Cambridge Bibles: The Wide-Margin Reference Series

A preview of reviews to come!  

You were probably wondering when I would get around to publishing a review of a Cambridge Bible! After all, it is the oldest and one of the most prestigious Bible publishers around. Well, your wait is over (if anyone has actually been waiting!).

Before I get into details, let me repeat something I may have said elsewhere.  Unlike most publishers, Cambridge does not publish its own translation(s).  Neither does it just order and wrap up text blocks from other publishers in their own leather. Rather, they come up with their own typesettings using a variety of translations. For this reason, Cambridge might just be my favorite Bible publisher.  In the next couple months, we’ll take a look at a number of their fantastic typesettings, including but not limited the famous Pitt Minion, Clarion, and Wide Margin.

I will begin today with a review featuring three editions in Cambridge’s Wide-Margin line (Henceforth “WM”): the ESV Wide Margin in black goatskin, the KJV Concord Wide Margin in black goatskin, and the NASB Wide-Margin in black calf split. I will begin with features that are true of all three, then I will zero in on what is distinct about the various choices. I will conclude with two thoughts as to the supreme usefulness of WM Bibles.


Cambridge WM Internals

J. Mark Bertrand of Bible Design Blog writes:

If you’re new to the Cambridge drill, let me explain that the Wide Margin Reference editions are basically grown up versions of the Pitt Minion. But instead of structured covers that spring open, the Wide Margin References have luxuriously soft, indolently flexible, elegantly slouching goatskin covers. If hedonists had a Bible, this would be it.”

The paper in these Bibles is exemplary. They feature 38 GSM Tervakoski Thinopaque Bible paper with an 84% opacity rating. This is the highest opacity in any Bible I know of aside from the Schuyler Quentel NASB; and high opacity is of paramount importance in a Bible designed for note taking, like this one. The end result: it handles ink famously with minimal show through on the opposing side of the page.


The page spread on these Bibles is simply breathtaking. (Ok, I know, I get too excited about Bible design!). I love the appearance of all that white space and the way it frames in the text columns. When it sits open before me, I feel like a scribe in front of a elegant, medieval codex. I guess what I’m trying to say is this: As wonderful as those margins are for writing in, they look absolutely beautiful blank too! As for specifics, the outside margin is 1.25″ and top, bottom and inside are all 1″ (difference on Concord WM, see below). My one lament with the margin space is that the inside margin is much smaller than the outside, leaving little space for notes in the gutter. If this were a single column Bible, it wouldn’t matter so much. All your notes could be in the outer margin. But as this is a double column setting, there is less space for notes on the inside column. The inside column is no less God’s Word and no less worthy of notes than the outside column! But I suppose the note taker could use the top and bottom margin to fill in this gap.


In order to include thick paper, wide margins, and keep the Bible to a manageable size, something had to give: Font size. The 8.2 point font is not huge, nor is it tiny…it is the standard font size in many Thinline Bibles, and most people won’t mind it at all. Personally, I prefer 9 point and higher.

And as long as I’m on the topic of size, here are the dimensions: roughly 9″ x 7.25″ x 1.25″ (and the Concord WM is even thicker at 1.5″). This is a pretty big Bible. While the trim size is larger than your average study Bible, the WM is thinner. Bottom line: it is big, but not unmanageably so. Mark Driscoll uses (or should I say, used?) it as his pulpit Bible to great avail!

WM on bottom, then Heirloom Legacy, then Clarion
WM on bottom, then Heirloom Legacy, then Clarion

Finally, the format on all the WMs besides the Concord is paragraphed text in two columns with center column cross-references. Pretty standard. One special note is that the pagination on these lines up perfectly with the similarly formatted but much smaller Pitt Minion series, which makes the two good companions (a big brother / little brother sort of thing).

Pitt Minion (top) and WM (bottom) ESVs:  Page #s line up perfectly!
Pitt Minion (top) and WM (bottom) ESVs: Page #s line up perfectly!

A Distinct Note on the Concord Wide-Margin

The Concord WM is a slightly different text block than the other editions in the Cambridge WM line. It is noticeably thicker, and the inside looks even better with its bolder font. I’m not sure if the paper is more opaque. Perhaps the added thickness is due to (a) the fact that it’s layout is verse-by-verse as opposed to the paragraph format on the other WMs (b) and because the inside and bottom margin on the Concord WM are both 1.25″, making them .25″ bigger than on the other Bibles in the WM line.

Concord (top) and Concord WM (bottom)...Old Testament pagination lines up!
Concord (top) and Concord WM (bottom)…Old Testament pagination lines up!
Concord KJV (top) and Concord WM KJV (bottom)
Concord KJV (top) and Concord WM KJV (bottom)
KJV Concord WM (left) and ESV WM (right) …both look quite classically elegant, but particularly so with the KJV, don’t you think?

Goatskin Edition

The goatskin editions in the WM line are edge-lined, as opposed to the traditional paste-down binding style, which means they are at once longer lasting and more liquid. They are more liquid in that the edge-lining allows the cover a great deal of flexibility; and paired with the generous trim size, this makes for the most limp and buttery Bible I have ever held. Hence, it is ideal for sitting on the desk or the pulpit. I approve!

