If you've ever ordered from the Trinitarian Bible Society, you'll know what I'm talking about. There's a feeling you get, a blend of guilt and excitement, like you've just gotten away with something very fun but very bad. It's the price that does it. Or to be more precise, the ratio of price to value. You're used to paying more and getting less.
In a lot of ways, a Bible society that still clings to the King James Version in 2009 seems like an anachronism. And the TBS doesn't just cling, it grips tightly, giving no sign of letting go. The result is rather interesting: a society committed to spreading the Word of God, but likewise committed to quality. When I think of modern outreach organizations, "quality" isn't the first word that comes to mind. Dissemination is everything, getting the Bible into people's hands, and silly things like sewn bindings and leather covers and gilt edges don't factor into it. But with the TBS, they still do, which is why, if you like the King James Version, you should be grateful.
I found my first TBS Bible in a Dublin cathedral bookstore. It was the calfskin-bound Pitt Minion pictured here, back in the days before Cambridge revived the setting. I assumed it was some kind of ancient artifact, left over from happier days, but then I returned home and did some research, discovering not only that the TBS still existed, but that it was cranking out Cambridge and Oxford style editions of the KJV in quality calfskin.
So what did I do? I stocked up.
Above, from top to bottom: the Royal Ruby, the New Brevier, the Pitt Minion,
and the Textus Receptus, all bound in calfskin except the Ruby, printed on India paper,
with art-gilt edges and (except for the TR) with two ribbon markers.
With the exception of the Royal Ruby, all of my TBS leather editions are bound in deeply grained, firm but not stiff calfskin. The Ruby, bound in French Morocco, has a less pronounced grain and is a bit more flexible than the others. It also includes the Metrical Psalms (more about that later). The quality of each is exceptional. The prices, however, weren't. I don't think any of them cost more than $50.
Of the editions pictured, the only one I can still locate on the Trinitarian Bible Society website is the Pitt Minion, which goes for $56.40 now. There are comparably sized editions in calfskin.
Above: The Royal Ruby is the most flexible of the bunch.
The Royal Ruby is bound in French Morocco leather with vinyl lining, with semi-yapp cover and art-gilt edges. It includes a word list to help with the KJV's unfamiliar English, a reading plan, and the book of Psalms in meter. Though it measures about 4 x 6, the type is legible and there are two ribbon markers, which seems to be standard with the TBS. This is a beautiful pocket-sized edition of the King James Version. After all these years, it still smells great.
Above: The New Brevier Reference Bible.
The features enrich when you step up to the New Brevier, which adds center column references, chapter summaries, and the self-pronouncing feature I've never been too fond of. Of the lot, this is my least favorite, perhaps because of the gilt bands on the spine, which is just a little much. Even so, the calfskin, vinyl-lined cover is nice, and the reading plan is there, along with the word list.
Above: The Pitt Minion.
My favorite, though, is the Pitt Minion, perhaps because it was my first. Though Cambridge now offers a KJV Pitt Minion, they didn't at the time, and the they still don't offer one with two ribbons and art gilt edges so far as I know. In spite of the use its seen over the years, the Pitt Minion still looks great. The gilt has rubbed off the spine a bit, but that's all.
Above: The Textus Receptus.
I have to say, though, for sheer interest, the Textus Receptus beats them all. I wish someone would print an English New Testament this was, with beautiful, single-column paragraphed test and numbers out to the side.
THE WINDSOR TEXT
But this is more than just a history lesson. The Trinitarian Bible Society recently released its own text setting of the KJV, and when I heard I couldn't help getting excited. Given my background in design and typography, I've always daydreamed about doing my own layout, and of all the translations out there, I think the King James Version is most in need. There are plenty of text settings out there, but most of them make what has become, with declining literacy and changes in language, a somewhat difficult read much harder to understand. If the verse-per-line, dictionary-looking approach is tough on modern translations, it's that much harder on the venerable Authorized Version.
So I was looking forward to seeing what the TBS would come up with to keep interest in the King James Version alive. Unfortunately, the answer is not that much. The Windsor Text is yet another double column, verse-per-line setting of the KJV. The typeface is newer, the layout is a bit more austere and uncluttered, but that's about it.
Above: The Windsor Text with Metrical Psalms.
There's one thing, though, that the Windsor Text has going for it -- and it's a big thing. The edition pictured here sells for $32. That's just $8 more than the imitation leather edition. If you don't want the metrical psalms, you can shave another $2 off. We're talking about a sewn Bible bound in calfskin here, not a glue-job in a pleather wrapper. That's pretty ... wild.
