ESV Heirloom Wide Margin Reference Bible (Crossway)


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).


P1020121 P1020126Almost 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.

P1020194As 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).

HL (top) and HWM (bottom)
HL (top) and HWM (bottom)

P1020191There 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.

P1020136The 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.

Top down: Schuyler ESV Quentel, HWM, Allan ESVNC1, Cambridge WM
Top down: Schuyler ESV Quentel, HWM, Allan ESVNC1, Cambridge WM


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!)

P1020122 Internals

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.

References and translation notes on the bottom = good
Cross-references on the bottom = good

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?

Cambridge WM (L), HWM (R)

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:

Crossway Cambridge
Edge-Lined Goatskin X X
Leather Linings X  
Raised Hubs X  
Art Gilt X X
Gold Gilt Line X  
Opaque Paper   X
Decent Font Size X  
Line Matching X X
Crisp Printing X X
Ample CPL Count*   X
Ample Inside Margin X  
Smart Reference Placement X  
Lined Note Pages   X
Portable 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):


P1020183Crossway 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.

Meanwhile, Crossway’s HWM is available in black (here and here) and brown (here and here), though you might also check ebay, amazon,,, etc.

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.



34 thoughts on “ESV Heirloom Wide Margin Reference Bible (Crossway)

  1. The Cambridge Wide Margin is line-matched in my judgment. I do not see any evidences of mismatched lines throughout. Your thoughts?

    1. Thanks for commenting, Matthew! You’re right, and pardon my oversight. I’ve corrected it now (and I’ve also corrected my statements about the character per line count in the HWM which were also off). I really appreciate you pointing that out! In fact, even though the HWM is line-matched, I do see some places where it is off, which I didn’t notice upon my reexamination of the Cambridge WM. Interesting.

  2. I have one of these, and am really not thrilled with the paper thickness. Even using Pigma Microns at 0.005, I can easily read what I’ve written from the back of the page. The line matching helps with underlining, as your lines basically appear on top of one another, but anything written in the margin just stands out like a sore thumb to me. It’s disappointing. Obviously, wide-margin bibles are meant for writing in. Why produce one with paper barely thicker than a Cambridge Clarion. It’s just too delicate.

    The ribbons are decidedly too short and thin. Beyond that, it’s gorgeous. I have the brown goatskin version, and it’s lovely in every way. But I’ve already relegated it to a shelf, since the paper is simply too thin to be a viable writing bible, in my opinion.

    For what it’s worth, I have numerous bibles by Allen, Schuyler, Crossway, et. al. I can compare it in hand to Clarions, Quentels, and various Allen editions.

    1. Thanks for commenting. Unfortunate to hear about the negative experience with writing in the HWM, though I’m not really surprised. And you chose the right pen too. Bummer. Hopefully Crossway will consider putting this typesetting on thicker paper in the future. Have you written in a Cambridge WM?

      1. I have not, but I read that the paper is far more substantial. I actually held out on purchasing one when I saw the Heirloom ESV from Crossway was coming out, as I really loved the dark brown on the previous Heirloom offering. Also, I prefer having both margins wide, rather than the outer being wider. Sadly, the paper just doesn’t work for me. All of my notes are presently done in an Allen ESV SCR.

  3. Just got my copy of the HWM yesterday. It is stunningly beautiful, but the paper is a deal breaker. Between the ghosting, bleeding, and frailty, the choice of paper is disappointing. Last August I bought the Cambridge WM, then saw the announcement for this Bible. I returned the Cambridge which had better paper and a more supple cover. I will probably return the HWM and use my old Deluxe Reference ESV from 2003. Its margins are narrower, but I have made it work for a decade, so I can make it work a little longer. Like JPL, I am flummoxed why Crossway would skimp on the paper of a wide margin bible MEANT TO BE WRITTEN IN! I too use the Micron 005, and they are perfect with my old Deluxe Reference Edition. Great review though.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Sam. I so wish that the Cambridge edition had larger font–that would really sway me in its favor. Hows the font on the Deluxe ESV? I’m finding that the Allan ESVNC1 also works well for marginalia with its .88″ margins, though not as well as some others with 1″+.

      1. Jeff, my Deluxe uses a 9 pt type. The margins are the same as the Allan ESVNC1 you mentioned with .88″ margins. /Users/samdilbeck/Downloads/IMG_5972.JPG Like you, I would have kept the Cambridge if the text had been larger. My Deluxe will probably last 10-20 years. I fold a cover around when traveling, but use it out of the case. Even with thick durable pages, some ghosting can be seen. I use different colors of inks so my notes are distinguishable.

