I'm not a purist. As much as I appreciate tradition, I don't think it's worth perpetuating just because it's tradition. If I love well-bound leather bound Bibles, it has very little to do with nostalgia for the "good old days." I love them because they are things of beauty, because they are more functional than their poorly-bound cousins, and because anything worth doing is worth doing well. A Bible doesn't have to be expensive to be made well, and it doesn't have to be bound in leather, either.
No one despises the morbid particleboard substance known as "bonded leather" more than I do. Before you settle for a bonded leather Bible, you would be better off choosing a hardback. Bonded leather is stiff. It curls (or bends) at the corners. It feels terrible to the touch. After long, hard use, some bonded leather covers will soften, just as some bad bindings will lay flat if you force them to. But why bother? If you want a leather-bound Bible, spend the extra money and get one. Accept no imitation.
Something interesting has been happening in Bible publishing, though.
A new generation of leather alternatives have been introduced, and they seem to hold a lot of promise. The first I encountered them was in the binding of one of Tyndale's inexpensive NLT editions. "Feel this," I said to my bookstore manager friend, who's as picky about Bible binding as I am. The cover was soft and flexible. It felt a little tacky to the touch, but in an interesting way. Although it only cost about $20, the little volume had a lot of the "liquidity" you would expect from a much better Bible. Every time I visited the store, I ended up in the same section, handling the new "pleather" Bibles.
A few years have passed, and now the new imitation leather bindings have gotten quite good. There is an amazingly compact NIV Study Bible -- no larger than a hand-sized Bible -- bound in attractive two-toned imitation leather that seems like a steal for the price. As much as I needle Crossway to introduce the editions of the English Standard Version that I'd like to see, they've been quite active in turning out what they call TruTone editions -- standard Thinline and Compact settings bound in imitation leather. I haven't taken much of an interest in these because they're typically youth-oriented, featuring Celtic crosses, crowns of thorns and other decorative motifs. I don't wear t-shirts with logos, and I don't want artwork on my Bible cover. But over the summer, I had a chance to visit Crossway and see some of the (then) upcoming editions. That's where I discovered the Portfolio Thinline.
A finished prototype was sitting on the desk of Dallas Richards, Director of Production Services, and I couldn't stop picking it up. Considering how closely Richards' office resembles an Alladin's Cave of Bible design, that's really saying something. Unlike the other TruTone Thinlines, the Portfolio was free of embellishment. It's bound in an attractive two-toned brown with simulated grain. It is also quite flexible. In fact, the more I handled it, the more it seemed to me like a Poor Man's Cordovan Thinline.
And that's a good thing. As much as I like finely bound Bibles, they cost a pretty penny. I have a hard time exposing them to the neglect and damage of everyday use. That's why the Bible I keep in my car isn't bound in classy goatskin; it's a bonded leather ESV Compact in British Tan that once drank a cup a coffee with cream. I let it dry, unstuck the pages, and now it does duty as a "beater." Anything happens to it, I won't shed a tear. I couldn't say the same for some of the other Bibles I've profiled on this site. Well, the problem with this approach is that the Bibles I stuff into book bags and drag around on a daily basis tend not to have all the pleasant attributes I've been railing about. This increases my frustration with modern binding and makes Mark a tedious, one-trick pony. The thought of having an inexpensive, soft, pliable, liquid Portfolio Thinline was enough to have me contemplating theft! Could I somehow manage to place the prototype into my stack of books and leave Richards' office with it? "I know it's wrong, Lord," I whined, "but what else can I do?"
I could wait, and that's what I did. As soon as the Portfolio Thinline was available, I ordered a copy, and now I've been using it on a daily basis for about a week. Naturally, the Portfolio doesn't hold a candle to the Cordovan Thinline. The paper isn't as nice. The cover doesn't feel as good in the hand. But for what you pay -- $29.99 retail, and just $19.79 at Amazon -- the value is remarkable. First off, the TruTone cover looks quite nice. I've included a photo of the cover here so you can see (1) the grain and (2) the actual colors, which are two shades of brown, and not the pinkish shade you'll see in the mock-up photo at Crossway and Amazon. A second picture illustrates that the Portfolio Thinline lies flat. If you pay $100 for a Bible, then it would be unforgiveable if it didn't -- still, many expensive Bibles won't -- but when you pay less than $20, let's face it: your expectations are low. The Portfolio delivers, and that makes it a very pleasant Bible to hold in the hand while reading.
The Portfolio Thinline isn't perfect. The cover on mine has a slight tendency to turn up at the bottom edges. Like all of Crossway's Thinlines -- including the Cordovan -- the binding is not sewn. But these things don't detract from my overall impression because, for what it is, the Portfolio is excellent.