P1010347 P1010348

Calf-Split Edition

P1010344The calf-split (also available in ESV, KJV, and NIV) is nowhere near as liquid as the goatskin. This is not necessarily a strike against it, though. Some will prefer the support afforded by this stiffer cover, particularly with how large the trim size is and thus how unwieldy the goatskin edition can become in the preacher’s hands.  It is still quite limp, however.  Compare Bible yoga with the goatskin edition in the photo!

No art gilt on calf-split
No art gilt on calf-split

Another thing to note about the calf-split is that it does not feature art-gilt page edges. Some may prefer it this way, and some may simply not care enough to fork over the extra money required for the goatskin. Either way, this is a fine alternative that is more budget-friendly.  Also, the pebble-grain of the calf-split is quite beautiful (see below).

If you’re at all like me, you may ask yourself, “What in the world is “calf-split leather?!”  I asked Mr. Groser of Cambridge University Press, and I’ll quote his entire answer, which is enlightening if you’re interested:

The original calf hide has been split into two pieces at the tannery with the top side going for other purposes (car upholstery, posh shoe liners etc.) while the bottom side, which crucially contains the strongest fibre structure is reserved for bookbinding which requires tough and resilient material due to the wear and tear that books undergo. During the tanning process a realistic, though artificial grain, is embossed on the top of the hide but all other treatments are the same as for a full calfskin or goat. The fact that the tannery is obtaining effectively two hides from one makes the material somewhat cheaper than the full grain calf or goat, though due to the other treatments and processes, but not 50% cheaper! As the cover material, as well as the cover making constitutes a not insignificant proportion of the cost of the binding of the Bible it offers a slightly more economic, though still attractive option. Incidentally, almost all Bible covers, especially in the US, that are termed ‘Genuine leather’ are ‘split’ pigskins which have a more synthetic appearance and feel. We use the term Calf-split leather, which is a traditional term firstly to be clear as to what the material is – a split calfskin – and secondly to differentiate from other ‘genuine leathers’ although it is a subset of that wider definition; but we believe calf to be more refined than pig.

I love it!  I think Jews and Muslims would agree with Bob in his last comment 🙂 !

Goatskin grain (left) and Calf-Split grain (right)...both nice!
Goatskin grain (left) and Calf-Split grain (right)…both nice!


So far, there are few Bibles that, after much handling and reading, still make me genuinely excited. The Cambridge WM makes this list. In sum, this is due to the beautiful interior layout that is also very useful for the note taker. The cover materials and details are fantastic, and this Bible would make a fine lifelong companion for the reader of God’s Word.

Here are some ideas for how to use the margins.  I’ll begin with another quote from J. Mark Bertrand. He writes,

You really should have a wide margin Bible. Seriously. In my mind, it’s non-negotiable, and it has nothing to do with binding quality or design know-how. A wide margin edition offers a way for you to engage visibly with the text. You encounter a difficult passage, you do some thinking, some research, and once you’ve processed your thoughts you record the conclusions in the margin, forever nearby for future reference. Over time, you end up with a marginal “key,” a road map of interpretation that can be surprisingly useful as your knowledge grows and you make more and more connections between one passage and another.

IMG_2153So there is one key use…essentially making your own study Bible!  In another place, I even recall J. Mark Bertrand calling a WM Bible “the thinking man’s study Bible.” I believe he was on to something.  And on this note, don’t forget the dozens of pages of lined notebook paper in the back!  Look here to see the margins in action.

Another use, suggested by a friend in a good video overview, is documenting prayers and your own spiritual growth related to specific passages, which makes for a nice heirloom to pass to your children!

Do you have any other suggestions for how to make use of the margin space?  I’d love to hear them in the comments below.

You can purchase here, here, or on amazon, CBD, WTSbooks, ebay, etc!  Two side notes:

  1. Here are all the options:  ESV:  Black Goatskin (red or black letter), Brown Bonded Leather, Gray Hardcover. NASB:  Green Hardcover, Black Goatskin, Black French Morocco, Black Calf-Split.  KJV:  Black Goatskin, Black Calf-Split.  NKJV:  Black Goatskin, Blue Hardcover.  NIV: Black Calf-Split.
  2. The goatskin ESV is available in black letter and red letter, the only other difference being that the red letter has red ribbons and the black letter has black ribbons.

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.



19 thoughts on “Cambridge Bibles: The Wide-Margin Reference Series

  1. Hi could you please help me. I am trying to find the Cambridge KJV Bible with wider margins only on the outside of the page. I purchased my bible 20 years ago and my daughter wants the same. I see the bible with the wide margin all around the page. I had my bible rebound so I am not sure the style of the bible. I love the Cambridge. Any help on this would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Pauline! While I am not the best source for KJV information, I do know of one such Bible offhand: The Note Takers Bible by Local Church Bible Publishers.
      I would personally go for one of the more expensive options, since they’re all under $60 regardless! …So that would be either the executive or signature in black or burgundy calfskin. I haven’t yet had a LCBP Bible, but I’ve heard that they are outstanding, and they have nice, soft, limp calfskin.

