R. L. Allan's ESV3 in Buffalo Grain Goatskin (Black and Antique Brown)

Turns out what I expected to write about the new Allan's ESV3 and what I'm actually writing are two different things. Here's what I expected: "If you like the top-of-the-line Allan's ESV in highland goatskin, but this economy has put it too far out of reach, then there's a runner up edition that might do for you. But my advice is to scrimp and save until you can make up the difference, then go with the Real Thing." Not that I figured the ESV3 would be a disappointment. I just didn't think it would hold its own in a side-by-side comparison with the ESV1. 

Only I was wrong.

I'm not going to say the ESV3 is better, because there are definitely some disadvantages to choosing the less expensive edition. But it's certainly a contender -- and for more reasons than just the price tag. So let's take a closer look.


Above: The ESV3 is available in Antique Brown Goatskin (above) and Black Goatskin.

The ESV3 shares one thing with the ESV1: the text block. Internally, the two editions are the same. Everything I wrote about the ESV1 text block is true of the ESV3, so I won't repeat myself here. What's different is what happens around the margins. For one thing, the ESV3 comes with standard gilt edges, the shiny gold treatment, instead of the red-under-gold art gilt option. Instead of three ribbons, there are just two -- but they're the same thick, high-quality markers you get with the ESV1. The cover is goatskin, but not the natural grained, leather-lined highland stuff. Instead, these skins are stamped with an attractive buffalo grain. They're stiffer, too. Flexible, but not limp. The semi-yapp edges from the ESV1 are gone as well, replaced by a more conventional not-quite-flush edge.

In other words, the ESV3 is what an Allan's ESV1 would look like if it came with a Cambridge binding from the 70s, only a little nicer. Not too shabby, if you ask me.


Above: The pages are gilt, the cover loses the semi-yapp edge, and there are just two ribbons. Still, it's quite nice.

The ESV3 is reserved yet refined, the workmanlike aesthetics upgraded by a seriously attractive goatskin cover. Remember the Brevier Clarendon in buffalo grain calfskin? This is a similar idea, only it's much more flexible. Presumably the flex is due to the grain being stamped into goatskin instead of calfskin, but I can't say for sure. The closest comparison in terms of feel would be the goatskin covers on Cambridge's current Pitt Minions, except that this is slightly more pliable.

Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but I think most of us would agree that these covers qualify:


Above: Antique Brown (left) and Black.

Not everyone wants a limp cover. Not everyone likes art-gilt edges or semi-yapp overhangs. If you can identify, then you'll prefer the ESV3 over its more expensive counterpart. And you won't be missing out in terms of quality, because the ESV3 is a clean, well-executed edition. It might even have an edge when it comes to opening flat. Strange as it sounds, I could see people choosing the ESV3 not because of the lower price but because its rugged, austere beauty appeals more than the ESV1's opulence.

Since the ESV1 is available in black and brown, it's only natural to make some side-by-side comparisons. My black ESV1 comes with one of the grainier covers, so I found myself preferring it instinctively to the ESV3 with its more regular stamped grain.  


Above: The ESV3 (top) vs. the ESV1

When it came to the brown, though, I was torn. The Antique Brown color really shows off the drama of the grain, so while its styling details are more austere, there's something rather smart-looking about the overall effect. As nice as the chocolate brown goatskin it, I found myself thinking I could live with the Antique Brown and never feel like I was missing out.


Above: The chocolate brown ESV1 (left) vs. the antique brown ESV3. Which would you choose?


Above: Detail showing the different styling choices.


Above: Same layout, different details. Semi-yapp, gilt line, art-gilt pages on left. No overlap, no line, simple gilt on the right.

Of course, I'm a sucker for semi- and full-yapp edges, and find three ribbons essential for my usual reading plan. It's hard to trade the art-gilt pages for simple gilt, too, give the way it scratches so easily. Even so, you can understand why, comparing the two, it's hard to think of the ESV3 as a downgrade. It's different, yes. Lacking the leather lining, it's arguably not as high up on the quality ladder. But compared to most choices out there, this one is hard to fault.


Above: The refined natural grain of the highland goatskin (top) compared to the uniformly rugged antique brown.


Above: The ESV3 in antique brown and black (top) stacked with the brown and black ESV1.

As I mentioned, the ESV3 might have an edge when it comes to opening flat. I find it opens easily and remains open on the table. I have no idea why. While the ESV1 opens flat as well, there's an intangible difference -- I can't put my finger on it -- that makes me want to give the edge to the ESV3. Maybe the stiffer cover is a factor, I really don't know. One thing is certain. There's no compromise involved in the ESV3 binding. It's excellent.


But there's something to be said for a limp cover, and here the ESV1 reigns supreme. Both Bibles take to yoga positions, as seen below, but the ESV1 hunkers low, born down by the weight of the text block, showing no subsequent signs of stress. The ESV3 is perfectly flexible, but stiff enough to arch a bit more, and once it recovers, it needs a little massage to look pristine again.


Above: The ESV3 (left) can go, but not as low as the ESV1.

* * *

The ESV3 can be ordered from EvangelicalBible.com, the US distributor of Allan's Bibles, for $120, which is $25 less than the cost of the ESV1. Follow these links for ordering information and more details, including lots of additional photos:

ESV3, Antique Brown Buffalo Grain Goatksin

As always, you can check the R. L. Allan's ESV Page for a list of available editions and pricing, too.