Verdict: If you liked the form factor of the Allan Reader's ESV but were disappointed with the opacity of the paper, the Schuyler ESV is an attractive alternative.
It's not every day that a new player enters the league of high quality Bible publishers. Typically the trend moves in the opposite direction -- somebody drops out, or starts cutting corners. So the debut of EvangelicalBible.com's Schuyler line of Bibles is welcome news. The first edition, the Schuyler ESV, is an impressive start, promising good things to come.
The Schuyler ESV features a special edition of Crossway's new Classic Reference text setting, printed by Jongbloed in the Netherlands, and paired with a limp, edge-lined binding in black or brown goatskin. Imagine a text block the size of an Allan Reader's ESV, only with a cover similar to one of Cambridge's edge-lined wide margins, and you have an idea of what the Schuyler ESV feels like.
FORM FACTOR: COMPARED TO THE ALLAN READER
The trim size of the text block is 6.25" x 9.15", closely resembling that of the R. L. Allan Reader's Edition ESV (although the latter seems bigger in photos thanks to the semi-yapp cover). While there isn't an official name for this size Bible, I think of them as "large format" editions, about as big as I'd want to go in a portable book. Both editions come with art-gilt page edges and three ribbons, wide ones on the Reader and skinny ones on the Schuyler.
Both the Schuyler and the Allan Reader's Edition feature double-column text settings with references down the middle, and the columns are the same width -- just a hair over two inches. Because the Schuyler uses a more recent text setting, the appearance of its interior varies greatly from the Allan. The first thing you notice is that the new Classic Reference setting doesn't use a contrasting sans serif typeface for headings, instead setting them in italicized, boldface serif type. This gives a lest contrasty feel. Frankly, I'm not sure which approach I prefer. Both of them work.
While both covers are edge-lined, they vary greatly in style. I give the Allan beaucoup style points for its Old World feel and leather lining, which speaks to my aesthetic sensibility. The Schuyler cover takes its cues from Cambridge's edge-lined covers, which are also produced by Jongbloed. It comes with the same stitching around the edge to reinforce the turned-in leather, as well as the same shiny synthetic lining. The black edition comes with a black lining, the brown with a brown lining.
The Schuyler takes a couple of love-it-or-hate-it risks. We'll talk about the big one, the inclusion of Christian creeds and confessions, later on. First let's look at the imprinting, which is a bit idiosyncratic. On the spine, you'll find the words HOLY BIBLE right at the top, balancing the logo at the bottom. Typically the title would be lower down on the spine (the second section seems to be the most common). If your Schuyler were sitting on a bookshelf amid other editions, you would immediately be able to tell it apart.
On the front cover, you'll find the words HOLY BIBLE printed in what my scale suggests is 42 pt. type. That's big. When I first opened the box, that massive title really jumped out at me. Now I don't notice it as much. For the record, I prefer no imprinting at all on the front cover of a Bible, and if it must be there, make it subtle. This is not subtle by any stretch. No light was hidden under a bushel in the making of this edition.
Above: The Schuyler ESV is available in black goatskin with red ribbons and brown goatskin with gold ribbons. My preference? Definitely the brown -- dark, attractive, and just a little bit different.
Above: The edge-lined goatskin cover is stitched around the perimeter for extra strength, with a coordinating polyurethane lining. Some argue that leather lining, while nicer, isn't as durable. I prefer leather regardless, but I've been using these synthetic linings in Cambridge Bibles for years without any problems.
Above: Most publishers would move HOLY BIBLE lower down the spine and adjust the translation title accordingly. For those who notice, this is one of those love-it-or-hate-it style cues.
Above: The Schuyler formula consists of matching quality book blocks with quality bindings, and based on the debut edition, we are fortunate indeed to have this new line available.
One of the selling points of the Schuyler has been its upgraded paper specification. The 32 gsm paper is a slightly higher spec than the 30 gsm Crossway used for the ESV Study Bible, and the results are pretty good. We judge the quality of thin Bible paper by the amount of printing that shows through from the reverse side of the page. In cases where show-through is pronounced, it tends to give the page a five o'clock shadow effect, which I call ghosting. Almost all Bibles, modern and vintage, display this effect. When it is extreme, the ghosting detracts significantly from readability.
The good news where the Schuyler is concerned is that, compared to the Reader, there is less show-through. As you can see from the photographs, however, the Schuyler still has plenty of ghosting.
The EvangelicalBible.com page dedicated to the Schuyler claims this paper is "50% more opaque than the Cambridge Clarion Series." This may be true technically, but eyeballing the edition side by side, the differences aren't so clear cut to me. Perhaps the Clarion's superior line-matching (though it's not perfect by any means) makes up the difference. Flipping through the Schuyler at random, I'm able to find a number of instances in which a line from the reverse of the page is printed exactly in the middle of two lines on the front, which heightens the five o'clock shadow effect. The same paper with more consistent line matching might be more noticeably superior
Setting the text in two columns is traditional, and has its advantages, but in a world where Crossway's Legacy setting and the Cambridge Clarion exist, it's hard to get excited about the Classic Reference, especially in poetry sections, where the two-inch column width doesn't do the lines any favors. If you haven't made the switch yet, you won't notice. And if you have, well, the Schuyler does have something going for it to make the choice difficult: the back matter.
