Where Bibles are concerned, my tastes are pretty simple. I prefer small to large, thick to thin, single to double, and stitches to glue. I like my fonts traditional and readable, would rather have three ribbons than one, and never saw a problem that couldn't be solved by the liberal application of goatskin. So when an edition comes along that violates just about all of my principles, and I still find myself liking it -- even loving it -- then it's worth taking a moment to ask myself why.
The Bible in question is the Cross Reference NIV with Concordance from R. L. Allan's. And if I had to sum up the appeal in just two words, they'd be: brown and grain.
Above: The Allan's Cross Reference NIV with Concordance bound in brown calfskin (*NIVC2BR), semi yapp style, red under gold page edges, with concordance and 16 pp maps. £70
Yes, this edition is available in black highland goatskin for £20 extra, and in mid-grain goatskin for the same price. But there is something jaw-dropping about the grainy brown calfskin cover on mine. No, it isn't as liquidly limp as the goatskin would be, but it's flexible enough and feels great in the hand. The real delight, though, is the appearance. The brown is captivating. Looking closely, the raised grain is dark and the fissures in between are lighter, so there's a real complexity and depth to the color. It's one of those love-it-or-hate-it effects, and I love it.
The text block, which is the Hodder & Stoughton Cross Reference with Concordance -- measures 6 x 9 and runs just over an inch thick, but when you factor in the semi-yapp overhang on three sides of the cover, the footprint is more like 6.75 x 10. That's pretty large. As a result, there is nothing cramped about the interior layout. The font is reasonably larger, there's plenty of white space on the page, and the overall effect is one of comfort and dignity.
My only beef with the two-column setting is that the center references get a lot of space, which results in the columns being narrower than I'd like. But this is true of most reference Bibles, so I can hardly single this one out for criticism. Even so, it's perfectly readable.
I prefer that small Bibles not be thinlines, but at this scale the thinness seems like an advantage. You don't have to grapple with it the way you would with a two-inch thick study edition with the same trim size. Where an edition like this really shines, I suspect, is in the pulpit. The size seems perfect for teaching -- large enough to see, substantial enough to hold onto. Because the calfskin doesn't droop as readily as goatskin would, the cover supports the pages more when it's open flat in the hand. Some people have told me that the super-limp Bibles, when held one-handed, feel like they're going to slip out of your grasp. (I like that feeling, but you might not.) There's no danger of that happening with the Allan's Cross Reference NIV. If the highland goatskin bindings are soft like an unconstructed Italian jacket, this one feels more structured, like one of those military-inspired suits from Savile Row.
The binding is quite supple, and the Bible opens flat the way you'd expect. The lining inside the cover is black rather than brown (or the dark brown of the Allan's ESV in tan goatskin), but the ribbon is complementary. Handling the Allan's Cross Reference NIV reminded me of something I noted with the Cambridge Book of Common Prayer in brown goatskin -- namely, that art-gilt edges and brown leather are a match made in heaven. The red under gold finish harmonizes with the brown in a way it really doesn't with black. You get a hint of this in the tan goatskin ESV, but the darker hues here really emphasize the look.
In a lot of ways, Bibles these days are like dress shoes. Everyone knows that "good" shoes are welted (i.e., sewn), but the vast majority of what's available have adhesive soles. The cheaper manufacturing process is defended with the argument that, yeah, the glued shoes fall apart faster, but they're also less expensive to replace. (Sound familiar?) Most people don't care about their shoes, so that's fine. But if you ever become attached to a particular pair, you come to appreciate quality construction. The same thing applies with Bibles. Most people don't care how their Bible is put together. Unless they read it, after all, there's not much danger of it falling apart -- and if it does, they can always buy a new one. But the few who really use them and in the process become attached really appreciate (and demand) a certain level of quality.
Like dress shoes, most Bibles come in black. Not because black is the best color or the most versatile, but because it's come to stand for formality. Black is dressy. It's always correct. But it can be a bit ... boring. Which is why I try to spotlight the other alternatives whenever I can. I'm a big fan of red as a Bible color, and brown is right up there with it. I like everything from mahogany to British tan, the more interesting and uneven the better. Where the Allan's Cross Reference NIV shines is its versatility. I won't say it is chameleon-like, but the color takes on different characteristics depending on the light, which makes it as much a pleasure to look at as it is to touch.
So let's say you want an NIV and you insist on an Allan's edition. Which one should you buy? The beautiful Bold Print Reference I reviewed earlier, or this one? Good question.
Here's how they stack up:
1. In terms of size, the Bold Print Reference is smaller and thicker. They weight about the same, but the Bold Print Reference feels more solid, while the Cross Reference with Concordance is more trim and tight.
2. In terms of flexibility, the Bold Print Reference in goatskin is definitely more supple. If you want that super-limp feel, choose the Bold Print or get the Cross Reference in highland goat (which I haven't handled, but I imagine would be "crazy limp" given the size).
3. In terms of readability, the Bold Print Reference is on top. But then, I think it would score high in any comparison. If you're one of those people who has trouble with small print or light impressions, you really can't go wrong with the Bold Print Reference.
That sounds like a victory for the Bold Print Reference -- but hold on a minute. Yes, the Bold Print is handier and more flexible, and yes, it has an edge when it comes to legibility. But the Cross Reference scores well in those areas, too, and quite high on another one: it's unique. This Bible stands out. I haven't had it long enough to know how it will improve with age, but I look forward to finding out. No, it isn't goatskin, but it's the most interesting calfskin cover I've seen in a long while.
If you're looking for something unusual, I think you'll prefer the Cross Reference. If you love brown -- or have simply gotten tired of black -- you'll prefer it, too. If you use the NIV for public teaching, you may find the size and structure attractive. I know I do.