Tourists visiting Versailles can’t help being impressed –– all the fountains! the Hall of Mirrors! –– but hand them the keys and let them move into the place, and before long they will be complaining about how those fountains keep splashing their coifs and that Hall of Mirrors makes them look so fat. Familiarity, even when it doesn’t breed contempt, tends to blunt our natural awe in the presence of beauty. What starts off too good to be true comes to be taken for granted, and we find ourselves focusing not on beauty but on its slight (and frankly inevitable) imperfections.
The same thing happens with well-made Bibles. You begin by luxuriating in the aroma of leather, having to force yourself to touch (let alone use) the object of beauty. But before long you’re focused on the blemish in the gilt edge or the fraying edge of the ribbon, or thinness of the paper. I will raise my hand to each of these charges: I’m guilty.
Then along comes something new, and my awe returns. In the case of R. L. Allan’s new edition of the NKJV bound in red Highland goatskin, the something new is really something quite old: the classic Allan binding. In this case, it happens to be an especially exquisite example of the genre. When it comes to bindings, this is what getting it right looks like.
There’s a certain style of binding that is, to me, the quintessential Allan binding: limp, leather-lined goatskin with a semi-yapp edge and fine attention to the details of construction. These Bibles don’t just look good, they seem to have been removed from a time capsule buried in the mid-twentieth century. They feel vintage in the best sense of the word. Heirloom quality. When you handle one, you’re amazed there are still people in the world with the skill to do such work. (There are, and you can find them here.)
The proportions of the book block play a factor. The book needs to be broad enough in front to balance its thickness, and there should be enough play in the sewn spine to allow the limpness of the cover to express itself fully. Whatever its size, it should have the proportions of a thinline edition. The original Classic Reference ESVs rebound by Allan were too narrow for their thickness and never quite showed off the binding to the fullest extent. The new NKJV seems to have just the right measurements. It feels magnificent in the hand.
All the standards now included in an Allan binding are here –– the art-gilt edges, the three thick ribbons (in terms of length and width, R. L. Allan seems to get this right every time, unlike many) –– with one exception: no lined pages bound into the back.
Red is my favorite color when it comes to leather bindings, assuming the shade is correct. Think cardinal red, scarlet. Maybe a hint of blood. No plummy purple cast. No bright maraschino Ferrari red, either. I like my reds formal and dignified like the red briefcases that crown secrets are toted around in. As you can see from the photos, this red is splendid. And the red calfskin lining with its double line of gilding exudes good taste.
The interior of this Bible is quite Old School, too. Printed in Korea, the two-column text setting features center column references, red letters for the words of Christ, and indents each verse as if it were its own paragraph (the classic verse-by-verse or verse-per-line layout). None of this is to my liking, as frequent readers will know already. I prefer reader-friendly single column text settings. I dislike red letter editions (a holier-than-thou Victorian affectation that is still de rigueur if you’re printing Bibles for us Americans, who seem to imagine the gospel authors kept a vial of red ink next to their quills). And as a writer, I would hate to see some future editor go wild with the return key and break up my paragraphs into verse-by-verse sections. Having said that, if you prefer all these things -- and a lot of people still do -- this is a nice example. This edition is available at EvangelicalBible.com and direct from R. L. Allan.
What I Like
An elegant Allan binding that could give the best vintage editions a run for their money.
What I Don’t Like
An old-style reference-optimized text setting.