Beater Bibles 101: Compact ESV in British Tan Bonded Leather

How's this for a change of pace? Instead of a pristine, high-end edition, I'd like to introduce you to a cheap bonded leather Bible with a glued binding, a fairly typical representative of the type with one or two exceptions. This is the original Compact ESV in British Tan bonded leather, superseded a few years ago by the newer, larger Deluxe Compact with sewn binding. 

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A thing of beauty? Not exactly. And yet, there is something to it, I have to say. While the materials and construction are unimpressive, this little Bible comes very close to my aesthetic ideal. The color of the cover is right -- a mid-brown tan -- and the warm gold ribbon is a perfect complement. The size is excellent, too: just 6" x 4" x 0.75", perfect for slipping into a jacket pocket. Back when I worshipped in a church with old fashioned pews, size really wasn't an issue, but now the chairs are stackable and there are move things to juggle in hand, so I really appreciate a pocket Bible.

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One of the terms you'll hear collectors use often is "beater," the idea being that for everyday use instead of employing something valuable, you have a cheaper alternative at hand, one you don't mind messing up. If you're into watches, you might wear a Patek on special occasions and a Seiko every day. You get the idea. Personally, I don't subscribe to the theory. The point of quality in my mind isn't to remain intact ... it's to hold up better to use. So every Bible is a beater Bible to me, or it's not worth having. 

Still, I don't treat every edition the same. I might use a nice Bible (and that use might equate to abuse in somebody else's book), but I still take care of it and don't expose it to ridiculous maltreatment. No, that sort of thing is reserved for a Bible like the Compact ESV. How do you know a Bible is a beater? When you don't bother to clean off the stains from where you spilled coffee all over it:

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Yes, this is probably the nicest smelling Bible I have. Say what you want about the aroma of leather, it's nothing compared to coffee beans. The back quarter of pages was inundated by the spill, giving them a crispy, brown complexion. But that doesn't stop me from using it from time to time. This is one of those editions I misplace, forget about, and then rediscover and start using again. Not long ago I found it tucked into the bottom of the pouch behind the driver's seat of my wife's station wagon. Last Sunday I read the call to worship from it. 


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For someone accustomed to quality, there's plenty not to like. The cover (above) has a mind of its own, and the edges have gotten a bit raggedy. The faux grain is kinda nice, though, and the fact that no pages have fallen out despite a lack of care is a testament to the power of glue. Maybe the fact that I've used this as more of a ready reference than a daily reader contributes to the longevity.

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Ah, but will it open flat? Not of its own free will. Instead you get this funky half-open posture, which it'll hold for a couple of seconds before closing itself:

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It's stands up straight, though:

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And guess what? There is a way to make it open flat, it's just not pretty. The first step is to give the little Bible a newspaper roll, like so:

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And the result is something like this:

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For my purposes, though, the compact size and the fact that the bonded leather cover is flexible enough make this is a perfectly usable edition. The complaint about the Compact ESV was that the type was too small, and for sustained use that's probably right. However, I think there's something to be said for a Bible small enough for convenient use in worship, ready when needed and easily tucked away at other times. Which must be why I'm holding onto this thing. Sure, I wish it had the updated ESV text, and I wish the cover was calfskin and there were a couple more ribbons. For what it is, though, and for what it cost, I'm not complaining.


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