Call me crazy, but I have a thing for red. It's the new black. In fact, as much as I love black, I wish everything that came in black also came in a nice, bright red. Imagine how cool a red Moleskine notebook would be. Well, a red Bible is cool, too. And what's more, it's a classic, albeit an all too rare one. This isn't a diatribe on how all Bibles should be red; it isn't a screed against narrow-minded publishers who can't bring themselves to do the right thing and produce red leather bindings. Instead, it's a tribute, an homage to one of my favorites. In the photograph here, I've assembled a stack of red Bibles (with a Book of Common Prayer thrown in for good measure). Let's take a look.
Starting from the bottom and working our way up: first, we have a nice Cambridge large-print KJV bound in top grain cowhide. I picked this one up in the late nineties at a Dublin cathedral. For my taste, there's a little too much purple in the red -- veering toward the dreaded "burgundy" -- but the cover is flexible and the type easy to read (if a little old fashioned). On top of that one, we have a smaller Cambridge KJV Cameo reference edition bound in French Morocco. As you can see from the photograph, this Bible sports an unusual finish, as if it couldn't make up its mind to between black and red -- or like a red Bible that fell off the back of the truck and got a good, even coat of tar for its trouble. I don't see them around as much anymore, but it used to be possible to find curious oddities like this by searching through a stack of Cambridge Bibles at the bookseller.
The third in the stack is a fine example of Cambridge's excellent NIV Pocket Reference Bible, a beautiful, hand-sized edition with center-column references and a very readable two-column text setting. Unfortunately, this wonderful shade of red was only available in a Cabra bonded leather binding. I'd rather have the real thing, but actually this bonded leather is more flexible than some of the stiff, sharp-edged genuine leather covers on the market now. To match it, I picked up a copy of Oxford's 1979 Book of Common Prayer in bonded leather. As you can see in the next picture, which features the NIV on bottom, the BCP, and then the Cambridge REB New Testament (more about that in a moment), both bonded leather books open flat, as they should. These are actually the best examples of red bindings in my collection, but it took a little hunting to find them. Ordinarily, I would not recommend purchasing any bonded leather product without inspecting it in advance. This is not something you want to do sight-unseen online.
As much as I like Cambridge, I have to admit that Oxford got something right that Cambridge didn't manage. As you can see, all of the Cambridge editions sport red ribbons. The Oxford BCP has bright gold gilt on the page edges and three exquisitely thick golden ribbons. The contrast is attractive to the eye.
Finally, as I mentioned, at the very top of the stack Cambridge's Revised English Bible New Testament bound in calfskin. This is a paragraphed, single column text designed for comfortable reading. Like most single column settings on the market right now, the columns are a bit too wide -- as you can see from the photo, the text creeps ever so slightly into the inside gutter. If the NT would lay just a bitter flatter this wouldn't be an issue -- over time I imagine it will.
What is it about a bright red Bible that I like so much? Traditional black can be boring, though it can also be elegant and restrained. Red, though, has the power to be something I'm not sure black ever manages. Red, done right, can be splendid.