So far, 2015 has been a good year for quality Bible aficionados. In February, we experienced the long awaited release of Schuyler’s ESV Quentel. Allan rolled out the NIV Proclamation Edition. Crossway released the Heirloom Wide Margin ESV. But perhaps more than anything, people have anticipated the production of the newest member of R. L. Allan’s list: The no. 63 Longprimer Sovereign.
Some context is in order. Among goatskin Bibles, the Allan 53 Longprimer has probably held first place for some time, featuring (arguably) the best combination of quality and beauty, both inside and out. Developed by Oxford and first printed by Allan in 1952, it has been labeled as Allan’s bread and butter Bible, the crème de la crème of quality Bibles, sumptuous (Mr. Metcalfe’s adjective of choice!), and other culinary idioms–and for good reason (see my brief write-up here). In the words of Ian and Dominique Metcalfe, directors of R. L. Allan & Son Publishers,
It [the 53 Longprimer] is certainly our flagship Bible – and, incidentally, our best seller.
So when they decided to modify the 53 to create a newer and “better” edition, the 63, the gravity must not be lost on us. In other words, taking a favorite of many people for many years and then “improving it” is risky business. Granted, the 53 Longprimer will remain on the list; but still, it is a bold move to give “the best” a makeover and then add the moniker “Sovereign” at the end!
Here is the result of a simple google search for “sovereign”
I don’t know if Allan intended “sovereign” here as a noun in a construct relationship with “Longprimer”, or simply as an adjective (with weird word order). I’ll leave that to my fellow grammar nerds. But in either case, supreme ruler? Really? Is that, or is it not, an accurate label for the 63 Longprimer? Lets find out…
I N T E R N A L S
The 63’s book block is the same as the 53 in almost every way except for wider margins and thicker paper. (Incidentally, other differences include improved presentation pages and better lined paper in the back). So first I’ll briefly comment on what the 53 and 63 have in common (i.e. the words part of the Bible!), and then briefly highlight what is new and improved on the 63.
Little known fact: The word “longprimer” refers to a specific size of typeface that has more or less come to be synonymous with Allan’s 53 Longprimer KJV (click here for more info). But let me tell you, if I were the word “longprimer”, I wouldn’t mind being conflated with this Bible one bit; we’re talking glamor by association! What I’m trying to say is that this typesetting is fantastic. It strikes the right balance of beauty and functionality–the font has a classic, old look that pops of the nice India paper, emanating a bold, crisp, readable effect. Among Allan Bibles, I’ve not seen a font I like better on a paper I like better. Specifically, the Longprimer line is printed by Jongbloed and features 10 point bold font with 11 point leading. You would expect this bold of font to produce inordinate ghosting on mere 32gsm paper of the original 53, but that is not the case. Like I said, the right balance is in play. This is even less a concern on the 63 with its thicker paper…a thing of beauty!
The layout is vintage KJV: Verse by verse, two-column text with chain references in the center column. The margins on the 53 leave a bit to be desired, being the typical 1/4-1/2″-ish Bible margins. This is where the 63 really shows its sovereign glory over the 53! The wide, 1″ outside and bottom margin makes the page spread truly royal. Allan doesn’t refer to it as a wide margin Bible, but rather an “increased margin” Bible. Take a look.
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. The way in which this white space frames the text is extraordinary, recalling the Cambridge Wide Margin and the Heirloom Legacy. These margins add extra heaps of old-world charm to the already-beautiful Longprimer typesetting. Applause all around! Verily, methinks the 63 Sovereign doth convey the semblance of antiquity. In troth I would adventure my discretion to have it accompany me to yon basilica Lord’s Day next. Sorry about that, I couldn’t help myself…
The tradeoff for wider margins is a wider footprint, aka a larger surface area to the book itself (see dimensions in the next section). Some will mind, but I don’t think most will. The benefits outweigh the cost in this respect, in this reviewer’s opinion.
The other main difference between the 53 and 63 is paper thickness. While the original 53 features 32gsm paper, the 63 features the venerable 38gsm Tervakoski Thinopaque writeable paper we saw in the ESV Quentel and Cambridge Wide Margin. This is thick, opaque paper, and you can tell the difference in ghosting, though the original 53 fares pretty well too. (Side note: The next printing of the 53 Longprimer will be on 36gsm paper, while the 63 will continue to feature 38gsm).