    1. I haven’t, but given my experience with Pigma Microns, I’d imagine that pencil or colored pencil would probably be passable. But the paper is very delicate in feeling, even beyond the writing issue. Pencil would definitely mar or indent unless written very delicately. It’s sad. It’s really lovely. But it’s like somebody building a five-bedroom house with only one bathroom. No matter how nice the rooms are, it’s going to be hard to live in.

  4. I have the Heirloom ESV Thinline in Goatskin and think this would be a lovely ‘big brother’ to it. I’ve always been a fan of the ‘form factor’ of the Thinline – and this doesn’t seem to be TOO much bigger than that.

    Do you have a comparison of those? Thinline size vs this size?


    1. Thanks for commenting, John. Crossway lists the Heirloom thinline as 5.5″ x 8.5″ x >1″ and the HWM as 6.5″ x 9.25″ and I think its about 1″ thick. To me, the HWM feels quite a bit like a thinline form factor.

  5. Has anyone tried gently writing in the margins of the Heirloom WM using the classic steel-tubed Zebra F-301 BP ballpoint pens? I know my Dad has used those for many years as a pastor to write notes in his Bible and he has been very happy with them. They give a very fine line and write smoothly without the need for any real pressure. I am sure that putting pressure would cause damage to the page, but the Zebra pen doesn’t require that. I’m wondering if they would have less show-through on adjacent pages.

  6. I bought An ESV WM from The Bible Exchange last month and have been using it as my go-to Bible. I purchased it because our Pastor is doing a sermon series in Romans and has asked the congregation to bring physical Bibles that we can write in. (Goodbye iPad.) I’ve also been using it for a Precepts Bible study in Jude. I love everything about this Bible. I’m a small framed, middle aged woman and it doesn’t feel too big and heavy to carry to church. I also have a lovely goatskin Cambridge Clarion which my husband gave me for Christmas, but find that it’s not the best format for underlining and note-taking. The page layout of the HWM is easy on my eyes and sits well in my lap. There is some ghosting when using a Micron 05, but I really don’t find that to be problematic. I considered the Schuyler Quentel as the reviews have been glowing and the pictures look stunning, however, I’ll take the thinner paper as tradeoff for a lighter, thinner book in my tiny hands.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Dawn. Good to hear it does well “in action”! It is a beauty…one of the best ESV’s in print. Good thing you got it when you did, as Crossway has substantially increased the cost of all their Heirloom Bibles (a most unfortunate move, if you ask me).

  7. There seems to be different opinions about the paper and its suitability for writing. I’m looking to buy this bible. Is the paper really a “forget” it factor?

    1. I haven’t written in mine, so its hard to say. While the thin paper does certainly give me pause, I have a friend who marks the margins in his Heirloom Legacy and has no problem with it (same paper). Personally, I would probably opt for the top-grain leather version of this same Bible if you plan to fill it up extensively, as its still edge-lined and a very nice book…or a Cambridge Wide Margin. But its a remarkably beautiful Bible in its own right– you don’t need to fill up the margins to make good use of it as the white space really frames the text nicely. And like you said, opinions vary and it all depends on how much show-through bothers you personally.

    2. Ron, If you plan to use the bible for note taking, or as I use it to preach from, I would skip the Heirloom. The paper is too thin, and I use Micron 005 for writing. There is little pressure, but a lot of ghosting. I sent mine back and they refunded my money. They also sent me the top grain leather model of the same bible. It is wide margin, has the same pagination as the Heirloom, but the pages are considerably thicker. I have been using it to preach from and love the way it feels. It melts over the hand, lays flat, and has generous margins. I love it. Plus, it is cheaper than the Heirloom. I loved the look and feel of the dark brown HWM, but it just wasn’t functional. I also had the Cambridge ESV WM, but sent it back because the line leading was too narrow and the pages were too thin. Okay, I admit, I am a bible snob, but I’m like a mechanic with tools, my Bible is my tool. My ideal Bible would be the Schuyler Quentel ESV with Wide Margins, but that beast doesn’t exist, so I am using the top grain ESV WM from Crossway and it does the job.

