As I write, it is the official release day for the ESV Heirloom Single Column Legacy Bible (henceforth HL), a day I have eagerly awaited! I obviously love goatskin Bibles. I have demonstrated that I also love single column Bibles as well as the English Standard Version. There are currently only a few Bibles on the market that check all three of those boxes, and the HL is arguably the best on every front. Crafted “from start to finish” at the highly acclaimed Dutch bindery, Jongbloed, this Bible is a true delight to behold.
The cover is hand-crafted in a smooth and supple goatskin, sourced from India and finished in the U.K (“vegetable tanned” goatskin). Compared to R. L. Allan’s Highland Goatskin, this is thicker; I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite. Mine is “deep brown”, and I have to say, it is the darkest brown Bible I have ever seen; it is very classy. The linings are a very nice brown leather, which gives the HL an edge over the Cambridge Clarion‘s polyurethane linings. Limp and flexible are both accurate characterizations of the HL. The binding is smythe-sewn and has the expected flexibility that goes with the territory. As with most goatskin Bibles, this one is edge-lined, which is generally longer-lasting and more flexible than the traditional paste-down method of bookbinding.
As with the ESV Heirloom Thinline and the ESV Omega (also bound in goatskin at Jongbloed), the HL also has some strong hinges to reinforce the binding and increase longevity. In his review of the Heirloom Thinline, J. Mark Bertrand lamented these hinges because they apparently prevent the Thinline from laying open. I am happy to report that, with the HL, the hinges create no such dilemma. This puppy sits open unaided in Genesis 1, right out of the box. While it doesn’t lay perfectly flat, I expect this to only improve with use.
This the only goatskin Bible I’ve ever seen with raised hubs on the spine, which I heartily applaud! And no, your eyes are not playing tricks on you: The HL has a semi-yapp cover (which I did not expect)!
There are four ribbons: black, dark brown, lighter brown, and tan. The colors really work, though some will doubtlessly frown upon the ribbons’ shortness and thinness. While I would prefer ribbons in the style of R. L. Allan, I fully recognize (and would also ask the reader to recognize) the sheer silliness of allowing ribbons to factor heavily into a critique! (Really?!…Ribbons?!) If you don’t like them, cut them out and replace them (follow the link for a video tutorial, but be warned–this will void your lifetime warranty). But for me and most others, the HL‘s ribbons do the job fine, and look relatively good in the process.
The HL features art-gilding, which is the application of red-dye under the traditional gold foil on the page edges. This is a feature that we’ve seen in many high-end Bibles, and it holds both aesthetic and pragmatic value; it makes the page edges look classy and wear better. The inside cover features a golden gilt-line around the outside, adding a subtly beautiful frame for the open text block.
Since you insist, here’s the dimensions: the trim size is 6″x9″ (not factoring in cover overhang, i.e. yapp) and the thickness is 1.25″. This is a full size Bible, but not as bulky as many on the market.
There is basically nothing Crossway could have done to make this look any better, unless you’re still caught up on the ribbon thing. Come on people!!! (And maybe they could have made the imprinting on the spine less busy– we get it, it’s the ESV!)
The layout of the HL is, simply put, the most thoughtful and beautiful I have seen in any Bible. Ever. Period. Here’s what Lizzy Jeffers of Crossway has written of it:
The inviting reading experience of the Single Column Legacy Bible was inspired primarily by Robert Bringhurst’s typesetting philosophy in The Elements of Typographic Style. The page layout is based on the Renaissance ideal of a perfect page, which means that there is a measured and precise layout of the text and margins–what Renaissance thinkers considered to be perfect proportions.
An ideal reader’s edition incorporates this philosophy by prioritizing the Bible text and allowing it to be the dominant feature on the page. In order to accomplish this, we chose a single-column format and opted not to include cross-references, introductions, or other special features. We also placed the subject headings in the margin instead of in-line with the text, freeing the reader to engage the biblical text with fewer interruptions.
The “Renaissance ideal of the perfect page” is something I can definitely get used to. As you can see, there is a greater than usual amount of white space on the page (1″ margins, etc.). While the notetaker might consider this blank space to fill, and the pragmatist might consider it wasted space to eliminate, the person with an eye for design and beauty will see something else here. Ever since I first saw the ESV Legacy last year, I was smitten. No Bible is at once as elegant and easy on the eyes as the Legacy, and we have the design, along with all that white space, to thank for that. If you have the first printing of the original Legacy, then the HL has one difference shared by the updated printing of the Legacy: the text is shifted outward (maybe 1/4″-1/8″), so there is a tad less outer margin and a tad more inner margin. This is a major improvement, in my view, as it keeps the text further out of the gutter (which was a problem I had with my first-run Legacy). Line matching and 9 point lexicon font with 10.75 point leading aids the readability immensely. Add to this the aforementioned art-gilding and gilt line and what you have when you open and behold is something unique and extraordinary…as close as it gets to the perfect single column Bible so far.
I must launch a preemptive strike against what many of you will probably criticize: The paper. The original Legacy was printed at L.E.G.O. in Italy on 36 GSM Thincoat Plus paper, while the HL is printed on 28 GSM Indopaque paper at Jongbloed. Before you get your undies in a bundle, allow me a moment please! The show through on the HL is slightly more noticeable than the original Legacy, but I believe this is acceptable given the tradeoffs. First, this paper is a softer, creamier white than the bright white of the original Legacy. This makes it easier on the eyes. (It also has a softer and “silkier” texture.) Second, the form factor is more appealing due to the thinner paper; this Bible is thinner by about .25″ and hence more portable. Third, the particular paper used in the HL makes “28 GSM” misleading. There’s more to opacity than the GSM rating, and the differences between the HL and the original Legacy are not paramount (see photos below). For the softer colored paper, as well as all the bells and whistles I’ve already referenced in this review (see above!!!), the HL is well worth it. If you’re tempted to see it as a disappointment due to the paper choice, I implore you to reconsider. I don’t think you’ll regret it (although neither is high opacity my hobby horse, as it is for some).
When I began writing this review, I was on the fence regarding single column options. After the analysis, comparisons, and photo-shoot, I think I have fallen from the fence on the side of the Heirloom Single Column Legacy Bible. Sure, some Bibles do certain things better. But taking readability, materials, binding quality, and aesthetics all into consideration together, this one takes the cake. Are you getting the picture? In case you’re not, allow me to remind you that I’m quite picky and I have handled nearly every premium ESV on the market, and never have I held a nicer Bible than this. And at the price point, you can’t go wrong! Tolle lege! (“take up and read”).
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.