      1. Dear Jeffery,
        Thank you so much for the information. They have exactly what I was looking for and the price is so reasonable. I ordered one today for my daughter and hope that it is as nice as the Cambridge. I really appreciate your help. I spent so much time trying to find this bible yet I never came across this company. It is kinda crazy I guess… but when you love a nice bible you just love it. It so becomes a part of your life that you just never want to part with it. Nice high quality bibles are so hard to find. Hoping my daughter treasures it for life. I’ll keep you posted. Again thanks a bunch!!!

  2. Pauline,

    What you are looking for is called the Cambridge Cameo Wide Margin. Cambridge isn’t currently making them but you can occasionally find them used on ebay or amazon. To verify yours is a Cameo, look at the lower left corner of one of the first pages in the bible. It should say there, unless that page was removed during rebinding. Regardless, I am utterly confident of my advice since I have several of the Cameo Wide Margins myself and they have the wide margin only on the outside margin. Another choice for you is available at Local Church Bible Publishers, which the other poster told you about above. Unfortunately he directed you to the wrong bible. LCBP makes model 120, which uses the exact Cambridge text from the Cambridge Cameo Wide Margin.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Dave! Can you clarify, though–in what way did I misdirect Pauline? I thought she was looking for a KJV with wide margins only on the outer margin, which the LCBP notetaker’s is. Right? Or are you just suggesting another LCBP option? The only Cambridge wide margin KJV in print I’m aware of is the Concord, which has margin all around (and hence doesn’t fit her wish list).

  3. Which would your recommend more for notetaking: Crossway ESV Heirloom Legacy or this Cambridge ESV Wide Margin? Both are different of course, but want to get your opinion if you had to pick one. And is the font type in this Wide Margin the same as in the Pitt Minion?

    1. Hello Josh. Thanks for commenting. Your question sounds like an excellent idea for a blog post, one that I hope to write in the future. But here’s a tentative, cursory answer. The paper on the Cambridge WM is far more opaque (38 GSM), no doubt about it. So for that reason, it will likely take ink better. I haven’t, however, had the heart to write in my Heirloom Legacy yet (28 GSM)! That will change eventually. I’m sure it will handle the ink “okay” but the original 36 GSM Legacy may do so better…which R. L. Allan will bind next year, I’m told. As for which I prefer between the Cambridge WM and the HL, definitely the Heirloom Legacy. Its such a beautiful typesetting, and I actually find the layout more conducive to note-taking because there is one column and one wide margin (albeit with some paragraph headings that will get in the way from time to time). The Cambridge WM doesn’t have quite enough inner margin, in my opinion. And the font is a bit smaller than I would prefer on such a large Bible (8.2 point font in the WM, 9pt in the HL). And as for your last question, I believe the font in the WM is the same as the Pitt Minion, just bigger by about 1.5pt. The pagination lines up and everything…truly a big brother / little brother situation! One last comment: Crossway has released their own wide margin ESV in top grain leather, which is edge-lined and very nice. Next month it will be released in the Heirloom series (goatskin, art gilt, etc.). Thats a nice note-taker too…and it solves some of the problems of the Cambridge edition, such as wider inner margins and larger font. It will be one to watch for, and I really hope to have a chance to showcase it on this blog. Hope that helps!

  4. Thanks Jeffrey. I got the ESV Heirloom several days ago. While a beautiful bible all around, I did not like how stiff it was when I got it. I also have the ESV Clarion and Pitt Minion, both of which I enjoy and have no stiffness – I truly love how flat they lay. I was looking for a bible that I could use for years and put my notes in. I figured since I enjoyed my two other Cambridge Bibles that perhaps the Wide Margin would be a good option for me. The only hesitation I have is the double column (along with the thinner inner margin) and the small font size (relative to the Heirloom) BUT I was hoping it would lay flat right out of the box…and I understand the paper is more opaque. That was the context for my earlier question. 🙂

    1. Hi Josh. Or should is say Krishton 🙂 did you get the Heirloom Legacy or Thinline? If Legacy, I’d say give it some good TLC and use. Mine opens just as nicely as any Clarion or Pitt Minion in my opinion. And the leather is certainly more flexible than a Pitt. Those tabs do interfere with it opening as flat as one without tabs, such as an Allan or a Bible with a paste down binding. But mine still opens sufficiently flat, and needs no help, in Genesis 1. Love it! Yes, if you like the goatskin Clarion you’ll probably like the WM- same binding style. But the font size is what gives me pause and causes me to put my hope elsewhere, namely the Legacy and the forthcoming Heirloom Wide Margin from Crossway. Does that help?

      1. I got the Heirloom Legacy. Perhaps I just need to spend more time with it, although I’d really like to see the Cambridge WM face-to-face.

  5. I’ve been using my Cambridge Wide Margin Edition King James Version for 6 years now for preaching, was given to me as my birthday gift. Margins are full of notes now and the leather is outstanding.

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