      1. I have the top grain leather ESV WM and agree about the paper being nice and thick. It really is a joy to read and I use a .03mm pencil. I have an ESV journaling Bible and I do like having the extra room on the outer margin for notes. My only gripe on the WM is that it is hard to take notes on the inner margin.

  8. Thanks for this great review. I’m presently somewhat paralyzed about which Bible to buy and this review and the comments point out clearly the same struggle I’m in. I have an ESV Journaling Bible that my wife bought for me years ago now. I’m using it as a wide margin but am having to write notes the size of the text (7.5) to fit the notes I want to take in there. I hope to pass it on to the kids one day. Also, my now over 40 eyes are telling me, that’s just a tad too small for comfort. I love the beauty of the Cambridge WM but the leading and font size are keeping me from investing in it. I gave my wife my Heirloom Thinline because I simply don’t enjoy reading out of that 8-pt font size anymore. I find the Clarion to be about the right size for comfort.

    I teach from time to time and can’t see the Cambridge being the best option long-term, for me. I really like the paper in the Journaling Bible, but it has no references or maps. They are apparently releasing a single column version of the JB late this year with a 9.5 font size, which is interesting but still, no references or maps I’m sure. So, I’m trying to decide between the Crossway Top Grain WM and the Allan NCR. I can’t for the life of me decide between those two. I want to have a Bible to record interpretive notes, teach/preach from and read from. Pure reading can be done from the Clarion, but when I study I have an insatiable urge to take notes. Any advice on how to break the stand-off?

    1. Thanks for commenting, Tony, and I can appreciate the dilemma! Personally, I would advise you to get the Allan ESVNC1 when it is re-released, which should be any time now. It will potentially be better than the one I have, with the 4gsm paper increase. It is great for marking up, as the margins are wider than normal (but still not a wide margin). The lined pages in the back make it a winner too– I use them extensively for reflections or notes that don’t fit in the margins (in the form of keyed and numbered end-notes). The top grain WM is also great (with thicker paper and wider margins), but I personally love the highland goatskin, yapp, luxurious ribbons, and robust art gilt of an Allan too much to pass up! Plus, the font is slightly larger on the NC1. So to summarize: I recommend the NC1 more unless (1) Cost is an issue, and/or (2) You feel you need the wider margins of the Crossway WM.

  9. Really is a waste of a beautiful bible.Paper is way too thin for note taking. the problem with the Crossway WM is is printed in China. Would love a WM that would be around for 20 years.

  10. Does anyone have pictures they can add? I just bought this bible and got it 2 days ago. Can you show how bad it bleeds through if you use the micron pens?

  11. This review is a couple of years old. I was curious if Crossway had addressed the paper quality. Does anybody know? Thanks for the excellent review. Still relevant!

  12. Hi,

    Thank you for your dedication and hard work in doing such quality reviews of Bibles. It is very helpful. While I have been pouring over various options, I can’t help but wonder if there is something out there that will meet my needs that I am just not aware of. I currently have an ESV study which got me through my B.A. and seminary, and I am looking to replace it and start afresh (it would be impossible to write just one more scribble of a note in it anywhere).

    The big 3 (or 4 depending on how you split hairs) for me are:

    Single column, paragraphed
    Wide margined (or room to write somewhere, even similar to the ESV study would be fine)
    Cross references

    Additional benefits would be:
    A decent concordance
    ESV, NIV or NASB preferably

    Does anyone make something similar to this, or even with a couple of the components? I do not care how big the text is, how big the book is, what the paper is like, what the cover is like, etc. The inside is the important part for me. Even if there are things that need to be compromised, do you have any recommendations?

    Thanks for your time!

    1. Hi Taryn! So you’re open to NIV, ESV, or NASB?
      -For ESV, its easy to meet your criteria if you don’t need cross-references– Single Column Legacy or Single Column Journaling Bible (regular or large print). If you let go of wide-margins, the Clarion is great. If you let go of single column, the Wide Margin is great. Search my blog for any of those– I’ve reviewed almost all of them already.
      -NIV I’m less familiar with, but they have a journaling Bible too…but again, probably cross-references. See a review here:
      -NASB I’m even less familiar with. But there is this:
      …and for all 3, if you can give up the single-column, then the Cambridge Wide Margin is a gem:
      I hope that helps!

  13. I would use it as a reader or preaching bible. I have the thicker paper TruTone rebound in grey goatskin so that is the one I will use to write while this one will be a thinline reader with great margins to ease the reading experience.

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