Please allow me to introduce you to the ESV Single Column Heritage Bible in black, calfskin leather! Crossway’s website correctly refers to it as “an elegant and practical edition for frequent readers of God’s Word”, and my goal in this review is to explain why they are correct!
Cover and Binding
The cover material of the Bible under review is premium calfskin leather. Since I’m pretty new to “premium leathers”, allow me to give a very oversimplified and probably somewhat mistaken, but generally accurate delineation of different Bible leathers. Most people purchase “bonded leather” Bibles because they’re the cheapest. And guess what? You get what you pay for. I speak from personal experience when I say that these do not stand the test of time. I’m pretty sure I wore one out in my first year of Bible school. One step up is a synthetic leather often referred to as “trutone” or “duo tone.” This is almost certainly better than bonded leather, but it is still relatively new on the scene. After this must come “genuine leather.” These covers are kind of like a hotdog you get at a stand—you know it is meat, but the source is a mystery! I have an ESV thinline Bible in genuine leather, and it has lasted me a long time so far. No real complaints, except that it isn’t calfskin!
In my understanding, calfskin is generally understood to be inferior only to goatskin as far as Bibles go. However, that may only be an assumption due to the higher prices of goatskin—I’ve heard said that neither one has more longevity. Calfskin is known for its extremely supple (i.e. flexible) and soft texture and distinct grain (like a finger print—no two the same). It is, generally speaking, smoother than goatskin, which is known for its even more distinct and typically coarse grain (also gorgeous). Having spent considerable time in this Bible since receiving it a week ago, I vouch that these statements all describe Crossway’s product. While soft and pliable, and while it sits open nicely, it is in no way flimsy. I will say that it does not open as flat as other premium offerings in, say, earlier or later portions of the Bible, but I’m sure that will change with a break-in period. One more comment on the leather: It has a very soft leather lining as well, which makes it much more flexible and appealing than premium leather Bibles with paper linings or cardboard under the leather. It feels like a Bible that will stand the test of time and wear, and the sewn binding seems very sound.
I have no complaints with the cover or binding. And the double ribbon markers are a nice bonus too (though a bit on the thin side)!
The text is arranged in a single column format with 9 point font and generous leading (line spacing), which makes for an extremely pleasant reading experience. The printing was done with a special line-matching technique that supposedly reduces “ghosting” (that annoying “see through” quality of thin paper). While the pages of the Heritage Bible still allow more ghosting than I expected given the hype, I’ll admit that the line matching certainly mitigates the distraction that comes when the lines on the following or previous pages don’t match up with those on the page being read. Finally, words of Christ are in black (a bonus from my standpoint…I’ll discuss in a post some day!).
As for downsides to the format, I see three. First, while the single column is perfect for reading, I can imagine a weakness if one were to use this Bible for preaching or teaching—it would be more difficult to find your place than in a two column or verse-by-verse edition. Second, while the lack of additional text on the pages also contributes to readability, I still think I would like to have cross-references should I need them (though I realize it is unfair to criticize something for what it is not!). Third, the inner margin of each page is close enough to the binding or “gutter” that some may be bothered, though I did not personally find this distracting.
The dimensions are 8.4 x 5.9 x 1.7 inches. For a point of reference, this is slightly thicker than thinline Bibles, but shorter as well. It is not large and unwieldy like I would consider a study Bible to be, or even a classic reference Bible. In my opinion, the size is ideal; it is easy to read with one hand, it sits nicely on the lap, and it is perfect for extended reading.
I eagerly anticipated the delivery of this edition of the English Standard Version from Crossway. I suspected that it would be the nicest Bible I’ve ever owned at that point, and I suspected correctly. As for pricing, I acquired my copy for significantly less than the retail cost; and before I received it, I probably would not have willfully spent over $100 on a Bible. However, after spending time in this beautiful edition, I say without reserve, “It is worth it!”
It is built to last, it comes with a lifetime warranty, and it holds more appeal to those of us with “weird aesthetic” book fetishes than the run-of-the-mill bonded, trutone, or genuine leathers! And on the subject of aesthetics, I’m going to be honest—another thing I am excited about is the raised bands on the spine which give this Bible an “old book” feel. Love it! (I’m a dork). And none of the “luxury brand” Bibles seem to feature these ridges (i.e. Cambridge, R. L. Allan, and Schuyler).
While I did note a couple downsides, most of the downsides actually contribute to what makes this Bible unique—the pages that could be right out of a beautiful Dickens or Dostoevsky novel in a single-column format without cluttered cross-references and very few footnotes.
I hope to shortly receive a review copy of the ESV Cambridge Clarion Reference Bible to compare for you all, as it is close in size and format but different in some significant ways that may make it a better all-around choice.
UPDATE: I’ve since used a Cambridge Clarion and I must say, the line-matching is executed better on the Heritage and I believe the line-spacing (“leading”) is also better. The downside is that it doesn’t open as flat as the Clarion right out of the box, lacks art-gilding, and it has no references. In a future post, I may examine the Clarion and some other single-column settings in more detail. I can no longer say the Heritage is the “nicest Bible I’ve owned,” but it is certainly one of the nicest single-column ESV in a premium binding at its price point (if not the nicest). And it is the only single-column ESV bound in such a nice, leather-lined calfskin.
(This review is not of the ESV as a translation but only of this particular edition)
And lest we get lost in leather-bound English-Bible luxury, please remember to pray for translations in the remaining 1,859 Bible-less languages in our world. Click here to see my heart on the matter and to even support the work of Bible translation.