Now that Cambridge's new Clarion KJVs are hitting the market, it's time to revisit them and take a look at the binding options on offer. (This is a supplement to my original piece on the black goatskin edition, so if you haven't read that one already, check it out.)
There are three flavors of KJV Clarion on offer: black goatskin (above, right) brown calfskin (above, middle) and black calf split (above, left). If you like your cover limp and liquid, the goatskin is your option. If you prefer your cover firm, go with the calf split. If you like your cover flex somewhere in between -- not stiff, not soggy, just right -- go with the calfskin. While the edge-lined goat cover is limp as a noodle out of the box, both the calf and calf split covers have boards underneath that will soften up and break in with use.
When it comes to picking a favorite, I'm kind of torn. I love the brown. It's a great shade in a nice, smooth calfskin that reminds me of the Bibles that Cambridge was putting out, say, fifteen years ago (if not in detail, at least in concept). On the other hand, I'm a sucker for pronounced grain, and that black calf split really speaks to me:
These are essentially the color/cover options we saw introduced with last year's re-introduction of the KJV Cameo, only this time wrapped around what I would argue is a much better KJV. (I realize for Cameo fans that sounds like heresy, but I'm sticking to it for reasons I'll get into shortly.)
If you've already handled a Clarion, you can back me up on this: the form factor is surprisingly compact. When I met Mark Strobel last week, I brought the Clarion along, and that was the first thing he remarked on. It's essentially Cameo-sized, so it's compact but not exactly svelte. Many of us were expecting a single column edition to be a big brick, though, and I suspect the Clarion benefits in comparison to that imagined form factor. Here's a real world comparison with the brown goatskin Cambrdige Pitt Minion:
This is a nice comparison for two reasons. You can see the relative thickness of the Clarion, and also the lighter mid-brown shade of the calfskin in comparison to the goatskin's darker hue. At the risk of raising unrealistic expectations for the future, here's a shot comparing the thickness of both editions with a fancy measuring thingie next to them:
On the leather value hierarchy, you could easily rank the covers this way: first, goatskin; second, calfskin; third, calf split. In Cambridge's taxonomy, calf split occupies the quality rung between calfskin and French Morocco. It's not as nice as the full grain calf because it's had the top layer split off, but it's nicer than the non-calf stuff below it.
For me, however, this is mainly an aesthetic choice. All three are quality bindings. You just have to decide which one you want to carry.
The black goatskin and brown calfskin come with art-gilt page edges. To my eye, the goatskin's edges look redder. It could be the angle, but whenever I compare them, I end up with the same impression. Don't take this to the bank. Your mileage may vary, etc. With the black calf split, you get regular gold gilt edges. They look just fine.
I have a couple of gripes about the brown calf. The first one is universal -- i.e., it applies to every example of this edition. This second concerns my copy in particular. First, the inside cover of the brown calf is ... black. My brown Pitt Minion was the same, so I'm not shocked or anything. But in my world, black and brown don't go together. It's like wearing brown shoes with a black belt. It don't look right, you know? A complimentary color would be preferable. Back in the 1970s, when Cambridge was offering aquamarine water buffalo covers, the liners were switched out to match. That's all I'm asking here.
The second glitch has to do with the imprinting on the spine. The gilding machine (or whatever it's called) went a little crazy and laid some gold outside the lines. As a result, I feel like my eye perscription needs updating whenever I try to read the words KING JAMES VERSION. I've seen this sort of thing before. It's not a big deal. But I figured I'd mention it in passing.
I'm so in love with the Clarion layout that you could bind it in hot pink ratskin and I'd be satisfied. Happily, we have much better options to choose from. I have to say, I'm really loving the raised grain on the calf split:
Not that the brown is shabby or anything:
As I said earlier, I think this is a much better KJV than the Cameo on the inside. In fact, I'm hard pressed to think of a better KJV, period. In the original review, I raved about the Clarion layout. It's worth raving about. A single column, paragraphed KJV is a huge step forward. My understanding is that the practice of breaking the text down verse by verse originated with the Geneva Bible NT in 1557, the purpose being to isolate the phrases so they could be more readily compared to Estienne's Greek NT. It's the same rationale that led some twentieth century publishers to insert numbers from Strong's Concordance above the corresponding English words -- it's apparatus, in other words, but it's been around long enough that people who don't know any better assume that's how the Bible was "meant to be."
Now I'm a big fan of the ex-pat team that brought the Geneva Bible into being. I just wish that particular innovation hadn't caught on so universally. Even people who like their Scripture diced up that way would gripe if any other book they were trying to read was formatted likewise. They're simply acclimmatized to the Bible looking funny. (And if you ask me, it's when we're acclimatized to Scripture that we most need to see it in a new way.)
But enough of that. You already know my predilections where single column, paragraphed text is concerned. Let's talk about another reason the Clarion is a great edition of the KJV:
The magnificent team of translators who gave us this classic of the English language also included an introduction entitled "The Translators to the Reader." In other words, they wrote a letter to you ... a letter that hasn't lost its significance over the centuries. Somehow publishers got into the habit of omitting this document from the KJV, which made it easier for people having lost the translation's context to supply fantasies of their own in its place. A lot of grief might have been avoided over the past hundred years or so if "The Translators to the Reader" had been more widely available -- and read. If your KJV doesn't have it, you should replace it with one that does. Of course, that's easier said than done. Most bargain price KJVs omit this section, making them no bargain at all in my book.
But hey, let's not get worked up. The omission of the preface is pretty much univeral. And it's more a matter of neglect than the result of some dastardly conspiracy. The Clarion restores it, that's the point. The Clarion layout will improve your comprehension of the KJV, and "The Translators to the Reader" will improve your comprehension of it, too, though in a slightly different way.
Paragraphing makes the elegant sentences of the KJV flow again. It also makes versification possible where it's actually appropriate (as you can see on the right-hand page above). The Clarion comes with two nice thick ribbons: brown for the brown calfskin, and black for the black calf split. The black goatskin has bright cardinal red ribbons.
So if I had to make a choice between the three, which would it be? The black goat, the brown calf, or the black calf split?
Decisions, decisions ...
Oh, wait, I forgot: I always choose brown over black! That makes it easy. I'll go with the brown calf. But let me tell you, they're all nice. And what's inside is a lot nicer.
The goatskin is limp, as you can see below. The calf is quite flexible though on the firm side. The calf split is rigid but not stiff. In the yoga photo below, you can see the comparative qualities play out:
We are spoiled for choices. A great translation in an appropriately superb layout and excellent binding options. Choose the one that speaks to you.