No, it's not as nice as the ones pictured above. The text block, printed and bound in Belarus, isn't close, really. But it still comes with two ribbons and the cover's not bad at all. In fact, I like it. At this price, it's hard not to, because it puts all those "genuine leather" covers out there selling for $50 or more to shame. By those standards, it's luxurious.
Above: The type up close.
Let's start with my gripe about the insides, though. The font choice is nice, and there are moments (for example, on the various title pages) where the typography has a certain elegance. But what an opportunity was missed here when it comes to readability. Imagine a paragraphed KJV similar to Cambridge's New Paragraph Bible, only in a handy size like this. A single text column, or even two but with a paragraphed text, would have been such an improvement.
By the way, the TBS does offer (or at least, they did) a single column, paragraphed KJV New Testament in paperback. Anyone doubting the efficacy of the format should compare the readability of that New Testament to pretty much any other KJV setting in the world.
I know it may not seem like a big deal if you've already written the KJV off, if you're accustomed to thinking of it as a cultural artifact or the leather-clad thumping club of our worst nature. But if, like me, you still love this translation, if you worry that antiquated design choices are making it increasingly less accessible to the unmotivated reader, then a miss like this can't help but smart. Still, I don't want to overdo it. For what it is, the Windsor Text is cleanly executed. Here are a couple of looks inside:
But the real story is the fact that it's possible to offer a calfskin-bound Bible for $32. Stop and think about that. I realize there's a difference between $32 and, say, $5, but that price should at least shake up your certainty that "outreach" editions have to be shoddy pieces of self-destructing pulp. Believe me, if the potential of leather-like polyurethane to reinvigorate the bottom end of the market can get me excited (even if its mostly wasted on abominable multi-color eyesores), the potential of inexpensive calfskin to do the same is much greater. The designers at TBS could have chosen to set the Bible in cursive script and I'd still like this edition for that reason alone.
Above: Your eyes do not deceive you. That says "calfskin."
The cover isn't some low grade, icky calfskin, either, if such a thing exists. It's pleasant to touch. Not as nice as the calfskin covers above, the surface is matte and grainy, resembling Cambridge's current French Morocco. I haven't put it through any abuse, but it feels quite durable. The raised bands on the spine are a nice touch, too. There's nothing cheap about this cover at all.
There's something else about the Windsor Text I really appreciate, which is the inclusion of the oft-omitted preface to the KJV, called "The Translators to the Reader." It's a tragedy that every edition of the KJV isn't required to include this document, because in addition to offering a very interesting portrait of the translators' work, it is an antidote to some of the extreme ideas that have been championed in their name over the past hundred years.
Above: An Answer to the Imputation of Our Adversaries, then and now: "...we affirm and avow,
that the very meanest translation of the Bible in English ... containeth the Word of God,
nay, is the Word of God."
And while the biblical text might still be laid out like a reference work instead of a book for reading, the Windsor Text also includes something no Bible should be without, a reading plan. How difficult is it, really, to include such a help, especially in Bibles that offer so many other features of less certain value?
Above: Thumbs up for the inclusion of a reading plan -- or scheme, as they say in the UK.
I promised to return to the metrical psalms, so let's do it. This copy of the Windsor Text includes the 1650 Scottish Psalter -- i.e., the book of psalms re-arranged in meter for singing. Yes, singing. Odd as it may seem to us today, living in an age which has once again forgotten psalmody, there is a literal songbook in the Bible, not just a metaphorical one. I realize there aren't many churches anymore that make use of the psalter in this form, which limits the practical value of having the metrical psalms in back, but on principle I insisted on this edition because I love the idea. I've written elsewhere about my frustration with the paucity of psalters out there, so I won't belabor the point here.
If nothing else, I hope this will balance the impression given by my zeal for abandoning bad idea from the past like verse-per-line settings and double columns that I oppose thing just because they're from the past. Far from it. That's a mark in their favor, in my book, especially if, like the metrical psalms, the idea happens to be superb.
Above: A great idea, and also an example of an instance
where the Windsor Text's typography shines.
The final verdict? With the Windsor Text in calfskin, you get more than what you pay for, which might make you wonder why you so often pay more for less. No, the interior design doesn't break any new ground, but it includes "The Translators to the Reader," a reading plan, and (if you opt for them) the metrical psalms, and there aren't many KJVs out there that can say as much.
I don't know how they do it. Perhaps it's a testament to the triumph of zeal over profit. But I'm glad they do, and wish them all the best. If you like the King James Version and haven't checked out what the Trinitarian Bible Society has to offer, you don't know what you're missing.
J Mark Bertrand