ESV Personal Reference Bible in Brown, Top-Grain Leather (Crossway)

P1000739Premium materials yet affordable.  Beautiful yet subtle.  Compact yet readable.  Good for reading yet good for referencing.  If these phrases describe what you want in a Bible, then this edition of Crossway’s Personal Reference Bible is well-worth considering (henceforth, “PRB”).

Externals:  Materials, Binding, Size, etc.

The cover material on this Bible is simply stunning.  It is “top-grain leather”, or cowhide, P1000740but this might mislead you if you’re like me.  Background: I used to have the ESV Single-Column Legacy Bible in “top-grain leather”, and it was a somewhat stiff cover that lacked leather linings that couldn’t come close to competing with other premium Bibles I’ve referenced on this blog.  So when the PRB arrived and I first opened the box and beheld, I was caught off guard (in a good way).  This clearly represents a new stage in the evolution of Crossway’s “top-grain leather.”  Crossway has informed me that this is indeed the case, as their older top grain came from Italy, but they’ve changed to a different supplier, Cromwell, which accounts for the improvement. It is very soft and supple and looks naturally grained.  It is an understated and beautiful shade of brown that seems more earth-tone than R. L. Allan’s “chocolate brown.” For me, it is hard to imagine a more suitable color for a Bible!  And to “top” off this top-grain leather, it is finally leather-lined!

photo 1 P1000741The binding  is sewn, which is to be expected in any nice Bible.  It is also an edge-lined as opposed to a paste-off binding (see for here explanation), which is generally considered a higher-quality style. Also, there are no reinforced hinges / tabs on this binding, which, when combined with the flexible leather and edge-lining, allows the PRB to lay flat right out of the box–a fluid cover that bends freely to the user’s wishes.  Another perk is the raised bands on the spine, which I personally think every premium Bible should have–they add an elegant and old-world look.

As for size, the PRB is about 5″x7.5″x1.25″–compact, but by no means a pocket Bible.  It is thinner than the Cambridge Clarion, though slightly taller.  Key word: Portable!  However, portable Bibles traditionally tend to be less-readable Bibles.  We’ll see if the PRB reinforces this stereotype in the next section on “internals” (spoiler: no, it doesn’t!).P1000743

The only complaints I have about the externals is that the two ribbons are a bit thin and there is no yapp (cover overhang) or art-gilt (red-under-gold) on the page edges, which are minor quibbles that other people may not even share!

Internals:  Paper, Font, Layout, etc.

PRB (left) and Pitt Minion (right)
PRB (left) and Pitt Minion (right)

Though China is often criticized for lower quality book production, this Bible showcases  The Middle Kingdom’s ability to print and bind well. It features 30gsm paper, and the 8 point font is printed using line-matching.  So basically, even though the paper is pretty run-of-the-mill in terms of thinness, the ghosting is significantly reduced/mitigated by the line-matching.  And even though the Bible is “personal size”, the Lexicon 8 point font size (with 8.75 point leading) is relatively readable, especially compared to something like a Pitt Minion or Compact ESV.

P1000742Now we come to the icing on the cake:  the PRB’s layout.  If you’ve read my other posts, its no secret that I love me a good, single-column Bible!  The PRB Bible is no different.  In sum, when we read a good story, or pretty much any book besides reference books, we expect a single-column layout.  I believe we’re subconsciously affected by a book’s layout, and if you want ease and fluidity in the reading experience, then a single-column layout is your best bet.

Clockwise starting at top left:  RB, Legacy, PRB, Clarion
Clockwise starting at top left: RB, Legacy, PRB, Clarion

(More comparison photos at the end)

While I enjoy Crossway’s new ESV Reader’s Bible (henceforth “RB”) and its removal of all cross-references and verse numbers, I still highly value reference BIbles.  And this is due to the familiar principle that Scripture interprets Scripture:  If you have difficulty understanding something, first look at the immediate context (i.e. other text surrounding the verse/passage in question).  And then look at the broader context of the Bible, for which cross-references are the easiest “first stop.”  And the PRB has followed Crossway’s ESV Study Bible and Verse-by-Verse Reference Bible by placing the references on the inside column, near the “gutter.” The reason I like this placement, as opposed to the Clarion, is that it keeps any Scriptural text away from the gutter and thus makes the reading slightly easier.

