Single Column Confraternity Version New Testament

Single column text settings of the Bible are not a recent phenomenon. Before and after the advent of printing, Bibles were produced in single columns. Examining an exhibit of old Bibles at the recent International Christian Retail Show, I was surprised how many translations into Native American tongues, for example, were printed in single column. Of course, the milestone people often point to is Scrivener's 1873 Paragraph Bible (which, sadly, didn't start a trend). When it comes to good, modern design, however -- editions which feature thoughtful single column typography, both elegant and still-readable, I typically point to the New English Bible (the New Testament was published in 1961). Before that, everything was tenebrae, then suddenly we had some typographical lux.

Much as I love the NEB setting, it pains me now to have to admit somebody else got there first. While scouring the shelves at Dogwood Books in Rome, Georgia this summer, where the religion section never fails to satisfy, I discovered a beautifully-produced Confraternity Version New Testament published in 1941 by St. Anthony Guild Press in New Jersey. It's a hardback with red page edges in remarkable shape. The paper is thick and opaque. But most importantly, the text is set in single columns with the chapter and verse numbers removed to the margin (like the NEB's twenty years later). 


I can't remember the last time a vintage Bible on the bookstore shelf got me excited. They're usually dry and crackly, in terrible shape, dusty and falling apart. Not so this one. (Maybe the avant garde styling preserved it from use back in the day.) As a result, even though I was on the road, more than a thousand miles from my good camera, I settled in at the nearest Starbucks for an impromptu photo shoot. 


The hardback cover features a grained surface with decorative seals on the spine. I'm not going to do a yoga shot, so take my word that the cover has some spring to it, similar to UBS hardbacks (a feature I really like, as it allows the cover to flex along with the text block when you're flipping through pages.) In back, there's a glossary and some primitive but appealing color maps.

Officially, this is the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine Edition of the New Testament. Members of the Episcopal Committee, the Theological Censors, and the Revision Committe and Editorial Board are listed inside, along with a note that the committee was aided by "active members of the Catholic Biblical Association of America." In front, there's a copy of a letter of congratulations from the Commissio Pontificia De Re Biblica to the Bishop of Kansas City, who presided over the commission, along with a preface titled "On the Reading of Holy Scripture," excerpted from Pope Benedict XV's 1920 encyclical Spiritus Paraclitus.

The text is presented in single column layout with chapter and verse numbers on the left margin. References and notes, where they exist, are at the bottom of the page. Section headings interrupt the text at frequent intervals, and are set on the left in boldface italics. This is my one real criticism of the design; a less obtrusive way of setting the headings would break the flow of the text less.

Book introductions appear on their own pages, as you can see in the example of Titus below:

A parenthetical note: I snapped these photos immediately after visiting Artlite Pens in Atlanta. If you're ever in the area, Artlite is a must-stop for pen and paper lovers. They have a case full of discounted pens that (unlike so many discount counters) really are discounted. My wife picked up the Montegrappa below for a great price, and I got the super-small stainless ballpoint next to it -- which I lost within a week. The notebook is an Apica CD10, a nice little sewn volume from Japan with acid-free, fountain pen-friendly paper that costs about three bucks. I'd heard about them before, but was never interested until I actually saw them at Artlite. Now I'm very interested.


But enough about that. As you can see in the picture above, this NT is about the size of a hymnal or pew Bible. That's because the paper is relatively thick and opaque. I don't know what these sold for originally, but mine cost $12 from Dogwood. In back there's a price tag that reads $3 from some time in the past, which conjures up stacks of unread new-fangled single column New Testaments being unloaded at the Bishop's fire sale. 



The end paper (is it still called an end paper when it's in front?) has been removed, probably because it bore a bookplate of some kind.

Here's a better photo of a page spread, giving you an idea of what the reading experience would be like. As I mentioned, the chapter and verse numbers are on the left margin unlike the NEB, which places them on the outer margin -- the left margin on lefthand pages and the right margin on righthand pages. Later this week, we'll look at another single column setting that places the numbers on the inner margin. I'm not sure which placement is best. The always-on-the-left placement here does seem to be a natural way of doing it, especially for readers accustomed to finding the verse numbers there (as most would have been in 1941). 

Another interesting feature, seen below in verse 5 which reads: "according to the purpose of his will." If you enlarge the photo, you'll notice a thin vertical rule between that phrase and the beginning of verse 6, "unto the praise of the glory...." That rule marks the break between the two verses, and it only occurs in instances where the new verse doesn't begin with a new sentence or at the first punctuation. If a new sentence starts in the line or the verse break comes at a comma, there is no rule. In this case, the vertical rule is there because there are two commas on the line. Without it, the reader wouldn't know which one marked the break. This is a clever, unobtrusive way of making sure someone reading this paragraphed text would be in no doubt as to where the verse begin and end. 

Hardback Bibles offer a splendid compromise between readability and durability, particularly when they open flat and feature covers with slight flex. The only reason I don't endorse them more strongly is that a lot of modern hardbacks are cheaply made. When you find a good one, it's ideal for study and teaching.


I'll leave you with a sharp photo of the page layout. Compare it to the NEB page layout here and you'll notice that while the NEB is a bit more elegant, a bit more modern, the concepts are very similar.

So that's a quick look at the history of single column settings. If anyone knows more history about this edition, I would love to hear it in the comments. For the rest of "Single Column Week" at Bible Design Blog, we'll be looking at modern interpretations of the concept.