If you are a fine Bible enthusiast, you know that there has been one glaring omission from the Bibles that I have reviewed so far: Allan Bibles. If you don’t know about Allan Bibles, they are perhaps the most highly regarded of all fine Bible publishers. When I asked for a review copy of an Allan Bible, I was politely told that they have been unable to meet demand for their Bibles, and so they do not give review copies. This is partially due to their size. Allan is a small outfit, especially compared to major publishers like Cambridge, Zondervan, and Crossway. But it is also because their customers rave about Allan bindings.
About a year ago, I started pinching pennies to save up to buy an Allan Bible to see for myself. When I found out that they were releasing a new NRSV with apocrypha, I decided to grab one. The first thing I discovered was that Allan Bibles do sell quickly! The only option I had was a red cover. This Allan NRSV Classic Reference Edition with Apocrypha is the subject of today’s review. (And unfortunately, due to their popularity the NRSV reviewed here is out of stock as of this writing.)
You can buy Allan Bibles in a variety of goatskin covers. Allan is especially known for their Highland goatskin covers. Highland goatskin is a natural grain, which means an artificial grain isn’t imprinted or stamped on it. I had seen so many people rave about Highland goatskin – the goatskin of all goatskins! – that if I was going to shell out for an Allan Bible, it had to be in a Highland goatskin cover.
Allan is also known for the yapp on their covers. Yapp means that the cover extends well past the pages. A full yapp cover basically completely covers the entire text block (the pages of the Bible). A semi-yapp cover folds partially over the pages.
The Allan NRSV Classic Reference Edition with Apocrypha is bound in a red semi-yapp Highland goatskin cover. The binding is edge-lined. The text on the spine is simple and nicely done. I like this cover. The Highland goatskin feels natural in a good way. It is a bit rougher than other goatskin covers. I assume this is because it has gone through less treatment than many other covers. Some goatskin covers feel plush, and this does not. Out of the box, it has the ideal rich leather smell you hope for when you buy something that is real leather. I also think this cover will break in really well. I expect this Bible to only get better with age and use. And that, of course, is the point in buying an exceptional Bible that is made to last.
The best part about this Bible is how flexible the binding is. The spine curls inward as you open the book, which lets it easily lay flat at any page in the book. You can also easily wrap the cover around the back of the Bible, one of my admittedly quirky criteria for an exceptionally bound Bible.
The reason to Allan Bibles are so popular is because of the exceptional quality materials they use in their covers and the extraordinary craftsmanship in the binding itself. I have other Bibles with great covers that are exceptionally bound, but none that are better than this one.
Here is where I must admit some disappointment with this Bible. Allan’s process is different than the other Bibles I have reviewed here. They take a text block (the actual pages of the Bible) from another publisher and bind those pages with an amazing cover. For me, this means the text itself is a bit of a disappointment. The ideal fine Bible is one with an exceptional cover that matches the quality of the ink and pages in a layout that is enjoyable to read.
The text block for this Bible was done by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. The text is acceptable. But it isn’t great. For the price, I was hoping to be wowed by every aspect of this Bible. The layout is a standard double-column layout with references in a center column. I cannot find the font size, but it seems a bit smaller than I would expect for this size Bible.
The ribbons in this Bible are a rich blue that was a brilliant choice. They go great with the red cover. (Allan Bibles have a reputation for coming with really long ribbons, and these are very long!)
This Bible includes the Apocrypha, which some people will love and others might not like. It is a nice research tool because the Apocrypha also includes cross references to other passages in the Bible. In my review of Zondervan’s NRSV single-column reference Bible, I lamented that it seems to be standard in NRSV editions to restart pagination in each testament (and celebrated that the Zondervan edition does not do this). The Allan NRSV restarts pagination in the Apocrypha (which is between the Old and New Testaments) and again in the New Testament.
This Bible does not have the glossary that is found in most NRSV reference editions. I am not sure if it was not included in the SPCK edition or if Allan left it out for a slightly thinner profile. Most readers won’t mind this omission, but it does somewhat limit the Bible’s appeal as a reference edition. (Particularly when a Bible as small as Cambridge’s NIV Pitt Minion includes a 2,474 word concordance with more than 10,000 Scripture references.)
When I first heard about the Allan NRSV Classic Reference Edition with Apocrypha, I remember much of the buzz was over the antique marbled page edges. I was skeptical about whether I would like these and would have definitely chosen art-gilt page edges if I had a choice. When the Bible arrived, the marbled page edges were a disappointment to me. I wonder if they work better with different color covers. The speckled pages give me the feeling of trying too hard to make the Bible seem older than it is and to me it ends up coming across as contrived. But this, of course, is purely subjective. I know some people love the risk Allan took and think it paid off.
Finally, the Bible comes with maps and a generous amount of lined paper at the end of the text block. The lined paper is a another well-known and much beloved feature of Allan Bibles.
Allan bindings live up to the hype. I don’t think you can improve on the quality of the binding. It is truly exceptional. While I am very glad to have gotten my hands on an Allan Bible, I don’t think I would buy this Bible again. To me, the quality of the paper does not live up to the quality of the cover and the binding. And I just don’t like the marbled page edges, particularly knowing that it means the Bible doesn’t have Allan’s celebrated dark art-gilt page edges. Having said that, I know a handful of people who bought this Bible and all of them rave about it.
My sense is that Allan did not have ideal options for an NRSV text block for this edition. I would love to see an Allan binding in an edition that has better quality paper. From other reviews I’ve read online, my sense is that you would find the complete package in one of their ESV or KJV editions.
Kevin M. Watson is a professor at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. He teaches, writes, and preaches to empower community, discipleship, and stewardship of our heritage. Click here to get future posts emailed to you.