Here are a few more photos for comparing paper quality in the two Longprimers (you’ll notice they’re actually pretty similar):
This difference in paper thickness aids readability slightly (and writability too, I suspect), but the difference is felt most acutely in the sheer weight and thickness of the book itself. And this brings me to the next segment of this review…
E X T E R N A L S
On the outside, the 63 looks like a juiced up 53! The size is bigger, the yapp is wider (proportionate to the increased girth), and even the “Holy Bible” imprinting is significantly larger. As such, I don’t have a lot of new things to say in this section, except to say that this is a large book. Readers beware! But I would still favor it as a study and teaching Bible, and I would even dare to bring it with me to the pulpit or podium.
The dimensions are as follows (my own rough thus possibly wrong measurements):
|63 Sovereign Longprimer||53 Longprimer|
|Size (Including Yapp)||7 x 10 x 1.5”||6.5 x 9.25 x 1.2”|
|Trim Size||6 x 8.75”||5.5 x 8.125”|
If you’re “numerically challenged” like me, these differences may not seem paramount. But in your hand they feel paramount (I’m sure some simple equation will corroborate my subjective feelings!). The 53 is a well-balanced book, not too heavy but definitely not small. By comparison, the 63 is a bit of a beast. Take a look:
As with most Allan’s, these are hand-bound in the UK to exacting standards. As a result, they open as flat as a pancake and melt in your hands. The binding is smythe-sewn, of course, and hence flexible and long lasting. And the block is attached to the cover using edge-lining rather than pasted-down end pages, also adding to the lifespan and flexibility.
If you have never handled Allan’s Highland Goatskin, I feel sorry for you! God bless those Nigerian goats for their sacrifice! In the many premium leather Bibles I’ve handled, never have I found a leather like this. It is supple, naturally grained (and hence very interesting looking), buttery, and extremely flexible. Allan’s leather linings are also unparalleled as far as I’m concerned. Combine all those adjectives (and many others you can fill in), and what you come out with is superlative!
As expected, this Bible also features art-gilding, which is the application of dye under the traditional foil on the page edges (red-under-gold in this example). 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. And it is common knowledge, or common opinion, that Allan does art gilt better than anyone else.
As with the 53, the inside cover of the 63 features golden double gilt lines around the outside, adding a beautiful frame for the open text block. The only other Allan with two gilt lines (as opposed to just one) is the NKJV. I wish they’d do it on them all!
The 63 is available in black (with red-under-gold art gilt and 3 navy ribbons), brown (as pictured here), and navy blue (with blue-under-silver art gilt and 3 silver ribbons). I think preorders were lower on the brown than the others, which is why I was encouraged to review brown! Let me say, I’ve always been a fan of the chocolate highland goatskin with gold imprinting and honey-gold ribbons. But you can’t go wrong here; all three choices are solid.
C O N C L U S I O N
In the intro, I called the Metcalfes’ attempt to improve on “the best” (i.e. the 53 Longprimer) “risky business.” But in conclusion let me state that any business must involve change in order to shine, and so risk is inevitable. Risk is good. And this risk was worth it, as I’m sure many other new, happy owners of the 63 Longprimer Sovereign will attest.
In what sense is this Bible “Sovereign” among other KJV Bibles? Size? No, I’ve seen bigger, though at the right velocity the 63 would knock you to your knees in its presence! Beauty? Readability? Opacity? In each category, you may argue that a different KJV is better (though others might argue back!). But when you combine factors, I don’t think another KJV does as many things well as the 63 (except for portability, of course!). So in that sense, it does deserve the moniker “Sovereign.” If your primary translation of choice is the KJV, I think this one is likely worth the cost, and I think it will be your favorite.
Bottom line: If I used the KJV as my primary translation, I am pretty sure I would choose the 63 Sovereign as my main Bible for reading, study, and teaching. I would mark it up with decades’ worth of notes and marginalia. And then I would choose the Allan Ruby as my mini, “go anywhere” sidekick. Together, those two could “rule the KJV world.” I’ll stop now with the puns on “sovereign”… in fact, I’ll just stop completely, except to say you may buy it here or here. and watch a video featuring the blue and the brown here.
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.
(PS: Even though they’re based in London, Bibles-Direct / R. L. Allan & Son provides free international shipping, so don’t be afraid to order straight from them! Both they and EvangelicalBible.com, R. L. Allan’s US distributor, are great companies with great customer service)