Cambridge is the oldest and one of the most prestigious Bible publishers on the planet. On top of this, their text blocks are custom designed and hence different from what all other publishers are doing, even with the same translations. These facts have led me to the conclusion that Cambridge is one of my favorite Bible publishers So it’s my pleasure to now review another great typesetting from Cambridge: the KJV Concord Reference Bible.
The goatskin on this one is deeply grained and quite beautiful (note all the veins and fissures). I’m particularly pleased when I get one like this, but what yours will look like depends on the life of the animal in whose whose skin it was wrapped. That was supposed to sound poetic…I hope it doesn’t make you lose your appetite for goatskin Bibles (or for dinner).
The cover folds over a polyurethane liner and is attached around the liner not only with glue, but also with complete perimeter stitching- beautiful and strong. Some have bemoaned the poly liner, wishing it were leather. While I also prefer the look and feel of leather, this liner is no lightweight. It does the job, allows a good deal of flexibility, and might even last longer than leather. 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. And of course, the binding is smythe-sewn and has the expected flexibility that goes with the territory. The Concord is equipped with two black ribbons.
The Concord’s dimensions are about 5.5″ x 8.25″ x 1.25″. It is not huge by any means, nor is it compact or even “thinline”, but rather is an ideal size (in my opinion) for a all-purpose Bible. It strikes a careful balance between portability and readability, which brings me to the next section.
The Concord is a rare combination of an extremely portable form factor and an extremely readable typesetting, which is why it is one of the top KJV Bibles in print. The 8 point font (“Times Semi-Bold”) is nice and clear, and crisper looking than that of the Cameo (though I love the Cameo nonetheless!). And while it is listed as 8pt, all fonts are not equal…this could pass for a 9+ point font. While the page spread achieves a unique, uncluttered experience, my only regret is that the text encroaches too far towards the gutter for this reviewers comfort. Others will not be bothered by this at all.
The Concord features a very traditional double-column layout with cross-references in the center. As with most KJVs, each verse begins a new line…I once found this layout regrettable, but since my Cameo review, I’ve begun to feel quite neutral towards it. Others find this verse format delightful and even ideal. I’m not sure why so many KJVs are verse-by-verse. Perhaps you could shed light in the comments.
This Bible also 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. It also features a nice concordance and maps in the back. Finally, red-letter and black-letter editions are available.
I’ve asked Bob Groser of Cambridge about the history of the Concord, and here is his enlightening response.
The Concord was typeset at the Pitt Building in Cambridge in the 1950’s, and like the Pitt range, made use of Times semi-bold 421, a variant of Times specially adjusted by the typographer Stanley Morison for Bible printing at CUP in conjunction with the Monotype corporation. The introduction of this type was seen as a great leap forward in page design. The Concord family, of which we publish several editions, were also notable in that they used the bold cross figure reference system which moved the reference indicators away from the text and into the centre columns to aid the ‘clean, uncluttered reading experience’. Though not everybody’s cup of tea, the range generally has been a core component of the list for many decades now.
And here he comments on the reprographic history of the Concord (also true of the Cameo). If you’re like me, you’ll find it quite interesting:
The evidence shows that the hot-metal typesetting produced here at the university press was a major and very expensive project signed off at the highest levels as it represented a large and long-term investment for the press. It has more or less continuously been a staple of the list since then. Electronic typesetting and proofreading of a Bible these days, though still expensive, is the work of a few weeks, the money going on technology rather than labour, and with hot metal the work was laborious and could take months of painstaking work by multiple individuals whose work had to be managed consistently across the breadth of the text. All books were of course produced in this way, but the Bible with its restricted space and myriad requirements for references, footnotes, italicisation, running heads and various indicators etc. required the highest levels of expertise – the elite if you like.
The advantage of every page being carefully crafted is that the effect is very pleasing on the eye, because a trained typesetter has worked on every line and every page for a few hours and the resulting work carefully reviewed and refined. With modern electronic texts where much of the output is produced automatically there is more opportunity for strange or odd looking word and line formulations to creep in. To get around this a lot of time needs to be spent at the outset on covering all the typographical variables at the outset of the page design – Clarion being a good example of this.
Bottom line: if you purchase a Concord (or Cameo for that matter), you’re getting a facsimile version of the very hot-metal typesetting produced in another era of Bible printing. Even more than with other Cambridge Bibles, holding these feel like holding something old and prestigious. I highly recommend it, especially with that sentimental value! For your convenience, the following Cambridge KJVs feature the facsimile images from the old hot metal press typesettings:
- On the highest quality papers are the Cameo, Concord, and Concord Wide Margin.
- On mid-range papers are the Personal Concord, Pocket Reference, Emerald Text, and Large Print Text.
And then other typesettings, such as the Pitt Minion, Clarion, and Ruby, were all new typesettings designed using the contemporary, computer-y methods.
I cannot personally imagine a much better KJV for preaching or teaching, and then throwing it in your messenger bag for a trip to the park or the coffee shop. While the Allan Longprimer would also be excellent as a pulpit Bible, some may find it more cumbersome on stage or in transit. If you’re budget-bound, the TBS Westminster, or a LCBP KJV might be another option (but I sure would prefer a Cambridge or Allan). In any case, I would heartily recommend taking a look at the Concord due to its unique combination of so many good attributes: Hand-sized, readable, antique-looking, beautiful, carefully typeset, well-built, and historic.
You may purchase it for a good price here in a few different varieties. Tolle lege!
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.