whatsoever. The bookboard under the leather seems much less substantial than the Clarion's, for better or worse. 

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The photo above really illustrates the beauty of a limp binding paired with a single column setting -- particularly one with the notes in the inner margin. The text column flows uninterrupted, and the unread page can be folded away handily. 

I'm grateful to Cambridge for releasing these Personal Size options, and also for making one of them a hardcover. I wish every text setting was available in a nice hardcover. They're great for reading, great for study, and allow you to pack the Bible anywhere without having to worry about damaging your lovely leather binding. The hardcover opens flat, too, which is essential.