My only complaints about the internals are that the columns are a bit wider than I’d like for the font size, which means more characters-per-line.  In this area, the Clarion and the ESV Reader’s Bible outshine the PRB and the Legacy.


This is one of the best premium ESV Bible offerings I can imagine in the “under $100” category.  It outshines the less-than-$100 Heritage in that it opens flatter.  It outshines the  less-than-$100 top-grain leather Legacy for the same reason, and the cover is so much nicer!  It outshines the $100-ish Pitt Minion in that it is cheaper and more readable (and has leather linings, which the Pitt lacks).  There’s little doubt that the RB, the Clarion, and the Legacy are all more readable…but each gives up something that the PRB does not (the RB gives up references and leather cover, the Clarion gives up smaller size and smarter reference placement, the Legacy gives up references and the quality of cover…and all of them lack leather linings!).  In short, I highly recommend the PRB!

Ideal Uses:  “Go anywhere” Bible.  Study.  Personal Reading.

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.

Allan's "chocolate brown" on top of Crossway's more earthy brown
R. L. Allan’s “chocolate brown” on top of Crossway’s more “earthy” brown
Bottom to top:  Legacy, RB, PRB, Clarion, Pitt Minion
Bottom to top: Legacy, RB, PRB, Clarion, Pitt Minion
PRB (top) and RB (bottom)
PRB (top) and RB (bottom)
PRB (top) and Legacy (bottom)
PRB (top) and Legacy (bottom)
PRB (top) and Clarion (bottom)
PRB (top) and Clarion (bottom)

Side-note:  The PRB is a marked improvement on the smaller-font and wider-column Personal Size Reference Bible, or PSR, from years ago:

Older version (PSR) on top and newer PRB on bottom
Older version (PSR) on top and newer PRB on bottom.


PSR (left) PRB (right)
PSR (left) PRB (right)

30 thoughts on “ESV Personal Reference Bible in Brown, Top-Grain Leather (Crossway)

  1. Great review. I’m seriously thinking about investing in one of these as a carry to church Bible. My primary Bible and reader is a Clarion, but its tough to flip quickly through it back and forth for fear of creasing pages. I think I read somewhere that RL Allan would be binding this sometime this year, but I can’t find it anywhere now. Do you know if that’s indeed the case?

    1. Thanks for posting John! I did hear several times from Ian Metcalfe, director of R. L. Allan, that they will indeed by binding this. Last I heard, it was slotted for this year. I’ll ask again. I would absolutely wait for the Allan if you can– it will be fantastic.

      1. Thank you, Jeffrey, for the quick response! That’s exciting news. I’d be a fool to not wait for those. I can’t wait to see one of these wrapped in R.L. Allan leather. While not quite as good as the Clarion as a reader, this is still a great and extremely readable single column textblock, and with the thicker paper, it should be great for more rough and tumble outings. Like you said, it’ll be fantastic. Going to get one yourself?

      2. Yeah, I think it will be a great little Bible. The one thing it does better than the Clarion is that the text doesn’t creep into the gutter (because the references are there). And the line matching + portability factor will make it hard to resist. But 8pt font is beginning to look small to me! Funny, because all the Bibles I had before getting into high end Bibles were probably 8pt and I couldn’t have cared less.

  2. I love my calfskin Heritage! After using it a couple of days, it lies flat nicely. Single column, 9 pt. type, line matched, no cross references, similar footprint.