CREEDS AND CONFESSIONS
The second love-it-or-hate-it feature, much more significant than the imprinting, is the inclusion of the ecumenical creeds and a selection of Reformation-era confessions of faith. For years, whenever Bible publishers have asked what features I'd like to see in an edition, the one suggestion I've repeated over and over is the inclusion of creeds and confessions in the back. To my mind, this is a "help" that actually helps, because gives access the church's tradition of interpretation. Traditionally, this material would have been placed inside a hymnal, but singing from a hymnal is about as popular with today's evangelical as elevating the host was in Puritan New England.
Before the Schuyler Bible, the only edition I could recommend to people curious about, say, Nicene orthodoxy or the Reformation era theological consensus (or lack thereof) was the Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible. Now there's a slimmer option. Unlike the SRSB, the Schuyler doesn't index the creeds and confessions with the Bible text, so you won't find marginal notes in Ephesians 1 directing you to a section in the Westminster Larger Catechism or vice versa. Also, the Schuyler omits the Three Forms of Unity, perhaps the most important of the Reformed standards, which consists of the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dordt, and one of the few catechisms I'm aware of which is the subject of a rap song, the Heidelberg.
Having said that, what the Schuyler does include are the ecumenical creeds which all orthodox Christians have in common -- Apostles', Nicene, Chalcedonian, and Athanasian -- along with the Augsburg Confession, the 39 Articles, the Westminster Standards, and the London Baptist Confession of 1689. With the exception of the Dutch Reformed, this covers the major Reformation-era confessional Christian groups still in existence today.
Why include this stuff in the Bible? Good question. The short answer is for ready reference. The long answer goes something like this. Including these documents accomplishes a similar goal to that of a study Bible, with one significant difference: the views summarized are not those of an individual, or even a committee of scholars, but of a confessing church. They represent a collective endorsement and exposition of the faith contained in Scripture. While there is a great deal of consensus among the confessions, there are differences, too -- and I think that's helpful, as well, to those of us who want to have an informed view of what our fellow believers actually confess (as opposed to what they're accused of believing, if you see what I mean).
For those of you who don't want the ecumenical creeds and Reformation confessions in your Bible, Schuyler offers an edition without them. You're missing out on the most unique feature of the edition, but the choice is yours.
Above: The Schuyler (left) compared to the Cambridge Clarion ESV on a roughly comparable page.
Above: The Schuyler (top) has a smaller footprint than the Allan Reader's ESV (below), but the book blocks are comparable in size.
Above: Ever wondering "shall all men die?" This any many other questions are answered in the Schuyler's back matter, which includes the ecumenical creeds and a selection of Reformation-era confessions of faith. This feature alone makes the Schuyler worth having.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE SCHUYLER
Why would anyone want to get into the business of high quality Bibles when so many of the major players in mass market Bible publishing have gotten out? Consider this. Over the past few years, EvangelicalBible.com has become the preeminent distributor of high end Bibles in North America. They've worked hard to offer excellent customer service, and to develop relationships with Bible enthusiasts online. If anyone can make a claim to have a finger on the pulse of the market, they can.
When we chat from time to time, I say things like, "This is what should be published!" And they say, "Yeah, but here's what customers actually buy." And I say, "Who cares what they want, give them what they ought to want!" I'm paraphrasing, but this gives you insight into a couple of things: first, why I wouldn't make a very good businessman. Second, that they're trying to listen to what you're saying.
What are purchasers of quality Bibles saying? Simply put, they expect the quality of a Bible's interior to be comparable to its exterior. The leather should be nice, yes, but so should the paper.
(This is a digression. You can skip to the next paragraph if you wish. One of the factors rarely brought up in the current hand-wringing about the rise of e-books and the supposed death of printed books is this: the quality of printed books, by and large, has dropped to such a state that not having a physical copy doesn't feel like a loss to the reader. As long as the reader's impression of printed books consists of cheap paper and glued bindings that won't open flat, of course the e-book seems superior. When publishers stopped caring about the physical form of their books, they paved the way for today's sea change.)
The Schuyler line promises to address this concern by specially commissioning print runs to ensure higher paper specs. While there is still room for improvement -- I don't think significant reductions in show-through are going to be visible until you hit 40 gsm, based on modern examples I've reviewed, and dutiful line matching will be needed as well -- the Schuyler debuts strong and promises even more performance down the line.
This, I think, is good for everyone. Readers benefit by having a new option to consider. Other publishers benefit from the competition. If the Schuyler formula proves successful, we can expect to see other quality editions joining the race for higher spec paper and taking every measure possible to minimize show-through. The result will be better Bibles all around.
What's in Schuyler's future? The next edition slated for release is a single column setting of the NKJV that should come out in December. I am very interested in seeing the Schuyler formula applied to a single column text setting, so stay tuned.