Crossway has done it again. I am impressed yet again by the still-young-but-ever-amazing Heirloom line of ESV Bibles, the result of Crossway taking some of their favored text blocks and giving them a face lift with the help of Royal Jongbloed in the Netherlands. I reviewed the ESV Heirloom Single Column Legacy (henceforth HL) last fall with enthusiasm. Now it is my pleasure to introduce to you the next installment: The ESV Heirloom Wide Margin Reference Bible (henceforth HWM).
Almost everything I said about the outside fixings on the HL rings true of the HWM also, so much of what I’ll say in this “externals” section is reproduced from that review). 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. As with the HL, I once again chose “deep brown” over black, 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 Wide Margin’s polyurethane linings. Limp and flexible are both accurate characterizations of the HWM. 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, ESV Omega, and HL (also bound in goatskin at Jongbloed), the HWM 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 HWM, the hinges do not pose a major problem. This puppy sits open unaided in Genesis 1 after only a small amount of use. While it doesn’t lay perfectly flat, I expect this to only improve with use.
This is only the second goatskin Bible I’ve seen to date with raised hubs on the spine (the first being the HL), which I heartily applaud! Somehow these hubs are less pronounced and hence maybe even more attractive than those on the HL, in my opinion; they sort of blend into the spine more (see below).
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 HWM‘s ribbons do the job fine, and look relatively good in the process.
The HWM 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 just over 1″. This is a full size Bible, but not as bulky as many on the market. It is closer to “thinline” than the HL.
There is basically nothing Crossway could have done to make this look much 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!)
As with other Jongbloed-printed ESVs, this one shines brightly. The text is a nice 9 point Lexicon font with a very crisp printing–it really “pops” off the page, just like the Legacy.
As with all of the Heirloom ESV editions, the HWM is printed on 28 GSM Indopaque paper at Jongbloed. This paper has an opacity rating of 79, which should give you pause before assuming that GSM ratings are the sole determiner of opacity. The original ESV Wide Margin that Crossway produced is printed on 36 GSM Apple Thin Opaque paper. I haven’t personally seen it, so I cannot compare the two (though it is reviewed here). But I did compare this 28 GSM Indopaque of the HL with the 36 GSM Thinopaque of the original Legacy (L.E.G.O. printing), and while the paper is thicker on the 36 GSM, the ghosting (i.e. show through) is not much different. As with the HL and so now with the HWM, Crossway has traded in heavier paper for a higher PPI (page per inch) number and a creamier, more natural shade of paper. Personally, I wish they’d have chosen a more opaque paper for the HWM, as a wide margin Bible is made for writing in. How will this one handle ink? I’m not sure, as I haven’t braved it yet! Comments?
I love the format of this Bible. The page spread is nearly as beautiful as that of the Legacy. In fact, given the beautifully framed text and ample white space, its sort of a “double column Legacy”, if you can imagine such a thing. There is a margin of 1″ on the outside and in the gutter, which distinguishes it from the Cambridge Wide Margin and its deficient gutter margin. I should note, however, that the outside margin on the Cambridge is more generous than on the Crossway by .25″. A sort of trade off, I suppose. As with the ESV Omega, the cross-references are smartly placed on the bottom right of each page, keeping the text unobstructed by any center-column references.
Here are a few shots of the differences between the text blocks of the HWM, HL, Allan ESVNC1, and Schuyler’s new Quentel ESV:
ESV Wide Margin: Cambridge or Crossway?
I was extremely excited about this Bible, since I love the idea of a wide margin Bible but Cambridge’s version disappointed me in a few ways. Here’s what Cambridge did well: limp edge-lined goatskin cover, nice crisp printing (also Jongbloed), incredible paper for note taking (38 GSM Tervakoski Thinopaque Bible paper with an 84% opacity rating to be precise!), high characters per line count (about 40), and lined pages in the back. Here’s where the Cambridge WM failed, in my opinion: Both the font (8pt) and the inside margin are too small. Here’s what Crossway did well: edge-lined goatskin cover with leather linings, nice crisp printing, and an ideal layout with ample margin on inside and out. Here’s where Crossway failed: Thinner paper and no lined pages in the back for notes. I would say the HWM‘s lower character per line count is a failure (35 range as opposed to 40 range of Cambridge), but this count seems to be par for the course in double column Bibles; Bibles like the Cambridge WM are the happy exception. I should also note again: While Crossway’s inner margin is more generous, Cambridge’s outer margin is more generous, so maybe they cancel one another out here! Allow me to help you visualize my comparative assessment of these two, excellent choices:
|Gold Gilt Line||X|
|Decent Font Size||X|
|Ample CPL Count*||X|
|Ample Inside Margin||X|
|Smart Reference Placement||X|
|Lined Note Pages||X|
|Lays 100% Flat||X|
*CPL=Character Per Line
While the HWM gets more checks in my table, it isn’t necessarily the better choice. Each criterion will be given different weight, depending on your preferences and what you’re aims are for the Bible. For instance, if you are quite bothered by ink bleeding through, then the “opaque paper” box might outweigh half of the other boxes combined. And if stiff and “squeaky” hinges bother you, then you might think twice about the HWM (Incidentally, I don’t understand those of you who fuss about hinges! They’ll break in!). If, however, readability is your chief concern, then the HWM is probably the winner, and I think it wins in the aesthetic category too. And if you prefer everything about the HWM except for the hinges and the 28 GSM paper, then go with the top grain cowhide version–it is edge-lined, limp as can be, and printed on 36 GSM paper. And you can see J. Mark Bertrand’s review of it by clicking here.
Click here to see my review of the Cambridge Wide Margin series.
Note the comparison photos (click to enlarge, and be sure to read the identifying captions):
Crossway strikes again, and to great avail. The Heirloom Wide Margin is one of my favorite Bibles. Even though the font is larger than the Cambridge Wide Margin, I still prefer the 10 point font of the ESVNC1 and the 11 point of the ESV Quentel. But if you don’t need large print, then I would put this near the top of the list. It is that good. And in case you think I’m bipolar, I’ll let you in on a secret: I think I’m on a slow conversion back to a preference for double column Bibles, of which the HWM is a prime example. More double column ESV reviews to come soon!
I’ll wrap it up by repeating two ideas for how to use the margins. J. Mark Bertrand 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.
So there is one key use…essentially making your own study Bible! In another place, I even recall Bertrand calling a WM Bible “the thinking man’s study Bible.” I believe he was on to something. 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 (pun intended) 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.
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.