  3. Thank you for your helpful review. What are the margin sizes please? I am currently choosing between this ESV Bible and the LCBP 180 Signature KJV. Very different Bibles, each meeting my Bible needs in different ways. I’ve used NASB exclusively for 34 years and am adding a translation to function as a “readers Bible.” (Then I will have four Bible total!)
    Beyond margin sizes, if you have further Bible recommendations (around a $75 cap) I would be most grateful.
    Many thanks, Mary Ligon

    1. The margins are pretty run-of-the-mill at maybe .5″ or less. This is a great Bible, but just be aware that the font is only 8 point. I can handle it, but I prefer larger print when possible. You might check out Crossway’s Large Print Thinline, available in Top Grain Cowhide (ISBN 1-4335-3278-6) for $100. If you don’t want the cowhide, you can get it in genuine leather or trutone for less (but that cowhide is wonderful!). Margins are also not awesome on that one. If you want wide margins, you could look into the ESV Wide Margin, also available in top grain leather (ISBN 1-4335-4418-0), or the ESV Verse-by-Verse (ISBN 1-4335-4568-3). I would also recommend the ESV Reader’s Bible in hardcover, which is single column, hand-sized, and omits verse numbers and subject headings… or the ESV Single-Column Legacy, which has great paper and wide margins. Let me know if I can be more specific in any way.

  4. Maybe I missed the boat but did Allan already release this version of the ESV? The only sing column ref they have is the clarion and the references are on the outside margin.

  5. Does anybody know if this particular bible is still available for purchase? Can’t seem to find it anywhere. Thanks!

  6. Any updates on the Allan? The only PRBs currently in print are the TruTone bound ones, and a Crossway rep told me via email that there were no plans currently to resume production of this Bible in genuine leather.

      1. I managed to get an original top-grain leather one from Amazon that hadn’t sold out yet, and I love it.

  7. I have a copy of this bible in the brown top grain leather and I absolutely love it! Perfect portable size, excellent single column book block, edge lined, soft leather, and an affordable price. Now that Allen just announced that they are going to offer this same book block in their binding I think I will pick another one up as well! It is that good!!!

    1. UPDATE…
      Just received the Allan bound edition in crimson red on Monday. It is beautiful and very well done. It is an Allen binding by Ludlow. Super soft goatskin with a generous yapp and three navy ribbons. Because this bible checks all of the boxesfor me; translation (ESV), size, SCR, paragraph, and high quality binding, I may buy another one….or two!

    1. Hello Steve. I apologize for the delay. Yes! Even though I now live in Asia, I was able to get a copy! I’ll review it when I get a chance, but for now let me say that it is amazing. It has a nice cover that resembles calfskin, and an edge-lined binding. More later…

  8. Curious if there are any +50 readers here using this edition with the 8 pt print and what your experience is? I’ve always loved small bibles for portability and wondering how sharp the print would be. Thanks.

    1. Well I decided to answer my own question and order the Allan edition of the PRB. The print is very readable for 8pt and looks very crisp to my eyes. And of course the Allan binding makes this a great bible for using everywhere.

  9. Anyone have any idea where one could purchase this Bible? Used, even. I realize it is out of print, but I have looked everywhere and just can’t find it. Would love to have one!!

      1. Thanks for the reply, brother. I don’t see it in the top grain leather, and it doesn’t appear to be a reference Bible. But, it does look nice.

      2. Hi Jason, I’m sorry about that! This is embarrassing. I am clearly mixed up, as its been a while! The Single Column PSB is formerly the Heritage. Regarding the Personal Reference Bible, R. L. Allan bound a batch of them in New Zealand goatskin not long ago, which are sold out for now. But I’m sure they’ll be back, and you could probably snag one on eBay. If you are interested in one and can’t find one, let me know and I can ask around.

      3. Hey, no problem, brother! Again, I just appreciate the responses! I actually just bought one, but it is a rebind in black calfskin (I believe it is a cover from a Heritage). It looks really good and can’t wait to have it in my hands. I think it may be the closest I’ll find. But it will more than do. Just love how this deep brown top grain leather looks on this particular Bible!

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