NIV Bibles by R. L. Allan & Son: A Comparison

I’ve sung the praises of Allan Bibles frequently on this blog, so I will spare much of the repetition and simply summarize:  The leather-lined goatskin covers are unparalleled, and the art-gilt is bolder, the bindings more labor-intensive, the ribbons more sturdy and beautiful, and the overall effect more elegant than any other Bibles on the market.  Period.

So far, I have not reviewed anything except Allan’s English Standard Version offerings, which may lead some to believe that I don’t like other translations.  While the ESV is my favorite for general use and study, I don’t pretend that it doesn’t have its weaknesses, and neither do I pretend that other translations aren’t praiseworthy in their own rights.  My favorite dynamic-equivalent translation is the New International Version.  I was weaned on the NIV ’84, I sort of skipped the whole TNIV period, and then I studied under Douglas Moo (professor of New Testament and chair of photo 4the NIV translation committee) when the 2011 edition was being prepared and marketed.  I won’t open this discussion up to translation bashing.  Suffice it to say, I really respect what the NIV does.

R. L. Allan & Sons only has two editions of the NIV available (and the NIV Proclamation Bible is forthcoming).  My siblings and I purchased the NIV Reader’s Bold Print Reference Edition (NIVR1) for my dad’s birthday this year, and I got my hands on the NIV Classic Reference Edition (NIV1) through another avenue, so I’m glad to be able to compare the two for your viewing and reading pleasure!

Cover and Binding

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The NIVR1 pictured here (left) is navy blue highland goatskin.  In sum, its a very soft, deeply grained leather made from the skins of Nigerian highland goats.  Gotta love ’em!  The blue is beautiful and contrasts nicely with the red ribbons and red art gilt.  The NIV1 is labeled simply “goatskin” (antique dark brown/ natural grain), implying a differentphoto 5 photo 3 source. It is gorgeous and unique.  The grain is subtler and the leather is not quite as soft.  But let me defend this non-Nigerian leather for a moment!  While it is not as soft as the highland goatskin on the NIVR1, it feels the same as the highland goatskin on my tan Allan ESVNC1 (possibly even softer)!  So even “highland goatskin” is not monolithic, and there is variation within this label.  In sum, the dark brown goatskin is extremely limp and flexible, even if not quite as much as the blue highland goatskin.  Not that it matters, since the NIV1 is only available in black highland goatskin at the moment, and that in low supplies (i.e. only two left!).

These are hand-bound in the UK to exacting photo 3standards.  As a result, they open as flat as a pancake and melt in your hands.  The yapp is very prominent in both, though maybe slightly more so in the NIVR1 (nearly “full yapp”).

Highest marks in this category, which should come as no surprise.




Text Block

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These are both Hodder & Stoughton book blocks printed in China by CTPS.  The NIV1 has a 8 1/4″ x 5 1/2″ trim size, and it is about 1 1/2″ thick with a 9 point font.  The NIVR1 has a 9 1/2″ x 6 1/2″ trim size, and it is also about 1 1/2″ thick with a 10 point font. There, in a nutshell, is the only observable difference between these two text blocks:  trim size and font size.  Its a big-brother little-sister sort of thing…even the page numbers line up throughout!

So that (along with color & availability) will be your deciding factor.  I should also mention two other differences: the NIV1 has no gold gilt line and it only features two ribbon markers (though thicker than most, which is awesome!), while the NIVR1 has the gilt line and three ribbon markers.

ghosting on the NIV1
ghosting on the NIV1

Each is printed on “high quality India paper” that is specified at 35gsm and each features line-matching.  Both have a crisp, sans serif style font that is incredibly readable.  The “Bold Print Reader’s Reference Edition” (NIVR1) doesn’t appear much bolder than the NIV1 to my eyes, though both are very nice to read.  The boldness and line-matching mitigate the already moderate level of ghosting present in each edition, which is not bad to begin with (35gsm is pretty good paper).

The text is formatted in a traditional two-column setting, and the center references are set off by a dotted line (as opposed to a solid line on most reference Bibles and no line on the ESVNC1).  This, along with the crisp font, create a very handsome page spread.

Both open flat in Genesis 1, as usual with Allan Bibles!
Both open flat in Genesis 1, as usual with Allan Bibles!

The only thing I don’t like about the text block is the very bold font used for headings and chapter numbers, though that is merely personal preference.  I prefer the non-bold numbers and italicized headings in my ESV, but I have a good friend who feels the exact opposite!


The Allan NIVs are breathtaking.  I have handled the Allan KJV Longprimer, HCSB, and all of the ESV offerings, but the NIVs are probably my favorite from a reading and design standpoint.  While I prefer a single column paragraph format, I see the value of two column formats as well and I can live with them… as long as its not verse-by-verse, I am more or less happy (which, for instance, is the only reason the Longprimer isn’t my favorite Allan Bible).  In my opinion, the NIV is among the top English translations today, and it is fitting that it be served in such fine binding options!

photo 2Which should you pick?  Its a matter of personal preference.  I find the NIV1 more wieldy due to its smaller size.  I can definitely see it as a great pulpit Bible, but also as a great reader.  If you want slightly larger font, the NIVR1 is for you (or if you want a brown or blue option).

The dark brown NIV1 is completely sold out everywhere, and Bibles-Direct only has the only two copies of the black NIV1 remaining, so act quickly if thats your choice! They’ve told me that they don’t have plans to reprint it at this point, so now is likely your only chance for the NIV1.  The NIVR1 should be around longer.

[UPDATE: only 1 black NIV1 remaining!]

You can buy here or here.

(side note:  Even though they’re based in London, Bibles-Direct / R. L. Allan & Son provides free international shipping, so don’t be afraid to order straight from them! Both they and, R. L. Allan’s US distributor, are great companies with great customer service)

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.

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10 thoughts on “NIV Bibles by R. L. Allan & Son: A Comparison

  1. Thank you for your excellent review. I own both Bibles (in black) and love them. I also had a single column NIV (Zondervan) rebound by Leonards to be an almost-Allan’s.

  2. I see this is an older post. I recently purchased an Allan NIV Proclamation Bible. It is my first “premium” Bible and I am so pleased with it. I usually write notes and underline in my Bible, but I am nervous to damage this one! I know not to use a regular pen, and I have an archival pen designed for writing in a Bible or other special documents. But I am still afraid to try it. Do you have any pen suggestions or other reassurances? Thanks.

    1. I recommend the 005 Pigma Micron (.2mm). You can get them here:

      For highlighters, I use these, but I usually avoid using the blue because it is too dark in my opinion:

      Don’t be afraid! If you love that Bible and that translation, then make it your own. I’ve been doing it with my Allan ESV New Classic, and its becoming such a treasure. I think the Proc is an ideal NIV for annotating because of those increased margins.

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